Pac-12 Post-Mortems: Washington

Posted by AMurawa on April 25th, 2014

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll go through each Pac-12 team one by one and recount the season that has just completed and begin to turn the page to what we might see next season. Today, Washington.

What Went Right

For the fifth consecutive season, Washington started off Pac-12 play in strong fashion, winning three of their first four after the calendar flipped. But, just like the previous two seasons, the Huskies had dug themselves enough of a hole in non-conference play to make the second-half of the season an uphill climb. Still, Lorenzo Romar’s club definitely played its best ball of the season in Pac-12 play, with freshman point guard Nigel Williams-Goss developing into a promising prospect down the stretch and combining with vets C.J. Wilcox and Perris Blackwell to make Washington an often fearsome offensive squad, especially at Alaska Airlines Arena.

Nigel Williams-Goss Developed Into A Fine Point Guard In His Freshman Year (Getty Images)

Nigel Williams-Goss Developed Into A Fine Point Guard In His Freshman Year (Getty Images)

What Went Wrong

As alluded to above, the Huskies again struggled in non-conference play. This year there was a 14-point home loss to UC Irvine and a pair of neutral-site losses to Indiana and Boston College that made those mediocre squads look a whole lot better than they really were. Over the past three seasons, the Huskies are 22-15 in games before conference play, with at least one embarrassing home loss per year. Read the rest of this entry »

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SEC M5: 03.26.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on March 26th, 2014

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  1. Billy Donovan has a great chance to win his third national title at Florida. If that were to happen, the pull of the NBA (which temporarily swooped him up for a few days in 2007) would seem even stronger. But that nightmare scenario for Gators fans became less likely on Tuesday as Donovan signed a contract extension that runs through 2018-19 at $3.5 million a year. This is big news for Florida, but it’s also important for the SEC as a whole as it struggles to boost its overall basketball profile. As long as Donovan is at Florida and John Calipari is at Kentucky there’s a good bet the conference will have two strong contenders that demand national attention every season. That’s not a bad base from which to build.
  2. The storm that had been brewing around Cuonzo Martin might have reached a fever pitch had Tennessee lost its First Four game to Iowa. Auburn had just snatched up Bruce Pearl, and the thousands of people that signed an online petition to return Pearl to his perch in Knoxville would’ve had quite a bit of ammunition. Getting to the Sweet Sixteen, however, can cure a lot of ills. A few hundred fans greeted the Vols as they flew in from Raleigh at 2:30 in the morning, and the Tennessee allotment for an ultra-tough ticket in Indianapolis sold out quickly. It turns out that winning at this time of year gets people’s attention in a positive way. An interesting subplot to the Vols’s upcoming game against Michigan is Martin coaching against Glenn Robinson III, since he played with Robinson’s father, the Big Dog, at Purdue.
  3. Not surprisingly, Gary Parrish has the Kentucky-Louisville game as one of the games he can’t wait to watch in the Sweet Sixteen. The magnitude of this game doesn’t top the one two years ago in the Final Four, but it comes close since it’ll be played less than 200 miles from each school’s campus. And of course there is the ever-present intrigue of two highly-quotable coaches, and Rick Pitino’s history at Kentucky. The current state of this rivalry has so many sideshows and subplots that we as a college basketball audience need to be thankful for getting two NCAA Tournament games between the two powerhouse schools in the last three years.
  4. Arkansas’ season finally came to an end late Sunday night with a 75-64 loss at Cal. It was the Razorbacks’ first game in the state of California since 1973, which seems like an especially long time. Fittingly the season ended with a road loss, but there were plenty of positives in Arkansas’ 2013-14 campaign. The late collapse that washed away a likely NCAA bid can’t be sugarcoated, but this was the Razorbacks first 20-win season since 2007-08 and Mike Anderson picked up a postseason win in the NIT. Rashad Madden and Bobby Portis (if he returns) will form a solid duo next year, with Portis a legitimate contender for preseason SEC Player of the Year. Anderson’s recruiting class isn’t as highly-ranked as it was this year (two three-stars, a two-star and an unranked player on Rivals.com), but Anderson had great success with less-heralded recruits at Missouri.
  5. LSU was also shown the door in the NIT on Sunday, courtesy of a blistering shooting performance from SMU (57.9% FG, 9-of-14 from three). It was good to see Andre Stringer (15 points) and Shavon Coleman (eight points, seven rebounds, four steals) go out with nice games. Like Arkansas, we’ll look at the bright side of things for the Tigers. Johnny Jones got himself a postseason win and finished with an RPI almost 20 spots higher than last year. The Tigers may also have some of the best long-term prospects in the SEC outside of Kentucky and Florida. Jones has proven he can bring in talent (Jordan Mickey, Jarell Martin, incoming five-star freshman Ben Simmons), and that’s the fastest way to ascend in the standings. If Mickey, Martin and Johnny O’Bryant stick around (a big if), LSU has to be in the discussion as a favorite to win the league next year.
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SEC Bubble Action: Arkansas Takes Big Hit; Missouri Stays Alive

Posted by Greg Mitchell on March 13th, 2014

Oh momentum, you are a fickle thing. It was only a week ago that Arkansas was pounding Ole Miss and seemed like an NCAA tournament lock. But after the Hogs’ loss to South Carolina in their SEC tournament opener on Thursday, the only thing they’ve locked up is a bid to the NIT. A lot needed to go wrong to undo Arkansas’ six-game winning streak down the stretch that included a statement win at Kentucky. Unfortunately for Mike Anderson, that’s exactly what has happened. The loss last weekend to RPI #116 Alabama was bad, removing any margin for error this week. But following that up with a loss to RPI #146 South Carolina probably won’t be forgiven by the committee. The offense never got going in Tuscaloosa (0.842 points per possession), and while the Hogs played a tad better against the Gamecocks (0.995 points per possession), they squandered several late chances to reclaim the lead. Close misses by Bobby Portis and Rashad Madden in the final minute were reminiscent of the end of Arkansas’ loss at Missouri in mid-February.

Arkansas' NCAA hopes took a big hit with its loss to South Carolina (utsandiego.com).

Arkansas’ NCAA hopes took a big hit with its loss to South Carolina (utsandiego.com).

Had either shot gone in, the Hogs would have faced a quarterfinal with a likely NCAA bid on the line. Instead, they’ll need to sweat it out until Sunday evening. “I’m hoping for the NCAAs,” Coty Clark told the Associated Press afterward. “But right now, I don’t know.” The late season fall is disappointing for Anderson and the SEC, since Arkansas looked like a team that could help redeem the beleaguered conference in postseason play. Clarke had begun to emerge as a dependable, versatile match-up problem of a forward, and Portis had shown that he could carry a team with his 35-point performance against the Tide in early February. Arkansas also has a bevy of guards that get consistent playing time, and they all chipped in offensively in the stream-rolling of the Rebels. Depth like that would be hard to contend with in a one-and–done tournament setting. That six-game winning streak now looks like nothing but a missed opportunity.

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Suspensions Compound Arkansas’ Disastrous Week

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 2nd, 2014

Talk about a rough week. Arkansas suffered a rare home loss to Missouri early in the week and then wasn’t able to shake its road struggles in a 14-point loss to LSU in Baton Rouge. The biggest story for the Razorbacks, however, was who didn’t suit up in yesterday’s game. Michael Qualls and Alandise Harris were suspended from the team indefinitely, removing two major pieces from Mike Anderson‘s rotation. The suspensions couldn’t come at a worse time for the Razorbacks as their NCAA Tournament hopes are on critical life support after losing four of their last five games. Qualls, in particular, will be especially tough to replace. The sophomore averages the second most minutes per game (25.3 MPG), and at 6’6” has size and athleticism that Arkansas doesn’t otherwise have on the wing. The latest personnel crunch also deals a heavy blow to Anderson’s preferred ability to run his pressure system.

Suspensions should accelerate Moses Kingsley's development at Arkansas (wholehogsports.com).

Suspensions should accelerate Moses Kingsley’s development at Arkansas (wholehogsports.com).

We try to stay positive on this microsite (which isn’t always easy), so where’s the silver lining for Arkansas after this latest setback? One such positive could be that Moses Kingsley will need to pick up some of Harris’ minutes. The freshman has incredible peripheral numbers in his small sample size of minutes, including the best PER (27.7), rebounding percentage (17.1%), and block percentage (15.6%) on the team. Now, those are all-conference numbers in a vacuum, and Anderson is no fool. He’s clearly putting Kingsley in a position to succeed by not overexposing him at this point. Still, his talent and upside are enticing. Against LSU he saw 19 minutes of action and logged three points, four rebounds and three blocks during that time. Those aren’t world-beating numbers, but they aren’t terrible for a raw rookie either. These suspensions could mean that Kingsley gets an opportunity to turn into an impressive low post defensive presence, and that development just got fast-tracked.

Qualls’ minutes will be distributed amongst Arkansas’ bevy of guards, but Rashad Madden (who has seen his minutes increase in SEC play) will bear an even greater scoring load than he already had. The junior has been one of the best shooters in the league (with a 65.7 true shooting percentage, third in the SEC), and it’ll be interesting to see how he responds to becoming the true perimeter offensive focus. Arkansas has two winnable games versus Alabama and at Vanderbilt next week, but those looked that way with a full-strength Razorbacks squad. They just became that much tougher, and Anderson’s team simply can’t afford to lose either one if there is any chance of a return to the bubble.

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SEC M5: 01.31.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on January 31st, 2014

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  1. As expected, Florida won in Starkville last night. The Gators did not, however, roll over the Bulldogs (they led by only one point at halftime), and haven’t rolled over the SEC at all recently. The national perspective seems to be that Florida is blowing right by every conference team it plays. This is correct in a strict win-loss sense, as the Gators are the only team with an unbeaten SEC record. But Florida has been somewhat tested by triple-digit KenPom teams in three of their last four games (Mississippi State, Alabama and Auburn). Should that be cause for concern? Margin of victory is a useful indicator of future success, but conference games are especially difficult when you have a top 10 target on your back. That target will be even brighter in an upcoming stretch when the Gators face Tennessee, Kentucky and Ole Miss on the road in the span of two weeks. The Vols and Rebels will be in desperate need of a statement win, and Florida may not be able to grind out wins as easily (that is if Billy Donovan doesn’t throw a blanket over Tennessee’s offense again).
  2. Tennessee has talented pieces that just haven’t fit together as well as they should have this season. Did Darius Thompson just ride into town on a white horse to make it all work? The freshman made his third start of the season Wednesday night in the Vols’ big win over Ole Miss, and his solid stat line (seven assists against two turnovers) should keep him in that spot. “Him getting better – him growing up as a ball player, the time he puts into it and learning and understanding and just being around those experienced guys; I think it was just time,” said head coach Cuonzo Martin. Whether it was a direct result of Thompson starting, Jordan McRae and Josh Richardson rebounded from a horrific shooting performance against Florida to go a combined 10-of-14 from three. Jarnell Stokes also said the Vols pushed the tempo more with Thompson in the game, which was refreshing considering how slowly they have played at times. At this point it’s clear Antonio Barton was not the answer to replace Trae Golden. Still, he’s a senior who can certainly contribute down the stretch for Tennessee.
  3. Arkansas is mired in a five-year NCAA tournament drought, and it’s looking more and more likely that number will extend to six. CBSSports.com‘s Gary Parrish took an interesting look at what’s been ailing the Razorbacks. He wrote extensively about problems with the head coaching position, including a whiff at Billy Gillispie and Dana Altman’s change of heart. Can Mike Anderson turn things around in Fayetteville? He reached the Elite Eight in his third season at Missouri, and barring a miracle, won’t come close to that this season. Bobby Portis may be the ray of hope Anderson needs. The five-star Arkansas native chose to stay home (unlike Archie Goodwin) and could generate some in-state recruiting momentum. Anderson has actually done a fairly good job recruiting elite talent the last few years, even if in a roundabout way. In addition to this year’s solid class, Anderson convinced BJ Young to stay at Arkansas and there is a rumor that Otto Porter would have gone to Missouri had Anderson still been the coach. If he can keep gathering top talent, Anderson’s pressure system may be what returns Arkansas to the NCAA Tournament.
  4. Could it be that Kentucky will have a handful of experienced players back next season? John Calipari is reportedly spreading the word in NBA circles that Andrew and Aaron Harrison will return for their sophomore seasons. This is probably wise given their (relative) struggles and the strength of this upcoming draft class. And it could do even more favors for Calipari. Dakari Johnson has looked good, especially recently, but probably hasn’t stood out enough (yet) to make it worth his while to leave. The same can be said for Marcus Lee. You never know what can happen, but Kentucky could have a starting lineup featuring four sophomores next year.
  5. If Auburn had to win only one SEC game a year, I suppose their fans would prefer it to be against Alabama. The Tigers picked up their first conference win in 51 weeks by beating Alabama last night at home. That win nearly a year ago? It came against the Tide too. Chris Denson scored a career-high 32 points and is firmly in the discussion for an all-SEC team spot. One has to wonder where Anthony Grant goes from here. For a team that started the season with NCAA aspirations the Tide are now a long way away from an NIT bid, and lost any good will created by their solid win over LSU last weekend. Right now they are sitting at the front of the SEC’s “most disappointing table.”
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SEC M5: 01.24.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on January 24th, 2014

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  1. This isn’t the time or place, and I’m not the writer, to rehash the one-and-done debate. But Alex Poythress’ recent string of good games shows that development is more than a buzzword, and patience can be rewarding. The sophomore essentially separated the Wildcats from Texas A&M in the second half of what was a sloppy game. The Louisville Courier Journal‘s Kyle Tucker writes, “In both the way he talks and the way he’s suddenly playing, it seems Poythress is just now figuring out exactly what his 6-foot-8, 240-pound body can do. While he hasn’t started a single game this season — after starting 31 in a somewhat disappointing freshman year — Poythress has become the Cats’ go-to energy source lately.” There are a lot of factors involved (playing time, for example) and it’s not that simple, but Archie Goodwin has played 20 total minutes over the last two weeks for the Phoenix Suns, while Poythress has emerged at Kentucky. Who knows if Goodwin would’ve been better off staying at Kentucky; what is clear is that Poythress’ decision to stay and develop might have been right for him.
  2. The usually-bland Mike Anderson had strong words to say after Arkansas‘ not-so-surprising road loss to Tennessee. “McRae played well, but the MVP was the flagrant foul call,” he said after the game, according to the Knoxville News-Sentinel. “You get in two or three minutes and that’s one that should play on. I thought it just changed the whole dynamic of how the game was going.” The flagrant foul Anderson is referring to was called on Kikko Haydar’s wrap up of Jeronne Maymon with 2:52 left and the Razorbacks up by eight. NBCSports.com‘s Rob Dauster has a good screen shot of the foul, and thinks the refs got it right, and I’m inclined to agree. Anytime you blatantly do not “play the ball” you open yourself up to flagrant calls. Haydar is considerably smaller then Maymon and was contesting from behind leaving little chance his challenge could be seen as “playing the ball.” The senior has to be more aware of the risk involved in wrapping someone up, especially late in such an important game.
  3. Here’s an alarming stat for Missouri fans from the Kansas City Star‘s Tod Palmer: no Tiger other than the Jordan Clarkson, Jabari Brown, or Earnest Ross has reached double figures since Jonathan Williams scored 10 points against North Carolina state on December 28. Missouri’s uber-reliance on their starting back court for offense came to a head against LSU, where the three players accounted for 88.7 percent of the Tigers points (another stat from Palmer). “We’ll have to figure that out in practice,” Clarkson said. “We’ll be all right. We’ll go back to the drawing board and fix some things.” The problem is Missouri just doesn’t currently have the pieces to complement those three guards offensively. Ryan Rosburg has improved since his freshman season, but is nothing more than a “garbage man-type” big guy right now. Torren Jones and Keanau Post are raw offensively, and Wes Clark can’t find his outside shot. The key is Williams, who has shown strong offensive moves when going to his left, and was assertive last Saturday against Alabama in the second half. Consistency, however, is a lot to ask from a freshman.
  4. It wouldn’t be a proper week on this microsite without Luke Winn’s power rankings making an appearance. He has Florida #5 in his latest edition, and writes the following about Casey Prather‘s return from injury against Auburn. “That Prather has shot 64.2 percent from inside the arc this season is remarkable, since he’s doing plenty of his work as a slasher and making tough finishes around the rim, rather than simply dunking drop-off passes from his guards.” It’s hard to argue Prather’s meteoric rise is an anomaly anymore since it’s the end of January and he’s still scoring in bunches. And it shouldn’t fade anytime soon. Even if he is making difficult shots, his offensive game has been predicated on generally-more-reliable shots at the rim (60.3 percent of his shots have been taken at the rim).
  5. Florida beat Alabama last night in a game that followed a familiar script for both teams. The Tide battled hard but came out on the losing end as Florida won its tenth straight game. Perhaps more interesting is the Jacob Kurtz story, which has been there all year but floated largely under-the-radar. Kurtz is a former team manager, and discussed his previous team contributions with the Gainesville Sun‘s Kevin Brockway. “I did laundry, water bottles, wiped the floor — all that. Then they had walk-on tryouts and now we’re here,” Kurtz said. The student manager component is obviously what makes this story eye-catching. Kurtz clearly has game: he’s averaging 12.1 minutes per game on a top five team with legitimate national championship aspirations. Yet he swallowed his pride and did what was necessary to get in with the Florida program. That kind of dedication is impressive.
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Arkansas Rejuvenates Its Program With Buzzer-Beating Dunk and Win

Posted by Eli Linton on January 15th, 2014

Arkansas could not have asked for a more timely victory than the one it got in front of a national audience on Tuesday night. The Razorbacks took a top-15 opponent to overtime for a second game in a row, this time earning a win over Kentucky thanks to the instant-wow rebound and face-melting dunk by Michael Qualls as time expired. The win has put Arkansas squarely on the bubble, and for the time being at the very least, gets the Razorbacks into the conversation for an eventual at-large bid.

The Razorbacks had plenty to celebrate about Tuesday evening. (Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

The Razorbacks had plenty to celebrate about Tuesday evening. (Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

It’s been a year since we last visited Bud Walton Arena to take in a Razorback game. Then it was for Arkansas’ loss to Michael Carter-Williams and the Syracuse Orange. Despite the loss a season ago, you could already see the Razorbacks’ promise under new head coach Mike Anderson, and since then they have taken huge strides toward once again becoming a premier SEC program. Watching Arkansas hang tough against Florida last week, you knew they were getting close, and needed just one big win to earn some respect and possibly emerge as a major conference threat. They got it in a big way on Tuesday, thanks in large part to their defensive play and veteran leadership. A team that has experienced its share of hard times and disappointment is now using that to fuel its way to what they hope is a little bit of March glory. “The way the team was celebrating in the locker room, you could tell we needed it,” said Qualls. “Hopefully that will give us a boost on through the next game.”

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My 2014 SEC New Year’s Resolutions

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 4th, 2014

As 2013 was coming to a close, my wife and I made the decision to allow our nine-year-old son to stay up and participate in the annual tradition of Ryan Seacrest counting down until midnight as Miley Cyrus stuck her tongue out. Well, we could have done without Ryan Seacrest, but we brought in 2014 with a toast of sparkling cider, a riveting game of Monopoly, and a conversation about New Year’s resolutions. I won the game of Monopoly in decidedly dominating fashion, as my wife eloquently explained the meaning and purpose of resolutions. After taking it all in, our son declared that he would like to save his weekly allowance and donate it each month to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, better known as the ASPCA. I was too busy ruthlessly and strategically acquiring properties and constructing monstrosities of hotels to truly appreciate the sacrifice my son had just made.

My son made a resolution to give his allowance to the ASPCA to save dogs like this one. (Photo courtesy of the ASPCA website)

My son made a resolution to give his allowance to the ASPCA to save dogs like this one (Credit: ASPCA)

Now that I have had a few days to reflect, I came to two conclusions. First, I’m amazed at the miracle that occurred. For those of you with kids you know that convincing your child to give you one lone and measly M&M from an entire wealth of stockpiled chocolates from their rich and bountiful Christmas stocking can be a chore, let alone having them complete a thoroughly selfless action like donating money that could be used for toys and video games to save animals from abuse. In all seriousness, I am genuinely thankful, proud, and inspired by the commitment he made. And second, I also realized I was too wrapped up in winning a completely meaningful and rewarding board game to make resolutions for myself, so I am going back a couple of days later to make some 2014 resolutions of my own. Here goes…

1. I resolve… to start believing in LSU as the SEC’s third best team. There’s Missouri. There’s Tennessee. Even Arkansas can make a case. But I think LSU will be the surprise team in the conference once the chips fall where they may. With a win over Rhode Island on Saturday, the Tigers can enter conference play at 10-2 with only road or neutral court losses to UMass and Memphis. Coach Johnny Jones currently lays claim to Ken Pomeroy’s second-ranked defense in the Southeastern Conference and I think that gives his team the identity it needs to succeed. If you need further proof, look at the Tigers’ interior defense trends over the last five years and you will see that Jones has this team looking very different from the past.

LSU's interior defense is significantly improved, and among the best in the country.

LSU’s interior defense is significantly improved, and among the best in the country.

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SEC M5: 12.30.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on December 30th, 2013

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  1. Kentucky‘s starting trio of guards closed out the Wildcats win against Louisville, showing why they were such highly-regarded recruits. It has been a largely inconsistent first two months for the Harrison twins and James Young, with some good moments and some bad. But with Julius Randle out of the game and Louisville taking the lead in the second half, the trio took over. CBSSports‘s Jeff Borzello writes, “The shooting numbers won’t look great (16 for 45 from the field, 3 for 12 from 3, 11 for 21 on free throws), but one has to look past that in order to see the impact the Harrison-Harrison-Young trio made in the final 20 minutes. Those three scored 25 of the Wildcats’ 30 second-half points — including 14 points during a game-changing 15-4 run after Jones’ three-point play.” This collective performance comes just weeks after the Wildcats attitude and “togetherness” was questioned. It’s thus encouraging for John Calipari and Big Blue Nation that it was in a close rivalry game with Randle on the bench that the Widlcat guards took over. If they can show that sort of resolve in a situation like that, there’s no reason they can’t show it in March too.
  2. True road wins were hard to come by for Missouri last season, as the Tigers only picked up two of them. Frank Haith is already halfway to that total this season after Missouri’s win at North Carolina State on Saturday night. Most impressive was that the Tigers executed (for the most part) down the stretch and won a close game. They were not able to do this in a similar situation against Illinois the week before. “Our guys showed great character and great toughness after getting down 10 in both halves,” Missouri coach Frank Haith said. “Everything wasn’t pretty, but I thought we were gritty and we made big plays.” This isn’t the first time the Tigers have shown resilience this season, as they fought back from several big runs and ten plus point deficits to beat UCLA. It’s definitely been an overall positive non-conference season for Missouri.
  3. Anthony Hickey moved to 11th all-time on LSU’s assists list in the Tigers win against McNeese State last Saturday. The guy he passed was the one giving him directions from the sideline, Johnny Jones. “I’m not exactly sure where I was on the list, but he better get a lot better because I was probably down the list,” Jones said with a proud smile. “Anthony has done a tremendous job for us leading our basketball team.” Hickey has indeed quietly had a solid season alongside the great starts from Johnny O’Bryant and Jordan Mickey. Hickey has kept his assist numbers consistent (3.5 per game, 21.3% assist percentage) while turning the ball over less than he did last season (1 per game this season v. 1.8 last season). He’s also doing a good spacing the floor for LSU’s bigs by hitting a career best 39% from three.
  4. Mike Anderson must be having fun this season. Not only is Arkansas 10-2, but he has the Razorbacks playing fast (32nd in the country with 75.2 possessions per game) and is using nearly every able body on his bench. Anderson played 12 players at least 12 minutes in the Razorbacks’ win against High Point last Saturday. The “40 Minutes of Hell” system presents a number of interesting angles. On one hand, players that go to Arkansas will play fast and often get playing time early in their career. But on the other hand, that playing time may be limited, and by nature will generally be less than it would be elsewhere. Sophomore guard Michael Qualls is having a break out season, but is only playing 25 minutes a game. That’s still a significant chunk, but should he be playing more? Or are his solid numbers a product of not being over-exposed? Again, there are a lot of interesting aspects to Anderson’s system.
  5. There was a moment late in Alabama’s loss to UCLA that it appeared Trevor Releford (34 points) was about to will the Tide to a win. He sunk a three-pointer to pull Alabama within two, then stole the ball and tied the game with a layup. But the Tide wouldn’t score again and lost yet another close game to a good team. Anthony Grant’s team sits at 5-7 (the first time that Grant has been two games under .500 at Alabama) and has to be considered the biggest disappointment in the SEC. Hard-fought losses to Oklahoma, Duke, Drexel, Wichita State, and now UCLA are commendable, but nothing more than losses in the end. Given their talent and Releford’s ability to take over, the Tide should threaten in games against the conference’s upper tier. But it doesn’t appear they will threaten for a NCAA Tournament invite after how the non-conference season has unfolded.
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SEC M5: 12.20.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on December 20th, 2013

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  1. Tennessee stubbed its toe against North Carolina State at home on Wednesday, and it will now need a spectacular conference record to get into the NCAA Tournament this season. Rocky Top Talk‘s Will Shelton points out that the SEC will likely offer few opportunities for signature wins, putting the Volunteers in an all too familiar tough early spot for head coach Cuonzo Martin. The last two years it has taken frantic finishes from the Vols to generate NCAA consideration, but this hasn’t led to anything substantive for Tennessee’s postseason. Shelton writes, “those 8-1 runs were indeed special during every second of them, right up until the moment we didn’t hear our name called because we screwed it up just bad enough beforehand to miss out.” The Vols can pull themselves out of their 6-4 hole, of course, but there’s simply no room to drop another winnable game at home. There are wins to be had in the soft underbelly of the SEC but at this point it will take a lot of wins to avoid another disappointing Selection Sunday in Knoxville. The shame is that Tennessee’s schedule hasn’t been brutal. Xavier looks like a solid team, but is only #57 in Kenpom‘s ratings; outside of Wichita State, the Vols shouldn’t have run into the problems that they have.
  2. For what seems like the first time this season, Auburn is in the SEC M5 with some positive news. The Tigers picked up their biggest win of the season over Clemson, beating the (other) Tigers 66-64 last night. The picture isn’t yet clear on Clemson this season, but they stood at 8-2 before the game with reasonable losses against UMass and at Arkansas. Auburn was outclassed against Iowa State and Illinois, so getting a win against another power conference team should be a confidence booster for Tony Barbee’s squad. Chris Denson again led the Tigers in scoring and only committed one turnover despite playing 33 minutes and constantly handling the ball. Right now he’s in serious contention for an all-SEC spot and he might in fact be the most improved player in the conference. A lot of it has to do with the loss of Frankie Sullivan, but Denson’s scoring average is up nearly nine points per game along with his other averages as well.
  3. Mike Anderson’s pair of highly-touted freshmen forwards lived up to the hype last night, and that could be the key for better times away from Fayetteville this year for the Razorbacks. It was a night of highs for Moses Kingsley in a win against Tennessee-Martin, as he played the most minutes (20), scored the most points (12), and grabbed the most rebounds (12) of his young career. Bobby Portis also continued his steady improvement, scoring 15 points and grabbing nine rebounds of his own. The development of these big men is important not only because they’re talented, but also because Anderson’s teams have historically had rebounding issues. If these two can help reverse that trend, Arkansas could actually get enough wins away from Bud Walton Arena to truly be in the NCAA tournament discussion later this winter.
  4. Mississippi State conquered the remnants of Dunk City last night, beating Florida Gulf Coast 66-53 at home. The win runs the Bulldogs’ record to 8-2, which has reached a level that merits some attention. Mississippi State is still probably a lower-third SEC team when it’s all said and done, but through 10 games last year, Rick Ray’s team stood at 4-6 (albeit with a much tougher schedule). Even if the Bulldogs own no notable wins and barely hung on against a couple of low-major teams, that’s still a drastically different record. Ray needs to build momentum for this program and piling up wins no matter how it’s done or who it’s against is important. This is especially so because the major contributors will all be back next year and, in some cases, beyond: I.J. Ready is a freshman; Craig Sword, Fred Thomas and Gavin Ware are sophomores; Roquez Johnson is a junior.
  5. This was a disastrous week for South Carolina, and that might be sugarcoating it. The Gamecocks fell to Manhattan on Sunday then followed that up with a loss to 6-5 USC Upstate last night. Both of these losses happened at home. To be fair, USC Upstate has beaten Virginia Tech (so Carolina is not its first power conference victim), but you can only make so many excuses for a loss like this. The Gamecocks have a long ways to go, and maybe this isn’t surprising given the program Frank Martin inherited. Michael Carrera was suspended for the game because of an “altercation” following the Manhattan loss, and although it’s good to see passion in players, Carrera didn’t help his team by sitting at home last night. The Carolina guards outside of Sindarius Thornwell didn’t help much either. Brenton Williams, Bruce Ellington and Tyrone Johnson went a combined 8-of-28 from the field.
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Pac-12 M5: 12.02.13 Edition

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on December 2nd, 2013

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  1. Out of all the preseason preview publications out there, the highest praise rained upon an incoming transfer from Moberly Area Community College was “brings scoring potential.” That was via Athlon Sports, and boy has junior guard Mike Anderson showed some scoring potential this season for Washington. He led the Huskies to a 92-89 double overtime win Saturday against Long Beach State, scoring 19 points and grabbing a ridiculous 16 rebounds in the victory. Head coach Lorenzo Romar has not run out of good things to say about the junior college transfer, telling reporters that while he expected him to be a jack-of-all-trades type of player, this goes above and beyond that description. Anderson is playing out of position and is excelling at it, adding a nice complement in the Huskies’ three-guard lineup to C.J. Wilcox and Nigel Williams-Goss. The Huskies will play San Diego State on the road Sunday and need a win to stay above the .500 mark.
  2. Feast Week came to a close yesterday, and Washington State went cold down the stretch in Lake Buena Vista to fall to St. Joseph’s, 72-67. The Cougars led 65-63 with three-plus minutes remaining, but a 9-2 Hawks’ run to cap the game sent Ken Bone’s team home with a 1-2 record in the Old Spice Classic. “We didn’t execute as well as we needed to win the game,” said Bone. Second half execution has been a recurring problem for the Cougs, something he’ll need to figure out if he wants to stick around much longer in Pullman.
  3. While Stanford has faced some solid opponents thus far in the 2013-14 campaign, the Cardinal played their first high-profile, “nationally relevant” games during Feast Week at the Legends Classic. Golden Gate Sports breaks down what we learned about Stanford in its two regional round wins and 1-1 championship round record. As the piece points out, the Pittsburgh game wasn’t a bad loss because of the quality of the opponent, but rather because it turned out to be a blowout and the Cardinal were never really in the game. Stanford will get a chance to prove it can play with quality competition outside of the Pac-12 when it meets Connecticut and Michigan in back-to-back games away from home later this month. Meanwhile in Palo Alto, Johnny Dawkins’ seat gets warmer.
  4. Former USC coach and current head man at UTEP, Tim Floyd, says the verbal feuding between himself and current Trojans’ coach Andy Enfield, is over. The bad-mouthing began in April when Floyd thought Enfield was tampering with the recruitment of guard Isaac Hamilton, who was originally supposed to be a Miner (eventually landing at UCLA). The altercations came to a head earlier this week with both teams playing in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in Nassau, Bahamas, with the respective coaching staffs exchanging heated words following the publication of this feature two weeks ago.
  5. One of the quietest 7-0 records in the country belongs to Dana Altman and Oregon. Ever since the Ducks topped Georgetown on opening night, they have flown under the radar with a soft schedule and without the play-making abilities of starting sophomore point guard Dominic Artis, who was suspended after it was discovered he had been selling his team-issued shoes. Since that first week, the Ducks have used fast starts in most of their contests to jump ahead of their lesser opponents. They did just that again on Sunday night, taking an early 36-18 advantage against Cal Poly before rolling to a 21-point victory. Things get considerably tougher for Oregon now, though, as it faces Mississippi, Illinois, UC Irvine, and BYU in its next four games, the first two of which will be played away from the friendly confines of Matthew Knight Arena.
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Early Returns: Arkansas Razorbacks

Posted by Greg Mitchell on November 25th, 2013

Arkansas leaves the comfort of Bud Walton Arena and heads to Maui this week for a stretch of games that will define its non-conference season. The road hasn’t been kind to the Razorbacks under Mike Anderson, so getting some neutral site wins would be a nice confidence booster. Reaching potential later round games with teams like Syracuse, Gonzaga, and/or Baylor is also important because the rest of Arkansas’ non-conference schedule is devoid of quality opponents. They also won’t play another game away from Bud Walton Arena until their SEC season begins in College Station on January 8 against Texas A&M.

No surprise: Mike Anderson's Razorbacks are turning opponents over at a high rate. (AP)

No surprise: Mike Anderson’s Razorbacks are turning opponents over at a high rate. (AP)

Here’s a look at what the Razorbacks have shown in their first three games:

Wins: (plus KenPom rating) Southern Illinois-Edwardsville (#329), Louisiana-Lafayette (#170), SMU (#67)

The Good: Turning the opponent over and defending the three. It’s not a big surprise when it comes to forcing turnovers because that is what Anderson’s teams do. The Razorbacks have forced 61 turnovers in only three games, and currently hold a 19-turnover advantage over their opponents in that area. They are also doing a good job pressuring opposing three-point shooters, allowing a meager 28 percent from beyond the arc. Contrast that with the 41 percent Arkansas has shot from three and you’ve got a recipe for success. Read the rest of this entry »

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