Resetting the SEC at the Midpoint: A Three-Bid League?

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 2nd, 2013

Many of us are aware that a significant portion of our SEC brethren pay more attention to the football field than the hardwood during November and December. Yeah, football’s alright, but think of all the great moments those poor sports fans have missed thus far during this college basketball season. Okay, maybe not from SEC basketball, but the sport as a whole has been great. At least nobody can argue that action from the SEC hasn’t been, well, eventful. And now we’re here to catch you up with what’s happened in the league and throughout the SEC microsite during the early part of this 2012-13 season:

November and December has been tough for Rick Ray and the rest of the SEC coaching brethren.

November and December has been tough for Rick Ray and the rest of the SEC coaching brethren.

Conference Recap

Well, things aren’t going as planned around here. SEC schools have lost to the likes of Troy, Alabama A&M, Winthrop, and Marist just to name a few. Barring a huge collapse, just a few SEC squads should hear their names in March (Florida, Missouri, and Kentucky), but the rest of the teams in the conference have significant work to do. As a whole, the conference has been downright wretched. And that’s the nice version. On the bright side, it has been fun, and it’s only the beginning. We have a lot of catching up to do, so let’s get right down to it.

All SEC Non-Conference Performers

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Rushed Reactions: UCLA 97, #9 Missouri 94 (OT)

Posted by AMurawa on December 29th, 2012

rushedreactions

It was one of the more thrilling games of the young season, an up-and-down affair featuring great individual performances, scoring in bunches, and little of that pesky defense that can serve just to ugly things up. No, this was a track meet, a sprint. And one that needed some extra distance to decide a winner.

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. This is What The Buzz Was About. We spent much of the offseason hearing about how great this UCLA recruiting class was and just how high the ceiling was for this team, but for much of the first month and a half of the season, the Bruins just didn’t live up to the hype. But quietly over the last couple weeks, UCLA has gotten on an offensive roll, racking up efficient offensive performances against questionable competition. Leading the way has been Shabazz Muhammad, one of the top two recruits in this year’s freshman class, depending on whom you ask. Tonight was his, and really, the entire UCLA team’s chance to show the strides that they have made. Muhammad poured in 27 points, including seven of UCLA’s nine points in overtime, and flashed the athleticism and killer instinct that was long rumored about him. While there is still plenty of room for improvement (case in point, he grabbed just one rebound in 34 minutes of play), we’re starting to see what we expected to see. And in proximity to the rumors that had been swirling about Ben Howland’s job being in jeopardy, this win may have come at just the right time.
  2. Phil Pressey. He Good. Phil Pressey, on the other hand, was a guy who had been largely living up to the high standards that he had previously set for himself. Tonight, he found himself facing a team with an up-tempo, minimal defense in which he can thrive. And thrive he did, wowing Tiger and Bruin fans alike to the tune of 19 points and 19 assists, setting a Missouri record for dimes in a game. The assists are the big story, and they came in a variety of ways: whip-aheads on the fast break; drive-and-dish jobs creating easy looks for big guys like Alex Oriakhi and Laurence Bowers; and crisp passes to spot-up shooters for threes. And when he wasn’t handing out assists, he was creating for himself. He knocked down a late three (one of three on the night) in the face of Larry Drew II, he got into the lane and flipped in runners, and he knocked down pull-up jumpers. Just looking at the 8-for-22 effort in the box score could give one pause, but he was everything for the Tigers, accounting for 67 of their 94 points on just his shots and assists alone.
  3. Defense? What Defense? Much of the talk during the game on Twitter was about the lack of defense being played. And, yeah, there is little arguing that this was not exactly a fine example of defensive basketball. When all was said and done, the two teams combined to give up 1.18 points per possession. But you know what? At least for UCLA, that’s something to be okay with — at least there were signs of improvement. While they allowed far too much dribble penetration, at least it was to a point guard the quality of Pressey. And UCLA forced 17 turnovers (five from Pressey) which led to 36 points, quite possibly the difference in the game. At no point is this UCLA team going to be a shining example of Howland’s great defensive coaching, but if the Bruins can bolster its already potent offense by forcing turnovers and creating fast break opportunities, at least that can help to mitigate some of the easy points they give up.

Stars of the GameThe Wear Twins. Yeah, this should probably go to Pressey. Or maybe if you really want to hand it out to a player on the winning team, Muhammad. But I’ve already talked plenty about those two. How about the Wear twins though? Though they are a pair much maligned by large fan bases on both coasts, they were both excellent tonight. Travis Wear set a new career high, knocking in 22 points, grabbing nine boards and swatting a couple of shots. His brother, despite some early foul trouble, made all seven of the shots he attempted from the field on his way to 16 points and six boards. And, while a guy like Alex Oriakhi will get more attention as the big athletic dude in the middle, the Wears outplayed him, frustrated him, and, frankly, out-toughed him. Now there’s a sentiment I never thought I’d have. And, finally, with the game on the line, it was not Muhammad, it was not Jordan Adams (who was on the bench with leg cramps after being the guy called on at the end of regulation), it was not Kyle Anderson to whom the Bruins turned in the final moments of overtime. It was Travis Wear, who responded with a nice turnaround jumper to put UCLA up three with 13 seconds remaining.

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Pac-12 Game of the Week: Missouri at UCLA

Posted by AMurawa on December 28th, 2012

As conference plays looms around the corner, the last real big game on the Pac-12 non-conference schedule tips off tonight at 7:00 PM PST on ESPN2 as the as-yet underachieving Bruins take on the Tigers, currently ranked #9 in the RTC Top 25. I’ll (@AMurawa) be on hand at Pauley Pavilion to report on the action, but in advance, let’s run down what to keep an eye on tonight.

Why It’s Important: While Missouri may have some solid wins on their non-conference resume (Virginia Commonwealth, Illinois and Stanford), UCLA is very much in need of heading into conference play with something positive in the rear view mirror. While they’re riding a four-game winning streak now and the offense has picked up over most of that stretch, defensively they are still struggling. And Missouri’s efficient offensive, run by playmaker par excellence Phil Pressey, is going to give the Bruins all the test they want. The hyped freshman class of Shabazz Muhammad, Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams has been explosive, but they’ll need to prove their toughness tonight in order to establish any national cred.

Phil Pressey's Quickness and Court Vision Will Test UCLA's Unproven Defense (US Presswire)

Phil Pressey’s Quickness and Court Vision Will Test UCLA’s Unproven Defense (US Presswire)

Missouri Player to Watch – Phil Pressey: The point has been made before, but I don’t mind repeating it: Pressey is the type of player who can, even in the midst of a poor shooting night, have a positive effect on his team on both ends of the court. The most recent example of such came on Saturday when Pressey missed his first 15 shots, wound up just 3-of-19 from the field (and an oh-fer from behind the arc) and yet was still almost universally regarded as the most important player in the Tigers’ nine-point win over Illinois. Why? Because his ability to create good looks for his teammates (and yes, part of that is being a constant threat to shoot the ball) is almost unparalleled. He hands out assists on better than 32% of his teammates baskets, good for better than six assists per night. Given UCLA’s record of struggling to stop penetration, priority number one for Ben Howland and his senior point guard Larry Drew II will be slowing Pressey, forcing bad shots and making other players beat them.

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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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Braggin’ Rights Win Over Illini Reveals a Different Missouri Team

Posted by dnspewak on December 23rd, 2012

Danny Spewak is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report from the Scottrade Center following Missouri’s 82-73 victory over Illinois Saturday night. You can follow him on Twitter @dspewak.

It was an unfamiliar sight. The big, bad Missouri Tigers ferociously attacked the offensive glass on Saturday, flying over Illinois at every opportunity and bullying the Fighting Illini with their size and strength. Phil Pressey, who missed his first 15 shots from the field, could have missed 100 shots for all he cared. Every time Pressey clanked another floater off the rim, Alex Oriakhi was there to clean up the mess. By the end of Missouri’s 82-73 Braggin’ Rights victory at the Scottrade Center, he’d tallied 14 rebounds — seven on the offensive end – and cemented himself as the face of the Tigers’ new identity.“Alex is just a monster on the glass. We see that every day in practice. We call it eating,” senior forward Laurence Bowers said. “That’s how Alex eats.” His diet is starting to rub off on his teammates. Bowers grabbed 10 rebounds, too, and scored a game-high 23 points in a contest that featured a near-brawl in the first half during a tie-up. In fact, the game teetered on the brink of an all-out brawl for 40 minutes. The officiating crew rarely blew the whistle. As the second half wore on, Oriakhi and the Tigers clamped up defensively, out-rebounded the Illini by 22 and powered their way to a fourth straight victory in the Braggin’ Rights series.

Missouri v. Illionis

Missouri Showed Some Real Toughness Saturday Night (Rich Sugg/Kansas City Star)

Notice the key word here: “powered.” In every way, the Tigers flashed their new identity as a tough, in-your-face squad who will fight you for loose balls and make you miserable on the offensive glass. That’s an absurd and fairly unbelievable identity for this program, considering the team has seemed to perpetually lack size for several years. When MU hired Mike Anderson in 2006, he implemented a style of play tailored toward speed, quickness and guard play. He recruited tough kids who could guard, and he recruited forwards who could run the floor, but he never recruited a traditional big man. For five seasons, Missouri compensated for an inability to rebound by forcing turnovers and scoring in transition. Sometimes, it worked, like during a run to the Elite Eight in 2009. Other times, though, it left Missouri fans shaking their heads when opponents would manhandle the Tigers on the boards and in the paint. When Anderson left for Arkansas, he left Frank Haith with a terrific set of guards, which he coached to 30 wins using a four-guard attack. They were fun. They were gunners. They won by outscoring you. But Kyle O’Quinn and Norfolk State eventually exposed the guard-heavy attack in the NCAA Tournament.

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SEC M5: 12.12.12 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on December 12th, 2012

  1. The NCAA honored the 2006-07 Florida Gators by naming them one of the top 25 teams in NCAA Tournament history, and Joakhim Noah as one of the top 75 players to ever play in the Tournament. The back-to-back Gators ran through the regular season and NCAA Tournament on their way to a 35-5 record and a repeat performance as National Champions. Dick Vitale spoke about where Florida ranked in terms of all-time great teams. “They rank very high to me in terms of their loyalty factor,” Vitale said. “In today’s day and age, everyone runs for the quick buck, have visions of grandeur and the dollar. Those kids have to be commended, Noah and (Al) Horford and (Corey) Brewer could have taken a lot of cash. But it’s a tribute to the school, tribute to the coaches and it certainly was an outstanding team defensively.” Two Kentucky teams (1995-96 and 2011-12) also made the list, as well as several SEC players, but what about the 1993-94 Arkansas Razorbacks? Nolan Richardson’s team went 31-3 on the year, beating Duke for the 1994 National Championship. For a complete list of the NCAA’s all-time teams, players, and moments from the NCAA Tournament, be sure to click here.
  2. Auburn lost four games in a row before Tuesday’s bounce-back game against winless Grambling. Including Tuesday night’s victory, the Tigers have four home games in a row where they are hoping to build back a winning attitude. “We just have to be more confident with the ball,” freshman guard Jordan Price said. “At the end of the game, we have a lot of turnovers, defensive breakdowns, offensive breakdowns, so we have to be more confident.” Like several SEC teams, Auburn coach Tony Barbee is trying to blend a lot of  newcomers. “We’ve got a lot of new faces and old faces, particularly new faces, trying to fit into the program,” center Asauhn Dixon-Tatum said. “We’ve had some miscommunication, but everything seems to be falling into place.” It needs to fall into place quickly for the Tigers. They play Illinois and Florida State before beginning conference play.
  3. The search for what ails the Kentucky Wildcats continues to fall short. ESPN took a stab, and so did our friends at CollegeBasketballTalk, but both missed the most detrimental factor of the Wildcats’ shortcomings. Myron Medcalf wrote, “So Kentucky doesn’t have a talent problem. It has a youth problem, a point guard problem, an inexperience problem. The Cats were not as good as they thought they were and now they know it.” Youth has never been an issue. The 2011-12 Kentucky squad proved that. Point guard play and inexperience rear their ugly head consistently, but Medcalf and CBT miss one of the biggest issues. Defense is one of the largest ailments for the 2012-13 Wildcats. Kentucky’s effective field goal percentage defense ranks 52nd in the country. Last year, John Calipari’s team was number one in that category. The problem is partly because Kentucky gives up too many shots at the rim (34% of the overall opponents shots are taken at the rim), and too often don’t get back on defense after missed shots.
  4. Kentucky forward Kyle Wiltjer has always been a liability on the defensive end, but who would have thought the three-point marksman would hurt the Wildcats on offense? With the exception of two games where Wiltjer played well and caught fire from beyond the arc against weaker competition, the sharpshooting forward hasn’t made more than one three-pointer in any other game. And overall, Wiltjer is shooting eight fewer percentage points from outside than he did last season. Players are supposed to increase their shooting numbers as they get older and more experienced, right? Wiltjer’s difficulties on the offensive end are in part because the rest of Kentucky’s offensive threats aren’t drawing double teams like last year’s stars. Last year, Kentucky’s penetration into the lane caused defenders to sag down to help leaving Wiltjer wide open for the jumper. Kentucky’s slashers don’t draw as much attention this year which leaves Wiltjer to create his own shot, which is not his forte.
  5. Missouri is ready to welcome in some help in transfer Jabari Brown, who is expected to be cleared to play by the end of this week. Frank Haith is looking forward to what Brown will contribute to the Tigers. “We need him to be Jabari Brown — not to be Mike Dixon, not to be Marcus Denmon,” Haith said. But teammates say Brown will be just fine being himself, and bringing some much needed shooting to the roster. “He can shoot the ball,” point guard Phil Pressey said. “He’s hit a couple in my face, so I know he can shoot the ball.” Forward Laurence Bowers was even more direct about Brown’s impact. “He’s definitely, I would say, probably the best shooter on our team. From practice, it’s been pretty clear,” Bowers said. Missouri isn’t exactly shooting lights out, and with the loss of Dixon, the Tigers will certainly benefit from Brown’s addition to the team.
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Set Your DVR: Thanksgiving Weekend Edition

Posted by bmulvihill on November 23rd, 2012

Brendon Mulvihill is the head curator for @SportsGawker and an RTC contributor. You can find him @TheMulv on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

The Battle 4 Atlantis and the NIT Tip-Off continue over the weekend with some very interesting match-ups. So grab some Thanksgiving left overs and settle in for some good hoops.

#5 Michigan vs. Kansas State (PNIT Finals) – 4:30 PM EST, Friday on ESPN (****)

The Wolverines are going to need better three-point shooting from Tim Hardaway Jr. against Kansas State. (Melanie Maxwell/AnnArbor.com)

  • Both Michigan and Kansas State. are coming off tough semifinal wins in the NIT Tip-Off. Michigan was able to pull out a victory with strong second-half defense in the 1-3-1 zone and great defensive rebounding. While the Wolverines are not going to win many games going 3-17 from three-point land, it is encouraging to see them win with their defense, particularly because Kansas State brings a strong defense into any game. The Wildcats are only allowing teams to shoot 27.4% from downtown and are creating turnovers on 28% of opponents possessions. K-State also had eight players go double-figure minutes against Delaware while the Wolverines only had six players go into double-figure minutes against Pitt. The Wolverines could get tired in the second half due to K-State’s physical play if they do not get more minutes from the bench. KSU is going to have to improve its shooting significantly if they want to walk away with a big win. They’ve shot 41.5% eFG against Delaware and 44.8% eFG through five games this season. The Wildcats need to shoot over 50% eFG to have a chance at winning this one.

#23 Cincinnati vs. Iowa State (LV Invitational) – 6:30 PM EST, Friday on CBS College Sports (***)

  • While Cincinnati and Iowa State have two common opponents already, Campbell and North Carolina A&T, its tough to glean any significant information from the games because both were blowouts. The Bearcats come into the game with an adjusted defensive efficiency of 88.4, which is good for 11th in the nation. They are cleaning up on the defensive boards and shutting down two-point shooting. ISU is ranked 16th in the country in two-point shooting, hitting 56.9% of their shots inside the arc thus far. Keep a close eye on who wins the battle in the paint, as it should determine the winner of this one.

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Big East M5: 11.23.12 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on November 23rd, 2012

  1. Mike DeCourcy at Sporting News asked yesterday why Cincinnati’s attendance is hovering around 5,700 fans (43% of arena capacity), despite the team’s Top 25 ranking, 4-0 record and charismatic roster. He argues that Mick Cronin’s squad is reminiscent of the 2011 Pittsburgh team that went 15-3 in possibly the deepest Big East ever. So what’s separates Cincinnati from those Big East Champions? An appreciable home-court advantage, says Decourcy. The Panthers succeeded that year “in no small part due to their 8-1 home league mark fueled by ferocious crowds that consistently threatened the Petersen Center’s 12,500-seat capacity.” Mick Cronin contends that continuing to win is the only way to woo Cincinnati’s pro-sports-minded fans, who tend to show up for the biggest names on the schedule. “Which comes first, though? The home-court success or the home-court advantage?” asks Decourcy. “Honestly, not a lot of quality teams ever have to confront that question.”
  2. In his post on Louisville’s plodding 51-46 victory over Northern Iowa in their Battle 4 Atlantis opener last night, Eric Crawford of local affiliate WDRB restates that UofL’s offense needs to wean itself off the three-point shot. Heading into its contest with a prolific Missouri offense, 43% of Louisville’s shots this season have been lobbed from beyond the arc. Louisville has only connected on 29.4% of the more than 27 threes they attempt each game, on average. That irrational shot distribution makes it impossible for Louisville to score with any efficiency on a regular basis. “This is a team that ought to be able to throw lobs off penetration, or to drive in for mid-range looks. It ought to be able to enter the ball to the post from the wing, rather than from a guard who drives and dishes from two feet away, where the defense can easily collapse.” Crawford also cautions that the fruits of Louisville’s full court press have become a crutch that the Cards won’t always be able to depend on. “This team is scoring a remarkable 37.6 percent (109 out of 290) off of turnovers. And that’s fine, if you can keep causing them. But eventually somebody is going to take better care of the ball.” Phil Pressey’s Missouri team could be the first to force UofL to rely on half court offense.
  3. The folks at Pittsburgh blog Cardiac Hill write that the Panthers 67-62 loss to #4 Michigan “proved that there’s still a good bit of work to do” before Pitt fans can consider their team elite. Watching Pitt hang with the favored Wolverines down to the wire was apparently more frustrating than encouraging for fans who knew enough to expect more from Steven Adams and Tray Woodall. The heralded freshman Kiwi in particular continued a weeklong trend of decreasing minutes and productivity: “He was scoreless, but even more importantly, just didn’t look like he belonged.” At least the Panthers didn’t have much time to dwell on the loss, as they’ll regroup against Delaware today.
  4. Some reporter had the misfortune of asking Jim Boeheim about realignment. Spoiler alert: he’s kind of ambivalent. “Everybody knows the story. They’re going for whatever they’re going for. The rivalries don’t matter to anybody anymore. I think if you ask somebody at West Virginia right now, their fans, if they like going out to Texas Tech and Texas A&M[?] and all those places. Ask their fans if they really like that? Maybe they do. I don’t know. I don’t get it, never have got it. But that’s just the way it’s going and nothing you can do about it. It’s like I said, if these guys were running the United States in Colonial times, Brazil and Argentina would be states because they have something we need. It would make a great country” (brackets added).
  5. The Providence Journal published an article the other day about the possibility of the Big East basketball schools voting to dissolve the conference. Last night, Brian Ewart at VU Hoops posted a critique that sought to distill the report’s concrete facts, and arrived at the conclusion that dissolution––even after losing another all-sports member to the ACC––remains very unlikely. The two-thirds majority would require unanimous consensus in favor of dissolving among all the basketball schools, and Georgetown and St. John’s allegedly strongly oppose league suicide. On a pragmatic level, pulling the plug on the Big East would deprive the basketball schools of hundreds of thousands of dollars (potentially much more, depending on current media negotiations) in television revenue. Any move to unilaterally dissolve before the eight new members officially join could expose each of the Catholic basketball schools to a mind-numbing amount of litigation, as each of those new members are in various stages of cutting prior conference affiliations.
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Set Your DVR: Feast Week

Posted by bmulvihill on November 19th, 2012

Brendon Mulvihill is the head curator for @SportsGawker and an RTC contributor. You can find him @TheMulv on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

Thanksgiving week, otherwise known as “Feast Week” for college hoops fans tuning into ESPN, provides us a bunch of viewing options while we gorge ourselves with turkey and stuffing. Several of the higher profile preseason tournaments get going or finish up this week including the Maui Invitational, the NIT Tip-Off, and the Battle 4 Atlantis. While we don’t know all the potential match-ups in those tourneys just yet, you can be sure there will be some great games. We’ll take a look today at the first round games for a few of the tournaments but definitely tune into the later rounds as they progress. Let’s get to the breakdowns.

Game of the Week

#5 Michigan vs. Pittsburgh (PNIT Semifinals) – 9:30 PM EST, Wednesday on ESPN HD (****)

The battle between Michigan’s Trey Burke (above) and Pitt’s Tray Woodall could be the best point guard match-up we see all season(AP)

  • The battle between Pittsburgh’s Tray Woodall and Michigan’s Trey Burke at the point guard position could be one of the best we see all season. Woodall is averaging 14 points and seven assists through four games this season and shooting a fantastic 57.1% from inside the arc. Burke is averaging 18 points and eight assists through three games and is also shooting 57% from inside the arc. There are two areas to keep an eye on as these two battle throughout the night – turnovers and three-point shooting. Burke is turning the ball over at a slightly higher rate than Woodall – 20% vs. 15%. While both are excellent distributors of the basketball, the player who wins the defensive battle and can create more turnovers will give his team a huge advantage. Additionally, Burke is extending defenses with his 43.8% shooting from downtown. His ability to continue to hit threes against a Pitt team that has shown weakness against perimeter shooting will be vital to a Michigan victory — particularly so if Michigan wants to free up space on the inside for its frontcourt.
  • Speaking of the frontcourt battle, Michigan’s Glenn Robinson III, Mitch McGary, Jordan Morgan, and Jon Horford finally give coach John Beilein some rebounding to go along with his penchant for the outside shot. Michigan has been a three-point heavy squad with very little rebounding support under Beilein. With the additions of McGary and Robinson, the Wolverines can go big and hit the offensive boards hard should their outside shooting go cold. They are going to need it because the Panthers bring their own talented frontcourt to the party in Talib Zanna, J.J. Moore, and 7’0” freshman center Steven Adams. Offensive rebounding will be a huge factor in this game. Michigan is only allowing opponents to grab 14% of their offensive rebounding opportunities, good for third in the nation. They face a much tougher Pitt frontline however whose offensive rebounding rate is sixteenth in the nation at 46%. Something has to give.
  • Given the great match-ups we are going to see in this game, it should be a close one in Madison Square Garden. The difference could be Michigan’s outside shooting. The Wolverines are currently hitting 49% of their three-point attempts. Outside pressure can come from Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., freshman Nick Stauskas, and even Robinson. If Jamie Dixon’s squad can improve its perimeter defense and get Adams more involved in the offense, they will have a chance to take down the Wolverines. Otherwise, U of M will walk out of the Garden with a victory.

Six Other Games to Watch This Week

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SEC M5: 11.12.12 Edition

Posted by DPerry on November 12th, 2012

  1. Point guard is widely considered the biggest question mark in Kentucky’s title defense, and Wildcat fans were hoping to see new floor general Ryan Harrow satisfy the skeptics with a strong debut against Maryland. However, with the NC State transfer battling flu-like symptoms, it wasn’t to be. Instead, Jarrod Polson provided fans with a performance that won’t soon be forgotten. The former walk-on played 22 minutes (by far a career-high), scored 10 points on 4-5 shooting, and coolly sank two clinching free throws in the dying seconds. Why was a complete unknown able to have such an impact? Practice. “One of the overlooked benefits to all those No. 1 recruiting classes Calipari reels in year after year is the daily competition,” writes John Clay, “where terrific players and accomplished athletes go head to head as a matter of routine.” In Brandon Knight, Marquis Teague, and Harrow, Polson has faced a murderer’s row of opposing ball handlers in his three years of practice in Lexington. With competition like that, Maryland’s Pe’shon Howard couldn’t possibly be a problem.
  2. When Rick Ray was hired to replace coach Rick Stansbury at Mississippi State, he wasn’t only responsible for retooling a basketball team. He was charged with rebuilding a program’s reputation. They’ve had plenty of talent over the last few seasons, but the Bulldogs couldn’t shake the dreaded “underachiever” label. Off the court issues plagued the team as well, with Renardo Sidney’s countless shenanigans the most notable. Fortunately, Ray isn’t seeing any lingering signs of questionable character in his players. “The biggest thing I’m happy about with the team so far is they are giving the effort,” Ray told Starkville Daily News, “That is one thing I have not had to coach here so far.” That effort may be all Ray can count on from a team that returns very little talent and boasts very little depth. These deficiencies were exposed in a 56-53 defeat to Sun Belt also-ran Troy (the SEC’s only opening weekend loss). Ray is optimistic about what he sees from his squad, but consider it a surprise if the Bulldogs aren’t sitting in the SEC cellar by the end of the season.
  3. Tennessee wins the award for most misleading score of the weekend. The nine-point margin doesn’t inspire much confidence when the opponent is Kennesaw State (3-28 last season), but the Volunteers were predictably dominant in their season opener. “You have to take pride in dominating teams when you have the opportunity,” coach Cuonzo Martin said after the game. Tennessee held a 25-point lead midway through the second half, before mental slippage (Martin’s term, not mine) allowed the Owls to chip away at the lead. The Volunteers put on a clinic for their Atlantic Sun opponent, shooting over 60% from the field and hitting 58% from long range. Usual high scoring and rebounding forward Jarnell Stokes displayed his versatility by tallying five assists and five steals, both career highs. Tennessee heads to Puerto Rico next, and with possible matchups against Oklahoma State and NC State in the Caribbean, mental slippage will have to be avoided.
  4. Which SEC team utilized the most guard-heavy lineup on opening night? Has to be Missouri right? Wrong. In Alabama’s buzzer-beating win over South Dakota State, coach Anthony Grant relied greatly on his backcourt options, with guards accounting for 66 of the Crimson Tide’s 70 points. Trevor Releford led the way with 18, while Trevor Lacey’s buzzer-beating three gave Alabama the win over a quality Jackrabbits team. The Trevors lead a deep unit, but Grant will need Devonta Pollard to provide some balance in the form of low-post production. The highly touted recruit hasn’t delivered thus far, but his coach isn’t worried. “He’s going to be terrific,” said Grant, “This is a heck of a game for a freshman to come into.”
  5. Missouri will need Michael Dixon to compete with the elite in the SEC, but his indefinite suspension for the Tigers’ 83-69 win over SIU-Edwardsville gave coach Frank Haith quite a bit of freedom to see his backcourt newcomers in action. Dixon and point guard Phil Pressey have unquestioned starting positions, but with no other returnees, developing chemistry and finding the right rotation is paramount for Missouri. Transfers Earnest Ross and Keion Bell joined the starting five, but in going 2-for-10 and 3-for-8 from the field, respectively, neither impressed. Canadian freshman Negus Webster-Chan made a case for more playing time, however, displaying a nice shooting stroke and active hands on the defensive end.
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SEC Coaches and RTC Staff Select All-SEC Teams

Posted by KAlmekinder on November 9th, 2012

The college hoops season is underway today and there were still a few preseason lists left to be voted upon. The SEC coaches selected their first and second team all-SEC squads earlier at the SEC Headquarters in Birmingham. Ten different schools were represented in the process, with Tennessee leading with three selections. Arkansas, Kentucky, Ole Miss, and Florida were represented with two selections apiece. The results can be found below.

Jeronne Maymon is one of three Volunteers represented on the preseason Coaches’ All-Conference squads.

First-Team All-SEC
Name, School Pos. Ht. Wt. Class Hometown
Trevor Releford, Alabama G 6-0 195 Jr. Kansas City, Mo.
B.J. Young, Arkansas G 6-3 180 So. St. Louis, Mo.
Kenny Boynton, Florida G 6-2 190 Sr. Pompano Beach, Fla.
Patric Young, Florida C 6-9 249 Jr. Jacksonville, Fla.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Georgia G 6-5 205 So. Greenville, Ga.
Nerlens Noel, Kentucky F 6-10 228 Fr. Everett, Mass.
Phil Pressey, Missouri G 5-11 175 Jr. Dallas, Texas
Jeronne Maymon, Tennessee F 6-7 260 Sr. Madison, Wis.
Second-Team All-SEC
Name, School Pos. Ht. Wt. Class Hometown
Marshawn Powell, Arkansas F 6-7 240 Jr. Newport News, Va.
Alex Poythress, Kentucky F 6-7 239 Fr. Clarksville, Tenn.
Johnny O’Bryant III, LSU F 6-9 256 So. Cleveland, Miss.
Reginald Buckner, Ole Miss F 6-9 225 Sr. Memphis, Tenn.
Murphy Holloway, Ole Miss F 6-7 240 Sr. Irmo, S.C.
Trae Golden, Tennessee G 6-1 205 Jr. Powder Springs, Ga.
Jarnell Stokes, Tennessee F 6-8 270 So. Memphis, Tenn.
Elston Turner, Texas A&M G 6-5 212 Sr. Sacramento. Calif.

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SEC Represented in ESPN Expert Predictions

Posted by DPerry on November 9th, 2012

ESPN released their college basketball predictions for the 2012-13 season yesterday, and according to the experts at the Worldwide Leader, the SEC should boast some of the nation’s top teams. While no SEC team was chosen as national champion, Kentucky, Florida, and Missouri made appearances in in 13 of the 17 analysts’ projected Final Four.

John Calipari’s Wildcats are SEC favorites, but the road to a conference title won’t be as clear in 2012-13.

From a standpoint of individual talent however, the SEC lags behind. Indiana’s Cody Zeller is the overwhelming favorite to take home National Player of the Year honors, a category in which the SEC earned no recognition. No player appears in the consensus All-America teams either, and accounted for less than 10% of all individual selections (Missouri point guard Phil Pressey led the way with six nominations).

In his “Bold Prediction”, ESPN NBA draft guru Chad Ford opined “this is one of the least impressive groups of college talent to come along in a while.” The SEC, after losing a stellar class of players to the professional ranks, is one of the key culprits in this trend. Kentucky’s recruiting class doesn’t have the pedigree of their 2011 counterparts, and it will be a shock if the Wildcats replicate last season’s dominance. The lack of top-end talent will drastically alter the landscape of the league, resulting in a much higher level of parity and, hopefully, a more exciting race for the conference crown. Perennial contender Florida and newcomer Missouri are the primary challengers according to the analysts. Tennessee garnered no conference title projections, although they did receive sleeper recognition from Andy Katz and former coach Bruce Pearl. If they can count on a healthy Jeronne Maymon in conference play, the Volunteers have the frontcourt talent to finish ahead of their highly touted counterparts.

Nerlens Noel’s appearance on three All-America ballots is surprising. The freshman rim protector draws comparisons to Anthony Davis, but his game isn’t as advanced. His ability to block shots will change games, but he doesn’t have the same level of offensive polish that Davis displayed. Kentucky isn’t lacking for offensive contributors, so Noel may not have the required offensive opportunities to put together a strong All-America case. Some of that love from the analysts should have gone toward Jarnell Stokes. The Tennessee forward is the league’s most skilled returning frontcourt player and should see a lot of scoring opportunities in coach Cuonzo Martin’s offense.

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