Morning Five: 08.22.13 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on August 22nd, 2013

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  1. When you have the facts, pound the facts. When you have the law, pound the law. When you have neither, pound the table. The NCAA would do well to remember this old legal axiom as it enters a dangerous stage of its lawsuit over image and likeness rights collectively known as the Ed O’Bannon case. On Monday of this week, the organization requested a 15-month continuance of the opening date of the trial — currently scheduled for June 9, 2014 — in a shamelessly transparent attempt to solidify its position by distancing itself from one of its most embarrassing gaffes in the past few years. Jay Bilas, anyone? EA sports and Collegiate Licensing Co., co-defendants in the case along with the NCAA, interestingly enough only requested a five-month continuance for the start of the trial. The federal judge overseeing this lawsuit, Claudia Wilken, had requested that the defendants come to a mutual agreement on trial date by Monday, but their inability to come to simple terms on that question may only serve to anger her as she weighs a number of important motions on class certification and other items that will seriously impact the case.
  2. And the hits just keep on coming. Mere days after a social media-fueled firestorm over the NCAA’s initial decision (subsequently reversed) to deny former US Marine Steven Rhodes from walking on to play football this year for Middle Tennessee, another controversy has enveloped the organization over an eligibility question that strains the limits of common sense. As The Star-Ledger‘s Tom Liucci writes, Iowa State transfer Kerwin Okoro was recently denied a waiver to play for Rutgers in 2013-14 because his medical hardships — Okoro’s father and brother each passed away last winter — are not current. The rule on receiving a medical hardship waiver states that the player must show “medical documentation of a debilitating injury or illness to a student-athlete’s immediate family member that is debilitating and requires ongoing medical care,” technically precluding Okoro from the benefit. But how about some big picture common sense here? While it’s true that Okoro will not be required to care for his now-deceased relatives, there are other compelling reasons involving his family’s overall healing process that should also be considered in such a decision.
  3. We’ve long known that Division I college basketball players are some of the best all-around athletes in the world, what with the core components of elite “athleticism” — speed, agility, strength, flexibility, stamina — all very well-represented in our sport. Several athletes who perhaps weren’t skilled enough for professional basketball found their way into other athletic sports — we’re thinking about NFL tight ends such as Tony Gonzalez or Antonio Gates here — but, as The Dagger‘s Jeff Eisenberg writes, a lesser-known version of football played in Australia is looking at college basketball as a nice pipeline to find its next generation of ruckmen. A what, you say? Well, a ruckman is someone in Australian Rules Football who is tasked with securing possession for his team after dead balls and scores through a modified jump ball situation. Who better than to fit that need for our friends Down Under than undersized big men with explosive hops and a knack for getting their hands on the ball. As the world becomes flatter in economics and sport, we imagine that we’ll start to hear more stories like these as the rest of the planet discovers just how athletic our basketball players — even those outside the NBA — actually are.
  4. One of the most discouraging stories of last offseason has resurfaced in a big way with the news on Wednesday that former Xavier-turned-Maryland guard Dez Wells, he of the rape allegations so absurd that the local prosecutor publicly stated they were “fundamentally unfair,” has decided to sue his old school for damage to his reputation and a good old-fashioned apology. In an environment where seemingly every semi-public figure claims that he will sue to protect his good name after getting blatantly caught telling bold-faced lies, it’s encouraging to see a situation where the justice system will be used to mete out some actual justice. Xavier expelled Wells from its school last summer, citing a decision made by its Conduct Board (and upheld on appeal) that predated the related criminal grand jury investigation; as a result, Wells has since suffered mightily from the school’s rush to judgment. That he’s bringing this case while he’s still playing NCAA basketball is rich with storyline possibilities — could he somehow face his legal adversary in a postseason match-up for the ages between the Terps and Musketeers? We can only hope…
  5. A lot of schedules have been releasing over the past couple of weeks, and the most notable in the last 24 hours were from a couple of conferences. First, the SEC released its conference-only schedule, featuring a bunch of mediocre teams that nobody pays attention to until February a solid balance of Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday night games with the standard Saturday smorgasbord but lacking the Kentucky-Tennessee battle in Knoxville that has produced so many great contests over the years. A special thank you goes out to Texas A&M and Missouri for that omission. On the other side of the continent, the WCC also released its conference schedule, which means that the only two games of true importance in this league — Gonzaga vs. Saint Mary’s, Acts I and II — should already be inked into your calendar (January 2 and March 1). Many more of these releases to come in the next few weeks.
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Morning Five: 07.17.13 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on July 17th, 2013

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  1. We’re more than officially in the dog days of summer but only the truly committed scribes work all summer covering the sport we love. Seth Davis is one national commentator who came out of his slumber this week to report from Las Vegas with a Hoops Thoughts column on Michigan’s Mitch McGary. The rising sophomore took the college basketball world by storm last March, going from a role player to a key cog for John Beilein’s national runners-up, but as McGary explained to Davis: “So far I’ve only cracked the glass. Next year I’m trying to break through it.” The piece delves into some of McGary’s lesser-known history, specifically his struggles with academics as a result of ADHD, his workout and diet regimen that he enabled midway through last season to give himself a shot at more mobility (and playing time), and his non-decision to enter his name into the NBA Draft because he simply enjoys college life. Great read, especially in mid-July.
  2. Another likely star returning to school for 2013-14 is Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart, fresh off a FIBA world championship in the U-19 division. USA Basketball announced its National Team Mini-Roster on Tuesday, and the rising sophomore Cowboy was the only collegian of 29 players selected. The group of mostly young, rising NBA stars will meet in Las Vegas to compete next week, although no roster spots on Team USA are officially up for grabs. This is simply an opportunity for the players to prove themselves against their peers for future international events. Smart of course is unlikely to make the men’s national team roster for the Worlds in 2014 or the Olympics in 2016, but playing against the likes of Ty Lawson, Mike Conley, George Hill, Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker and John Wall at his point guard position cannot hurt his overall development. Watch out, Big 12.
  3. Louisville‘s visit to meet President Barack Obama will occur next week, on July 23 at the White House. The school waited a bit longer than normal to schedule the event, so that players Montrezl Harrell and Luke Hancock could attend the event after stints in summer international tournaments. While in The District, the team will also make time to tour the Capitol Building with senator and minority leader, Mitch McConnell (R-KY). When McConnell isn’t busy tormenting his Democratic opposition in the back rooms of DC, he spends quite a bit of time in Louisville taking in the Cardinals’ biggest games. Although as far as celebrity fans go, we’ll stick with Ashley Judd 70 miles down the road. Sorry, Mitch.
  4. Tuesday was the start of SEC Football Media Days, and why do we care? Well, in large part because South Carolina head coach and immodest rabble-rouser Steve Spurrier again went on record stating that the entire SEC — according to him, all 28 football and basketball coaches — is in favor of payments to their revenue-producing players. The stipend he mentioned yesterday amounts to approximately $3,600 per player per year and a little over a quarter-million dollars in annual costs — a relative pittance in a business that regularly deals with annual budgets in the eight- and nine-figure range. And why wouldn’t they want to pay players? It would give them yet another carrot in the recruiting wars against some of the smaller schools and conferences, while correspondingly eliminating much of the regulatory nonsense with monitoring and enforcing illegal benefits that amount to a night out for dinner and a movie.
  5. While on the subject of football crossing over with basketball, Colorado quarterback Shane Dillon announced on Tuesday that he is giving up the gridiron effective immediately so that he can pursue his passion on the hardwood at another school. A 6’5″ wing in high school where he averaged a robust 25/12 for Christian High School in southern California, Dillon suffered a shoulder injury and was looking at starting next season third on the depth chart for the Buffaloes. He asked Tad Boyle if he had room for him on his team, but all the scholarships were filled and Dillon isn’t willing to walk on. He’ll look to make his transfer decision in the next few weeks, with a school in the WCC and Big West perhaps his most likely destination.
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More TV Money for the Nation’s Most Powerful Conference: Surprise, Surprise…

Posted by Chris Johnson on May 3rd, 2013

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

Because once-meaningful concepts like academic and cultural similarity, geographical proximity and longstanding tradition no longer control how or why college athletic conferences exist, and because television, you know, does – Thursday’s news out of SEC headquarters is a very big deal, both for  league directly involved, the SEC, along with every other college sports conference. The South Eastern Conference announced a 20-year agreement with ESPN Thursday to air a 24/7 all-encompassing sports network beginning in 2014, with programming that includes 45 football games and more than 100 men’s basketball games annually, plus “selected events” from non-revenue sports and other important offseason dates such as football pro-days and national signing day.

An expansive new TV contract will grow the SEC's already monumental annual financial take (AP Photo).

An expansive new TV contract will grow the SEC’s already monumental annual financial take (AP Photo).

This is a very big deal. It is not mars-landing breaking news. Here’s why: the SEC exists in an entirely different plane of football competitiveness and import, stuffed to the hilt with NFL-bound talent and a fervent pigskin culture not seen in any other league across the country, but they were a step or two behind on this conference-specific television fad. The Big Ten and Pac-12 networks already have their own networks, which promise (alongside nonstop league-centric coverage) exorbitant annual sums, serve to expand the otherwise lesser profile of lower-tier programs and clearly represent the way of the future in a bountiful college sports television frontier.

The more subscribers there are in different regions of the country, the more fans that are eager to watch Washington State play Utah on a Thursday night, for example, the more money falls into league coffers and the more other schools – we’re looking at you, AAC – want a piece of the pie. These were the logistical league-hopping dynamics behind much of the recent conference realignment wave (go watch Maryland’s astonishingly candid introductory Big Ten press conference), and they will continue to drive the ship in league membership decisions, even if the ACC’s recent grant of rights deal appears to have ensured at least temporary realignment calm among the major conferences.

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With Kentucky Loss, SEC Fan Apathy For Basketball Exposed Again

Posted by David Changas on March 16th, 2013

David Changas is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report while covering the SEC Tournament in Nashville this weekend.

You’ve heard the saying, “If you build it, they will come.” When it comes to Kentucky fans and the SEC Tournament, it goes more like this: “Wherever you hold it, they will come.” Everyone knows that the Wildcats have struggled all season with almost an entirely new team, and chances are, they will miss out on the NCAA Tournament. But if you happened to be in downtown Nashville Friday evening, you would think John Calipari’s team was a prime contender for the national championship. For Friday’s blowout loss to Vanderbilt, whose campus is two miles from Bridgestone Arena, the SEC Tournament drew its largest crowd of the weekend, and of the 18,000+ in attendance, at least 15,000 were part of the “Blue Mist,” the affectionate name given to Wildcat fans who take over whatever city the annual extravaganza is being held in. The Commodores would have felt more at home if the game had been in Rupp Arena, not that it was evident from their play.

uk fans nashville

Kentucky’s surprising ouster from this tournament was not only bad for the Nashville Chamber of Commerce, which was looking forward to a St. Patrick’s Day weekend with thousands of Wildcat fans in town, but it once again brought to light an embarrassing issue for the SEC.  Bridgestone Arena had plenty of empty seats for Saturday’s semifinals, and Sunday’s championship likely will be no different.  Mike Slive has made more money for this league since he took over as commissioner in 2002 than you can count. He’s overseen expansion into Texas and Missouri, massive television contracts, and rumor has it that he’s on the verge of announcing the formation of the SEC Network, expected to launch in August 2014.  But make no mistake: That money has been made because of football. It is the cash cow of college sports in every league, but there’s no question that the pigskin is more important to the SEC than any other. And there’s no clearer of example of that than the conference’s dominance of the BCS, which it was won seven consecutive times.

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As Minority Head Coaches Decline Elsewhere, the SEC Sets the Standard

Posted by Brian Joyce on February 27th, 2013

Brian Joyce is a writer for the SEC microsite and regular contributor for Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about SEC basketball at bjoyce_hoops.

Twenty-five years ago, Tennessee broke the color barrier in the SEC when it hired Wade Houston as the first African-American head coach in the conference. Today, the SEC is a model for other conferences around college basketball. In an era where minority, and specifically African-American coaches, are not given the benefit of the doubt in hiring decisions and are given the hook far too quickly in times of trouble, doing the right thing isn’t always easy. Diversity is far too often a buzzword with no true culture of systemic change. The NFL institutionalized the “Rooney Rule” to encourage interviews of minority coaches, but the SEC demonstrated its commitment and value to diversity without the enforcement of a mandate.

Frank Martin is one of eight minority coaches in the SEC. (Bruce Thorson/US Presswire)

Frank Martin, a Cuban-American, is one of eight minority basketball coaches in the SEC. (Bruce Thorson/US Presswire)

The South isn’t exactly a region of the United States known for valuing its diversity, yet today the Southeastern Conference has eight minority head basketball coaches including seven African-Americans among 14 schools. “Sometimes you hear about the South — I grew up in the Midwest — and you have some negative connotations, especially when you start talking about places like Mississippi and Alabama and race relations,” Mississippi State coach Rick Ray said. “I think it speaks volumes about the hiring process in the SEC and the schools in the SEC that they would reach out and have this many African-American head coaches.” The seven African-American coaches currently in the SEC equals the most ever in a Power Six conference. The commitment to hiring the best candidates, regardless of skin color, is an accomplishment worth being applauded. “The thing the SEC should be most proud of is that us having this many African-American coaches is really not a big story. It means it’s accepted here in the South and that it’s really not a problem.” Frank Martin, a Cuban-American in his first year coaching at South Carolina and within the SEC, applauds the league’s commitment to diversity. “I think it’s awesome this league believes in everybody and not just in certain stereotypes,” Martin said. “I am grateful that Kansas State University and now South Carolina have believed in me to give me an opportunity to do what I dreamt of doing when I was a young kid.”

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Meet the New SEC Hoops Rivalry: Missouri vs. Arkansas

Posted by dnspewak on February 19th, 2013

Danny Spewak is an RTC contributor. You can follow him on Twitter @dspewak. He filed this report after a weekend trip to Fayetteville for an SEC clash between Arkansas and Missouri.

The University of Arkansas campus sits in the northern tip of the state, just a short freeway cruise from the southern border of Missouri. It’s an easy, five-hour drive from Columbia to Fayetteville, and yet it took conference realignment for Missouri and Arkansas to finally play each other in basketball. The first meeting between the two teams since 2007 made up for lost time on Saturday afternoon. The atmosphere and game were terrific— a 73-71 Razorback victory complete with a late-game comeback, officiating controversies, and the birth of a star named B.J. Young. It didn’t feel like just another February conference game between two unranked SEC teams.

B.J. Young Was The Hero This Weekend(Photo credit: AP Photo).

B.J. Young Was The Hero This Weekend(Photo credit: AP Photo).

It felt like a rivalry. Right, Earnest Ross? “Not really,” the Tiger guard said. “It was just a game on our schedule.” That’s the sting of defeat talking. The 19,000 rabid fans at Bud Walton Arena offered a completely different picture. You could feel the buzz in pregame warm-ups, when a few Arkansas students taunted MU’s Jabari Brown and dared him to laugh at their Norfolk State jokes. The intensity of the game heightened with every passing minute, starting with Missouri’s hot start and eventually culminating into a down-to-the-wire thriller. It was physical. Loud. And it really meant something, especially considering MU’s Phil Pressey and Laurence Bowers were playing against Mike Anderson, their former head coach and a man who left the Tigers in the dust in 2011.

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Ole Miss Avoids Destructive Resume Loss With Comeback Win at Vandy

Posted by rtmsf on January 16th, 2013

David Changas (@dchangas) is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after last night’s game between Ole Miss and Vanderbilt in Nashville.

Prior to the season, the Ole Miss Rebels were picked to once again finish in the middle of the pack in the SEC. Little did anyone know that the league would be quite as bad as it has been, with preseason favorite Kentucky leading a throng of disappointing teams that may miss the NCAA Tournament. Given his track record of not having made the Big Dance in his first six seasons in Oxford, it was reasonable to assume that Andy Kennedy’s squad would once again be left out. But the Rebels brought a gaudy 13-2 record and an improving RPI into Tuesday’s contest against Vanderbilt in icy Nashville, and with it the hope that this could be the year Kennedy gets the monkey off his back. With a pre-conference schedule filled with an array of cupcakes and losses only to top-50 RPI mid-majors Indiana State and Middle Tennessee State, it was reasonable to be skeptical about whether this Rebels team was any different than some of Kennedy’s prior squads which, though talented, never did enough to qualify for the Tournament.

Ole Miss Celebrates Its Comeback Against Vandy

Ole Miss Celebrates Its Comeback Against Vandy

What we did not know about the Rebels coming into the season – and what appears to separate this team from prior Rebel teams – is that they would have a difference-making scorer who could lead them from NIT mainstay to SEC contender. But in junior transfer Marshall Henderson,  Ole Miss has just that, and he proved it in the grandest way possible on Tuesday. The Rebels’ 10-point overtime victory in Nashville is one that they clearly were expected to get, especially given that they were coming off a blowout win at Tennessee and a 15-point win at home on Saturday against #10 Missouri. In that game, the Rebels held the Tigers to 36% shooting from the field and forced 19 turnovers en route to a 64-49 victory. But given the way Tuesday’s contest unfolded, this is the type of win that could propel Ole Miss to bigger things, signaling that the Rebels can win on nights when they are not at their best.

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The SEC Freshman Report: A Look at the Newcomers in the West

Posted by Christian D'Andrea on January 14th, 2013

Christian D’Andrea is a SEC Microsite Contributor and an editor at Nashville Sports Hub and Anchor of Gold. You can reach him on Twitter @TrainIsland.

SEC play is underway, and the group of teams once known as the SEC West has already churned out some big surprises. The division is home to four of the five teams that are undefeated in league play so far, and while it’s early, it looks like there might be more depth to this side of the conference than analysts had thought. In just one week, the West has produced upsets like Texas A&M’s defeat of Kentucky and Ole Miss’ beatdown of Missouri.

Shavon Coleman Has Been a Nice Addition For the Tigers

Shavon Coleman Has Been a Nice Addition For the Tigers

There are still a couple of months to go before the postseason starts, but this overlooked division may help change the perception of the SEC as a top-heavy league. Though the conference certainly has a big gap between Florida and Missouri and the rest of the conference, teams like Mississippi and A&M will be the key to sending four or more programs to the NCAA Tournament. Rebuilding teams like Auburn and LSU may find their way to postseason basketball earlier than expected if they can rally towards NIT or CBI invitations.

However, these teams are going to need help from their young players to get there. The West is full of talented freshmen and junior college transfers who are having a big impact for their teams. As we did three weeks ago in the East, let’s break down who the top first-year players in the SEC West have been in 2012-13 so far.

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Night Line: Unbeaten Season Ends, But Gregg Marshall is Building Something Special In Wichita

Posted by BHayes on December 14th, 2012

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Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) is is an RTC correspondent and Night Line columnist.  He filed this report after Thursday night’s Wichita State – Tennessee game in Knoxville.

The 2011-12 college basketball season was a breakout year for the Wichita State Shockers. Sure, college basketball enthusiasts had taken note of an NIT title run in 2011, but Gregg Marshall’s bunch didn’t truly enter the national consciousness until that 27-5 season a year ago which included a 17-1 stretch to open the calendar year. They became a trendy March sleeper pick pre-Tournament, but ultimately met the fate that so many five seeds before them have suffered – an opening round loss, this one at the hands of a dangerous VCU squad. It was a bitter end to a banner year, and the conclusion was undoubtedly worsened by the fact that WSU’s top five scorers would all be lost to graduation. From an outsider’s perspective, there was a real sense that the window had closed for Wichita State; Marshall’s program had grown up along with Murry, Stutz, Kyles and co., so it stood to reason that their departures would force a step or two back this season.

Despite Tonight's Loss In Knoxville, Wichita State Has The Look Of A Program Here To Stay

Despite Tonight’s Loss In Knoxville, Wichita State Has The Look Of A Program Here To Stay

Well, so much for reason. Wichita State opened this season with nine straight wins, and despite suffering its first loss of the year tonight at the hands of Tennessee, has started to prove that last year was far from a once-in-a-blue-moon dream season. Role players of a season ago have proven capable of hoisting a greater burden, newcomers have stepped in and produced from day one, and the head coach has to have the feeling that he is in the process of building a program with true lasting power. Maybe it shouldn’t be such a surprise that Wichita State has reloaded so quickly, as the past two offseasons have seen Marshall turn down overtures from power conference schools (most notably Nebraska this past summer). Have the proposed fits simply not been right, or does Marshall believe he has something special going at Wichita State? We can’t know for sure, but it’s quite plausible that Marshall is simply content in Wichita, and even harbors notions of turning Wichita State into a reliable mid-major power. The concept of an established coach settling in at a mid-major program is no longer a novelty, as recent years have seen coaches like Mark Few, Brad Stevens and Shaka Smart stay put at smaller schools, eschewing opportunities at larger programs in the process.

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Georgia Tech Takes Control of Peach State Rivalry

Posted by rtmsf on December 5th, 2012

Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Tuesday night’s Georgia-Georgia Tech game in Atlanta.

When the college basketball season tipped off a month ago, Georgia and Georgia Tech found themselves facing similar expectations. Neither program appeared to be sporting a team capable of making the 2013 NCAA Tournament, but there was hope that both might be improved enough to escape the SEC and ACC cellars, respectively. While the 2-5 Dawgs had slogged their way through the season’s first month (with only wins over Jacksonville and East Tennessee State to brag about), early returns had been slightly more promising for the 5-2 Yellow Jackets, and Tuesday night’s rivalry game in Atlanta only served to further differentiate the Peach State’s two pre-eminent basketball programs.

Georgia Tech Appears to be Headed in the Right Direction (AP)

Mark Fox will surely write off Tuesday’s 62-54 loss as simply another missed opportunity for his team, but boy, this one seemed to resonate on levels far beyond tonight’s 40 minutes of hoops. Maybe that added significance stems from Brian Gregory running his record to 2-0 against Fox and Georgia in his short tenure in Atlanta. Or perhaps it’s due to the fact that, for the first time in 19 years, Tech has won back-to-back games against UGA. Or maybe, just maybe, this one matters more because Gregory seems to have the best Georgia high school basketball talent headed again to Georgia Tech — and far, far away from Athens. All those elements seemed to linger in the backdrop of this one, and the frenzied energy of the sellout crowd of 8,600 at the shiny, new (the three-game old kind of new) McCamish Pavilion drove home the largest message loud and clear — Gregory and Tech are seizing firm control of college basketball in Georgia.

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Breaking Down Arkansas’ Chances Against the Orange

Posted by DPerry on November 30th, 2012

The SEC/Big East Challenge tipped off last night with the SEC’s supposed two top teams putting in drastically different performances. The #8 Kentucky Wildcats were run off the floor by host Notre Dame, while the #7 Florida Gators dominated visiting Marquette from start to finish. Each conference left the competition’s opening night with two wins apiece with four more games on tap tonight.

BJ Young will be counted on to lead Arkansas when the Orange come to town in the SEC/Big East Challenge.

Friday night’s games do not appear to give the SEC much of an opportunity to pull ahead in the Challenge, though, and the match-up between Syracuse and Arkansas looks like an especially one-sided contest. However, this SEC microsite writer won’t be shocked if the Razorbacks do enough to pull off a shocker. Here are three reasons why:

  1. Depth- Second-year Arkansas coach Mike Anderson is fully committed to “The Fastest 40 Minutes in Basketball.” Running and pressing are necessities for his teams, and for that to work, Anderson requires a deep bench. Through the season’s first five games, 10 players are averaging more than 12 minutes/game, with no one being relied upon for more than 28 per contest. This heavy rotation allows Arkansas to continually attack on offense and defense, a strategy Syracuse doesn’t often see in their Big East opponents. If the Razorbacks can stay within striking distance through the opening stages of the game, they’ll undoubtedly be fresher than the more talented Orange late in the second half. Read the rest of this entry »
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Night Line: Is Florida a Better Offensive Team This Season?

Posted by EJacoby on November 15th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @EJacobyRTC on Twitter. Night Line runs on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.

The #12 Florida Gators have high expectations this season, as usual, with a loaded starting lineup that features two returning SEC stars and a bevy of other talented scorers. But Billy Donovan’s team lost much of its backcourt production from last season in Erving Walker and Bradley Beal, the second- and third-leading scorers on last year’s team who also accounted for over 40% of the squad’s total assists. Those 2011-12 Gators ranked sixth in the nation in overall offensive efficiency and came just a few plays away from reaching a Final Four. Yet does this season’s version of Florida have an even higher ceiling? Conventional wisdom would say no given the loss of its two perimeter leaders, but a strong recruiting class joins a healthier team this year, most notably a much improved senior forward Erik Murphy. Wednesday night’s 74-56 victory over defensive stalwart Wisconsin, featuring a perfect shooting night from Murphy, provided a glimpse of UF’s offensive upside that few teams in the country can match.

Erik Murphy led Florida with a perfect shooting night on Wednesday (AP Photo)

The Gators attempted and made the most three-point shots in all of Division I last season (9.6 makes per game), a crucial element to the team’s conversion of 1.15 points per possession, good for fifth in the country. While Walker and Beal’s 132 three-point makes are gone, don’t be so sure that Florida will fall off in the long-range shooting department. Preseason all-SEC senior guard Kenny Boynton and the aforementioned Murphy return 169 makes of their own, sparkplug sixth man Mike Rosario hit over one trey per game last year as well, and a loaded recruiting class of shooters joins the fold. Braxton Ogbueze headlines the freshman class as a heady point guard, while fellow newcomers Michael Frazier II, Devon Walker, and Dillon Graham all specialize as three-point bombers. Graham models his game after J.J. Redick, Walker has unlimited range from outside, and UF assistant coach Mike McCall noted this preseason of Frazier, “Every time [the ball] leaves his hand, you think it’s going in.” The Gators are already scoring at a more consistent rate this year with a 1.18 points per possession ratio. While only two games is an extremely small sample size, Wednesday’s game came against Bo Ryan’s Badgers; a masterful defensive team that finished seventh in total defensive efficiency last season.

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