On the Brink of Perfection, Florida Might be More Than “Good”

Posted by Brian Joyce on March 5th, 2014

Brian Joyce filed this report following Tuesday’s Florida vs. South Carolina game from Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, South Carolina.

Following Florida’s first win this season, Billy Donovan quipped that his team wasn’t very good. “We are light-years away from even being a remotely good defensive team right now, light-years away from even being a ranked team.” Fast forward light years ahead to early March, and Florida is good. Maybe more than good.

Billy Donovan wasn't so sure about his Gators at the beginning of the year, but Florida certainly appears to be good now.

Billy Donovan wasn’t so sure about his Gators at the beginning of the year, but Florida certainly appears to be good now.

RTC was in attendance on press row Tuesday night as the #1 team in the nation visited South Carolina, fresh off a home victory over a storied Kentucky program. But there would be no court rushing in Colonial Life Arena on this night. With the Gamecocks down 39-35 and the crowd sensing the possibility that their team could make a run at a second straight win over a ranked team and its second victory ever over college basketball’s top-ranked team, Florida exercised its dominance with a 15-0 run and a 33-11 surge to end the game. It wasn’t always pretty, but Florida did what it needed to get to 17-0 in conference play. And now the Gators sense the opportunity that lies ahead. Senior center Patric Young kept things in perspective by crediting the coaching staff. “We’ve just been trying to take it one game at a time. We have the opportunity to do something that hasn’t been done before, to go 18-0 in conference play.  And just keeping our eyes on the prize, the opportunity to do something great. To be a part of history has motivated us internally. The coaches have pushed us from day one. Laid down the foundation for us to achieve what we are doing today.”

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SEC M5: 03.05.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on March 5th, 2014

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  1. You can put that checkbook away, South Carolina. The Gamecocks couldn’t follow up their improbable win (and $5,000 “competition access area” violation) against Kentucky with an infinitely more improbable win over Florida, losing to the Gators by 26 points. The Florida defense frustrated South Carolina’s young guards on the perimeter all night, giving up few easy looks. But forcing 19 turnovers and holding South Carolina to 32 percent shooting wasn’t the story of this game. Michael Frazier, however, was, in a big way. Last week we wrote about Frazier bursting out of a mini-slump, and after last night’s career-high 37-point performance (11-of-18 from three), the sophomore’s narrative is much different. According to the Gainesville Sun’s Kevin Brockway, that’s the most points for a Gator since Joakim Noah scored the same number in 2006, and it was also a school record for three-pointers made in one game. Scottie Wilbekin and Casey Prather have had nights that they’ve carried the Gators offensively this year, but against South Carolina they combined for only nine points. Being an effective three-point specialist is one thing, but making 11 treys in one game is quite another. That’s the kind of elite consistency that can carry a team. If his shooting stroke is on like that at the end of this month, it should be smooth sailing for the Gators.
  2. It isn’t all bad news for South Carolina. Despite a non-conference season which featured home losses to Manhattan and USC Upstate and a 1-9 start to SEC play, attendance is up this year at Colonial Life Arena. Average attendance is near 10,000 people, the highest it has been in three seasons. This is interesting since “down attendance” has been a theme this season for the SEC (and college basketball in general), as the conference has asked ESPN for more convenient start times and even Kentucky (gasp) has seen fewer people in Rupp Arena’s stands. The progress at South Carolina might not be much, but it must be encouraging to the administration that the team still has a moderate pull on fans despite being near the bottom of the conference standings. If Frank Martin is eventually able to point the program in the right direction, the venue could become a major asset. With an 18,000-seat capacity, it’s one of the bigger arenas in any conference. If Gamecock fans have more to watch than just Sindarius Thornwell’s development, that could make for some serious noise.
  3. Blowing out Alabama by 20 points probably wouldn’t have eased the drama swirling around Kentucky since last Saturday’s loss in Columbia. Beating the Tide by seven in a sloppy game won’t either, but it was a bounceback victory that the Wildcats desperately needed. Their shooting is what it is at this point (they rank in the 200s in both free throw and three-point percentage), and designated three-point problem-solver James Young didn’t allay any concerns by going 1-of-10 from distance against Alabama. Still, his lone three created separation towards the end of a close game, and he has flashed a more diversified offensive game recently. Young has gotten to the line seven or more times in three of the past four games, including seven times last evening which allowed him to score nine points despite a horrid shooting performance. Kentucky has a unique opportunity in front of it right now. As long as the Wildcats don’t get embarrassingly blown out Saturday in Gainesville, it’s a no-lose situation. The “40-0 t-shirt” joke is long out of the bag, and losing a game on the road to the #1 team in the country isn’t earth-shaking. But if somehow Kentucky keeps it close or improbably wins the game, that’s one whale of a confidence-builder as the elimination games begin.
  4. Eamonn Brennan is not as impressed with Arkansas’ recent surge as some are. In his recent Bubble Watch piece, he warns against “reductive bubble-watching” and writes that a team’s entire resume shouldn’t be ignored. In the end, he has the Razorbacks still lounging on the bubble along with Missouri and Tennessee. I too have been puzzled by the notion that Arkansas is suddenly on the comfortable side of the aisle. Should Tennessee and Arkansas both win out this week, I’d like the Vols’ chances quite a bit better. Their computer numbers, especially in strength of schedule, are better than that of their competitors, and that win over Virginia is the gift that keeps on giving. The Razorbacks also have a sneakily tricky week ahead of them. First they get an Ole Miss team that they haven’t beaten in six tries, and then hit the road for an Alabama team that has more talent than its profile suggests. That game will also be Trevor Releford’s last hurrah in Tuscaloosa and seems ripe for some senior magic. Still, Arkansas is firmly on the bubble after disappearing for a few weeks.
  5. A big reason Arkansas is back in the Tournament picture is Coty Clarke, who has emerged as one of the most versatile players in the SEC. “I think guys are following his beat,” Mike Anderson said. “And if he can continue to play at the high level he is playing at right now, a lot of good things will continue to happen for this basketball team. … To me, the unselfishness that he brings to the table has kind of tripled throughout our basketball team.” Unselfish is a great way to put it, since Clarke is second on the team in assists per game (2.4) and first in assist percentage (20.3%). You don’t see that every day from a forward, and especially not from one who rebounds as well as Clarke (20.3% defensive rebounding rate). Anderson’s first NCAA Tournament team at Missouri (in his third year) was propelled by two versatile, top flight big men in DeMarre Carroll and Leo Lyons. If his third year at Arkansas similarly produces a Tournament team, it too will be propelled by two high quality forwards in Clarke and Bobby Portis.
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SEC M5: 02.19.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 19th, 2014

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  1. Everything was working for Kentucky during the first half of last night’s game in Oxford, and I mean everything. Jarrod Polson threw an alley-oop and made a three; Alex Poythress was getting in on the three-point action; and Julius Randle already had a double-double. With a 17-point lead it looked like Kentucky had answered any question about how they’d bounce back from a tough loss. Oh, but questions persist. The Rebels put up 45 points in the second half and were able to cut the game down to two possessions with under two minutes left. Like they did against Missouri, the Wildcats again let a big early lead slip, and allowed an opponent back into a game it had no business being in. The issues weren’t only on the defensive end. College Basketball Talk’s Matt Giles points out that only four of Kentucky’s two-point fields goals weren’t at the rim, and for an eight-minute second half stretch the Wildcats only scored on free throws. The lackluster defensive effort in the second half needs to be a learning experience for the Wildcats, since they likely won’t be able to escape a game like this against better teams (see: teams that make the NCAA Tournament). The shooting woes, however, are a bigger issue.
  2. So this writer may need to eat a little crow. Yesterday I wrote that I expected Georgia to do just fine as it entered a difficult stretch. Well, it didn’t start out that well for the Bulldogs, who took a 19-point loss to Tennessee in a game that got shuffled to ESPN due to a crumbling arena in Bloomington, Indiana. In front of a national audience, Georgia wasn’t able to validate its great SEC record. Early on the Vols did something they didn’t do Saturday against Missouri: get the ball to Jarnell Stokes, who scored 20 points and led Tennessee to advantages in rebounds and points in the paint. The Vols also have to be encouraged that they won this game without Jordan McRae having a big impact (11 points, 2-of-5 shooting). Antonio Barton made more three’s in this game (four) than he had in the last ten SEC games combined. If that sparks him out of his prolonged shooting funk it would add another dimension to Tennessee’s offense. This was the bounce back performance the Vols needed to kick off a stretch of four winnable games that could boost their resume.
  3. Frank Haith remembers all too well Vanderbilt’s three-point barrage early in Missouri’s loss in Nashville. But after forcing Arkansas and Tennessee into a combined 8-of-37 from deep, he thinks his team is on the right track defensively. “We’re doing a great job of understanding where shooters are at and personnel and doing our work early and getting there and having high hands,” Haith said. “I thought we had some slippage in that area … particularly Vanderbilt. They made some shots, but we didn’t do what we needed to do in terms of getting to their shooters, and Odom and Parker, those guys had really good games against us.” Missouri may be defending the three better of late, but its defense in general is a concern. The Tigers entered conference play with solid defensive numbers, but have sunk to 10th in the SEC in two-point field goal defense (allowing 47%) and 11th in three-point field goal defense (allowing 35.4%). They’ve also lost games in which they scored 79 and 88 (!) points. But it’s not surprising they are improving. Few teams can put the length at the top of a zone than Missouri can with Jordan Clarkson and Jabari Brown. Thursday’s game against the Commodores will be a good litmus test of the Tigers’ progress, since Missouri did give up 12 three pointers in the first meeting.
  4. South Carolina’s Sindarius Thornwell has stood out amid a thoroughly disappointing season in Columbia. The freshman has Mike Anderson’s attention ahead of tonight’s game in Fayetteville, and has drawn high praise from his own coach. “He’s the guy everyone pencils in when they prepare a scouting report against us,” Frank Martin said. “I’m extremely proud of him. Not only is he performing, but he’s taking on the leadership role of our team. He’s also taking on defensive responsibilities against the better players on the other team.” Thornwell has also taken on a leadership role on the court, as he has the ninth highest usage rate (27.3%) in the SEC. Despite that much exposure he’s still been efficient shooting the ball (56.8 TS%), and though generally thought of first as a scorer, he also has the the eighth best assist percentage (22.6%) in the conference. Thornwell has had to grow up quickly with the personnel losses South Carolina has had, and it appears he’s done a great job of this on and off the court. He’s the type of just-a-cut-below-an-early-draft-entry talent that could stick around and be a tremendously accomplished four year player, and perhaps a building block for better days in Columbia.
  5. James Moran of The Daily Reveille conducted a “post-mortem” on LSU’s NCAA Tournament chances, and identified the cause of the Tigers untimely death. He writes, “The Feb. 6 loss to Georgia was actually the fatal blow to the Tiger’s season. LSU had finally gotten some momentum going for it, and losing a relatively uncompetitive game in a dead arena to a team that was 10-10 at the time killed all of it.” Can reasonable minds disagree on whether this patient is actually dead? Probably not. The Tigers sit at #70 in the RPI and just whiffed on a week that featured road games at Arkansas and Texas A&M. It’s incredible how quickly a season can turn. It was just two weeks ago that the Tigers picked up impressive back-to-back wins over Kentucky and Arkansas. At this point it seems the only chance for LSU to resurrect itself would be by splitting road games against Kentucky and Florida, and winning their remaining four games (at Vanderbilt, home against Georgia, Mississippi State and Texas A&M). We’ll see if there is one drastic change of momentum left in Johnny Jones’ talented team.
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SEC M5: 02.14.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 14th, 2014

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  1. The Missouri and Arkansas series is off to a good start if it’s ever going to deserve the rivalry week spot ESPN has given it. Three of the team’s four games as SEC opponents have come down to the final seconds and had dramatic finishes. That’s a good way to get fan bases juiced about playing one another. The stakes were pretty high in last night’s match up in Columbia as both teams desperately needed a win to keep their NCAA hopes alive. Missouri and its three-game losing streak probably needed it a bit more, and got it after Jabari Brown’s game-winning teardrop with 10 seconds left. Brown (25 points, 14-of-15 FT’s) and Jordan Clarkson (27 points, 11-of-13 FT’s) deserve the headlines. But in small steps, Ryan Rosburg has quietly handled the ball and finished better around the rim recently and deserves mention too. In his last three games he’s scored 27 points on 12-of-15 shooting. Yes, that’s as many as Clarkson scored against Arkansas alone, but Rosburg is averaging 5 points a game and has struggled catching the ball cleanly at times this season. Help defenses will collapse like a house of cards on Clarkson the rest of the way, so having Rosburg gain confidence taking dump off passes is important for the Tigers.
  2. Garnet and Black Attack has an excellent breakdown on a game that probably flew under most of college basketball’s radar: the snow-delayed afternoon tilt between South Carolina and Vanderbilt. They write about a dominant Gamecock effort on the offensive glass (26 offensive rebounds, 14 more than Vanderbilt), and how it allowed South Carolina to win a game in which it shot only 38 percent. That type of hustle is key in a game at an odd time and with a strange feel. This is only the Gamecocks’ second conference win, and they’d probably have more if Bruce Ellington and Ty Johnson were still available. But there’s a silver lining. Those few wins aren’t as valuable as the heavy minutes freshmen Sindarius Thornwell and Duane Notice are logging (they played 36 and 37 minutes, respectively, against Vanderbilt). Notice struggled through a 1-for-7 first half performance that likely would’ve put him on the bench under normal circumstances. But he was needed on the floor, and played solid defense on Kyle Fuller and hit a key three in the Gamecocks 17-5 second half run. That’s valuable situational experience.
  3. LSU has bounced back well this season, going 6-1 following losses. The Tigers desperately need to keep that up Saturday in Fayetteville after dropping a head-scratcher in College Station. Or maybe it wasn’t such a head-scratcher, since the Tigers are riding a four-game road losing streak. Either way, the win was damaging to LSU’s tournament chances and raised a few concerns. For one, they let a largely underwhelming Texas A&M offense shoot 48.3% and go 10-of-23 from three (LSU has the SEC’s worst three point defense). Another issue is their backcourt depth after losing Malik Morgan for the rest of the season. Tim Quarterman (0-for-3, two turnovers) added virtually nothing, and if he isn’t contributing LSU is entirely reliant on two players (Anthony Hickey and Andre Stringer) to contribute from the guard spots. When those two struggle, as they did against the Aggies, the Tigers are in trouble.
  4. CBSSports’ Jeff Borzello talked to several coaches about Florida, and touched on a number of topics like the Gators style of play, the best way to score on them, and their biggest weakness. It’s a fascinating read (as is his whole series on championship contender breakdowns), and not something that gets put out there everyday. One coach said a concern for the Gators is that they don’t have a guy who can “overtake” a game by himself. “You know, a guy where, if you needed buckets, he can automatically get you buckets. They say to win a national championship, you need three pros. I don’t know if they have three pros,” the coach is quoted as saying. That’s definitely a legitimate concern, but Florida is so unlike modern contenders that that adage might not apply. How often in today’s college basketball does an elite team have as many seniors – with as much experience (see, three straight Elite Eight appearances) – as the Gators? And if we are being hyper-technical there probably are three pros on the roster. Chris Walker will make it, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Kasey Hill and Michael Frazier develop into legitimate prospects. But I realize that’s not the point: there’s no ball-dominant future pro who can currently get his shot on the roster, and that’s an issue. Florida’s best bet in those situations is probably Wilbekin, who has shown big-shot chops and the ability to get to the line in recent weeks.
  5. Casey Prather and Julius Randle are the only SEC players to land on the Naismith Midseason 30. Prather makes the list despite scoring in single digits in three of his last four games, but an injured ankle has caused that speed bump and it shouldn’t take away from his season on the whole. Randle has largely lived up to the colossal expectations put on him, and he should make the cut for that alone. So let’s get to everybody’s favorite part, the snub discussion. Not to be boring, but I have no real qualms with these two being the SEC’s only representatives. Scottie Wilbekin is probably more important to Florida, is fourth in the conference in assists, sixth in steals and one of the best defenders the SEC has to offer. But that’s understandably not enough to crack the top 30. Jordan Clarkson and Jabari Brown might both have an argument, but Missouri isn’t winning and and it’s hard for players from middling teams to get attention.
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SEC M5: 02.10.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on February 10th, 2014

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  1. The book is written on Florida. All you have to do is throw a zone on the Gators, and it won’t matter how stifling their defense is. Well, maybe not. Florida’s offense largely struggled against Missouri’s zone during the week, and then scuffled early against Alabama’s zone on Saturday. But Casey Prather’s ability to find driving lanes (15 points) and effective interior passing (leading to a number of Will Yeguete layups) at the end of the first half forced the Tide to collapse the zone, which opened things up for Michael Frazier and Scottie Wilbekin (three three-pointers each). Florida doesn’t have an abundance of three-point shooting, as Frazier, Wilbekin, and (at times) Dorian Finney-Smith are the only players capable of scaring opponents. But against Alabama they showed they can poke holes on the interior of zone defenses, and make up for that lack of outside shooting.
  2. You don’t have to look far to find big offensive numbers for LSU in its win against previously-streaking Auburn. The Tigers scored 55 second half points. They had five players in double figures. Anthony Hickey had five three-pointers. Jarell Martin’s 11 point performance would be pretty far down the list, but it was an unsung contribution to the LSU win, and kept the Tigers in the game early. NOLA.com’s Randy Rosetta writes, “Martin lit a fire when he followed a Jordan Mickey miss with a slam-dunk and that began a torrid stretch of the 6-foot-9 freshman scoring 10 of LSU’s 15 points over 7 minutes, the last coming on a feathery jump shot from the circle that put the home Tigers in front 16-15 and finally forced Auburn to loosen up inside.” Like with his performance against the Tigers from the Plains, Martin has been quietly coming on lately. Saturday was his third straight game scoring in double figures, after he scored 15 apiece against Arkansas and Georgia. There are a lot of reasons LSU has the look of a team built for March, their recent letdown against Georgia aside. Martin is one of them. The 6’8’’ freshman can score from any point on the floor, and is becoming more consistent. He could be a match-up nightmare down the line, especially since Johnny O’Bryant and Jordan Mickey demand so much attention.
  3. Finally, Arkansas did it. At long last the Razorbacks beat a not-so-terrible opponent on the road by winning at Vanderbilt on Saturday. Doc Harper at Arkansas Fight estimates this was the Hogs first road win over a RPI top #100 team (Vanderbilt is currently #66) in four years, and writes that the win will only mean something if Arkansas builds off of it. They’ll get their chance on the road against Missouri on Thursday, in a game with a little extra juice for Mike Anderson. The third year Razorback coach must be pleased with how his team has regrouped over the last week. The situation in Fayetteville looked dim after a home loss to Missouri, followed by a loss to LSU in which Michael Qualls and Alandise Harris were suspended. But Arkansas responded with wins over Alabama and then shook the road monkey off their back in Nashville. Qualls especially must be feeling good after the Vanderbilt game. In his second game back from his suspension he scored 17 points and hit three-of-five three pointers, helping offset a down offensive night from Bobby Portis (8 points). Momentum has been fickle for the SEC’s bubble brethren, but as of right now Arkansas is headed in the right direction.
  4. South Carolina’s season has been as forgettable as they come. The Gamecocks dropped their 13th game in a row to Tennessee Saturday in Knoxville, and were out of it early. They managed only one field goal in the game’s first eight minutes en route to a 23-point halftime deficit. At 1-9 in conference, their stretch of solid play at the end of December, in which they knocked off previously-unbeaten Saint Mary’s and won five-of-six, seems like a decade away. No one should be piling on Frank Martin in his second year though: the Gamecocks are exceedingly young, have lost Bruce Ellington and Ty Johnson, and have actually been competitive in the majority of SEC games. But the 1-9 record is still unsightly, especially since “parity” has been a common theme in conference play. Every other team has at least three wins and there have been plenty of surprises (i.e., Georgia beating Missouri and LSU, Texas A&M beating Tennessee, Auburn beating Alabama). You would think South Carolina would have come up with at least one more win in such a rocky and underwhelming conference.
  5. SEC teams are littered across Jerry Palm’s latest bubble watch. He has Missouri and Tennessee “on the fence” and Ole Miss, Arkansas, and LSU with “work to do.” It’s hard for me to put see Missouri as being in better shape than two teams it recently lost to in Ole Miss and LSU, however. The Vols and (Missouri) Tigers, do however, own non-conference wins that look better now than they did in the past. Virginia’s ascent into the rankings (RPI #20) and second-spot in the ACC standings will certainly help Tennessee, which drilled the Cavaliers in Knoxville. To a much lesser extent, West Virginia’s (RPI #69) recent string of good play (until an understandable beating in Allen Fieldhouse) could help Missouri. The tournament picture is muddy for the SEC, but at the very least there are a handful of teams in the bubble mix. That’s about all you can ask for given where the conference stands right now.
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Missouri Set to Enter a Season-Defining Stretch

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 24th, 2014

Missouri’s NCAA chances will be decided in the next two weeks. Okay, maybe that’s hyperbole, but how the Tigers do in their upcoming five games will play a gigantic role in whether they receive a school-record sixth straight NCAA Tournament invite this season. South Carolina visits Columbia on Saturday, but after that the Tigers face the Gamecocks, they will go through about as difficult a four-game stretch as there is in the current edition of the SEC. Here are the games:

Jabari Brown and Missouri face a five game stretch that might decide their NCAA fate (kbiasports.com).

Jabari Brown and Missouri face a five game stretch that might decide their NCAA fate (kbiasports.com).

  • January 28: at Arkansas
  • February 1: Kentucky 
  • February 4: at Florida
  • February 8: at Ole Miss 

Even the South Carolina game, struggling as the Gamecocks are, might not be a layup since Frank Martin has abused Missouri in the past. Before losing to Georgia two weeks ago, the last time the Tigers lost in Mizzou Arena was to Martin’s Kansas State team in 2011-12. The problem for Missouri isn’t just that they’re 2-3 in SEC play and about to enter a brutal stretch. The bigger issue is that after the February 8 game in Oxford, there isn’t another good opportunity for a truly eye-grabbing win left on the schedule. Sure, there are two games against Tennessee remaining, but the Volunteers have been up-and-down. Wins at Alabama or Georgia don’t spruce up a resume much either this season.

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SEC M5: 01.17.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on January 17th, 2014

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  1. That sound you hear rushing past you? That’s Missouri dive-bombing off the bubble. The Tigers wiped out a 10-point halftime deficit in just a few minutes, but Vanderbilt regained control to get a home win last night. The Commodores’ half-court defense was impressive, as they largely bottled up Missouri’s dribble drive offense, especially Jordan Clarkson. Their zone also forced the Tigers to shoot more threes than they usually do (26 attempts last night; they average 17.3 per game). The fight that Kyle Fuller, Rod Odom and the rest of team have shown since Eric McClellan’s dismissal has been laudable, and the Commodores were due a win. Fuller and Odom each logged 40 minutes and still found the energy to hit the deciding shots in the final moments.
  2. Andy Kennedy has had the tall task  this season of replacing two incredibly productive big men in Reginald Buckner and Murphy Holloway. So when LSU and its frontcourt bursting with talent rolled into Oxford it seemed obvious which team would have the advantage down low. But freshman Sebastian Saiz had a breakout game (20 points on 8-of-11 shooting, nine rebounds) and Jordan Mickey and Johnny O’Bryant were held to just eight points combined. “It’s amazing when the ball goes in the basket, and what that does for your confidence,” Kennedy said. “[Saiz] made a couple [shots] early. They were really extended on Marshall, and when teams play that way, we have to take advantage of it behind the zone. We have to finish plays, and Saiz finished the plays. It’s something we’ve been sorely missing.” Henderson is a lot of things, and one of them is an effective decoy (see: Jarvis Summers’ game tying-three against Oregon). There will be easy opportunities for Saiz throughout the rest of the season, so we may not have seen his last big game.
  3. Marshall Henderson is “going back to me,” and we’ll probably all end up better (or at least more entertained) for it. The Dagger’s Kyle Ringo wrote about the tight rope Andy Kennedy may have to walk as the excitable Henderson reaches the end of his career. “He is a senior with 15 regular-season games remaining in his career. If he goes a bit overboard with his showmanship or showboating and taunting, will the school step in and risk short-circuiting another possible NCAA tournament appearance by suspending him again?” Henderson hasn’t done anything this season to attract Deadspin‘s attention, but he does need to keep the shenanigans in check. Unlike LSU and Missouri, Ole Miss is a middle-tier SEC team that has a bit of momentum going its way. We’ve written this countless times, but the conference has a soft underbelly begging for a team to rise up and stockpile a number of wins. The Rebels have the talent to be that team, but only with Henderson on the court in a productive way. 
  4. SI.com‘s Seth Davis doesn’t seem that bullish on Frank Martin‘s prospects at South Carolina. In his weekly mailbag, Davis writs that Martin might be able to turn the program arond in the “long LONG run” and noted that he took the job mostly because he hated his athletic director at Kansas State. Maybe I’m just an SEC apologist (which is not an easy job these days), but the second-year Gamecock coach deserves some more slack here. He didn’t inherit much talent from Darrin Horn, and he lost some of what he did have to the transfer rule. While the Gamecocks are off to an 0-3 conference start, none of the losses were that alarming (going to Gainesville isn’t easy, after all). He’s starting three freshmen and a sophomore, so counting out a significant turnaround by a proven coach seems premature.
  5. But things won’t get easier for Martin this season, as Villanova transfer Tyrone Johnson is now out indefinitely after fracturing his right foot against Texas A&M. Johnson is second on the team in scoring (11.6 PPG), and while he didn’t start against the Aggies, he is also the team leader in minutes (27.3 MPG). This is the second major in-season loss to South Carolina’s backcourt after Bruce Ellington left the team to train for the NFL Draft. While it hurts to lose Johnson, it’s not the end of the world for Martin. A bid to the NIT is a pipe dream after its start, and getting heavy minutes for Duane Notice and Sindarius Thornwell can only help in the seasons to come when a postseason invite may not be so unrealistic.
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SEC Non-Conference Schedule Round-Up: Part III

Posted by Christian D'Andrea on January 8th, 2014

Christian D’Andrea is the manager of Anchor of Gold and an SEC Microsite writer. He can be found @TrainIsland on Twitter. 

As of Tuesday night, the SEC season is here, and we’ve been celebrating the start of conference play by running down the best and worst of the league’s early-season slate. On Friday and Saturday last week, we covered the first 70 percent of the league’s teams. Today, we’ll finish up our rundown of the SEC’s non-conference performances with the league’s alphabetical basement.

SEC

SEC Basketball Is Back

South Carolina

  • Record: 7-6
  • Best Win: Either a seven-point neutral-site victory over 10-3 St. Mary’s, or their rare, back-to-back wins over Akron in a three-day span.
  • Lowest Point: Losing to in-state “rival” USC-Upstate after leading 33-16 late in the first half.

The Gamecocks’ continual rebuilding efforts have continued in 2013-14, but sloppy play has defined this team early on. Only three USC players are scoring in double-figures, and none of them shoot better than 41.1 percent from the field. USC’s offense will improve, as it always does, now that Bruce Ellington’s quest for Capital One Bowl glory is complete. However, his explosive scoring out of the backcourt may not be enough to keep the ‘Cocks over .500 this winter.

Tennessee 

  • Record: 10-4 (1-0)
  • Best Win: A 15-point neutral-site victory over 10-3 Xavier.
  • Lowest Point: Allowing UTEP coach Tim Floyd to work out his USC-related frustrations over them in the Battle 4 Atlantis opening round.

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Does Cinderella Reside in the Big Apple This Season?

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 6th, 2014

In Ken Pomeroy’s recently-published conference race simulations, Manhattan wins the MAAC 6,161 times out of 10,000 simulations, which — in an 11-team league— makes it the overwhelming favorite. And for good reason. Despite being picked first in the conference preseason poll, the Jaspers have actually managed to exceed expectations in the first two months, using an aggressive defense and attack-first offense to notch several impressive road victories and an early 4-0 record in league play. So while fellow contenders like Iona, Canisius and Quinnipiac are likely to make the automatic bid far from a guarantee, Manhattan has already shown its potential as the most complete and dangerous upset threat from this league come March.

George Beamon and the Jaspers could be a tough NCAA Tournament match-up. (MAACSports)

George Beamon and the Jaspers could be a tough NCAA Tournament match-up. (MAACSports)

Iona has been the cream of this conference for the past two years, making the NCAA Tournament twice — including as an at-large bid in 2011-12, the second ever out of the MAAC — and doing so with exceptional offense. Tim Cluess’ up-tempo, free-flowing attack has yielded three straight top-30 finishes nationally in offensive efficiency and over 20 wins in each of those seasons. Their problem has often been on the other end of the court, as Cluess’ teams sometimes making a habit of playing porous defense for long stretches that the scoring cannot always overcome. Likewise, Saint Peter’s, the conference tournament champion in 2011, was one of the best defensive teams the league has ever seen (finishing fifth in the country in defensive efficiency), but it could not generate the offense necessary to become a threat in the Big Dance. Put simply, the NCAA Tournament’s MAAC representative has lacked balance in recent years.

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Frank Martin Has South Carolina on an Unlikely Uptick

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on January 4th, 2014

If only we could all go to Hawaii when things aren’t going so well. The islands were apparently just what South Carolina needed, because in the span of two weeks the Gamecocks have turned their season completely around. Before departing for the Diamond Head Classic before Christmas, Frank Martin‘s team dropped consecutive home games to Manhattan (by 20 points) and USC Upstate. But the sunshine must have been therapeutic because while there the Gamecocks beat previously unbeaten St. Mary’s, lost to a good Boise State team, and wrapped up the tournament with a good win over Akron.

Freshman guard Duane Notice has been a big part of South Carolina's resurgence (photo courtesy 247sports.com).

Freshman guard Duane Notice has been a big part of South Carolina’s resurgence (Credit: 247sports.com).

The winning didn’t end in Hawaii. South Carolina came home and, in a scheduling quirk, beat Akron again before picking off Marshall last Monday by 27 points. The Thundering Herd were without leading scorer Elijah Pittman, but after the way the Gamecocks left Columbia, any win was a good win. [Ed. Note: They followed that up with a win last night against South Carolina State, which happened after this piece was written.] How did South Carolina turn things around so quickly? For one, they are turning the ball over at a considerably lower rateRead the rest of this entry »

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O26 Weekly Awards: Hawaii, Javon McCrea, Leon Rice & Loyola Marymount

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 1st, 2014

Aside from some Diamond Head Classic fun and a solid slate on Saturday, the past week in college basketball was probably the lightest we will see all season, thank goodness — there were two entire days (before and after Christmas Day) that featured zero games. Luckily, the sheer quantity of contests will pick up dramatically as conference play starts up across the country this week. Despite the lack of hoops action, though, there were still several impressive performances and exciting finishes that caught our attention during the holiday week, so let’s ring in the New Year by passing out a few awards to some worthy O26 recipients.

Hawaii had a fine week at the Diamond Head Classic. (AP Photo/Eugene Tanner)

Hawaii had a fine week at the Diamond Head Classic. (AP Photo/Eugene Tanner)

O26 Team of the Week

Hawaii. Maybe because it’s the only thing on at that time, but the Diamond Head Classic has become something of a beloved Christmastime tradition for college basketball fans in recent years. Last season’s tournament featured an awesome, tournament-winning blocked-shot by Arizona, and the two years prior included top-15 upsets against unranked opponents. It’s a fun event. This year, the Classic’s host — a Hawaii team already outperforming expectations in non-conference play — made the most of its home-court advantage, nearly beating eventual runner-up Boise State and then winning back-to-back hard-fought games over quality opponents.

Last Sunday, the Warriors were a Garrett Nevels three-pointer away from knocking off the Broncos, ultimately falling 62-61 to a team that will likely compete for a spot in the NCAA Tournament come March. It was a close-but-no-cigar kind of defeat. So how did Hawaii respond to the disappointment? By coming out the next night and winning an equally close game against Saint Mary’s, another squad with legitimate postseason potential. In a back-and-forth contest throughout, senior forward Christian Standhardinger was the eventual hero, answering a game-tying basket by the Gaels’ Beau Levesque with a baseline jumper of his own to give the Warriors a thrilling 76-74 victory. Then, on Christmas Day, Gib Arnold’s team did what it does best on the defensive end, forcing 17 turnovers and beating Oregon State in decisive fashion — the six-point margin does not indicate how much better Hawaii was — to win the consolation title. The victory was the Warriors’ first over a Pac-12 opponent in seven years and moved their record to 9-3. After handling Norfolk State on Monday night, Hawaii reached double-figure wins before January for the first time since 2001-02… the last season it reached the NCAA Tournament. A program appears on the rise in Honolulu.

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SEC M5: 12.27.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on December 27th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. CBSSports‘ Matt Norlander took a look at how the individual conferences have performed thus far and, as has been evident, the results aren’t great for the SEC. The league owns an unsightly 3-16 record against the RPI top 25, but every league has struggled against the best teams. The real concern comes from the 6-24 record against RPI top 50 teams and 28-35 record against teams from RPI top 10 conferences. No other power conference other than the AAC has a losing record in the latter stat. There were some close calls, particularly Florida’s last-second loss at Connecticut and Alabama’s hard-fought loss to Wichita State. But even if the SEC had gotten a few more headline-grabbing wins, the overall results still wouldn’t be pretty.
  2. The Diamond Head Classic was a resounding success for South Carolina this week. The Gamecocks followed up a week with losses to Manhattan and USC Upstate by going 2-1 in the Honolulu tournament, with wins over previously unbeaten St. Mary’s and Akron. Sandwiched in between was a 26 point drubbing by Boise State, but that’s alright because Frank Martin was in desperate need of wins. Freshman guard Duane Notice was the star of the trip, scoring in double figures in each of the three games. He had only scored 19 points on the season prior to the trip, but he scored 39 in USC’s three tournament games. The Gamecocks’ scouting work probably won’t be as intense as usual this week as they will play Akron on Saturday, just three days after beating the Zips in their Diamond Head finale.
  3. As action died down around the conference over the holiday week, let’s revisit an article written a few weeks ago about Arkansas guard Michael Qualls. The Razorback has largely flown under the radar this season, but should start causing SEC hoops fans to take a second look with conference play about to start. The sophomore is averaging 14.1 points per game after logging only 4.6 per game last season. What’s most impressive is the efficient way in which he’s been scoring those points. His true shooting percentage (65.8%) is sixth best in the conference, and his player efficiency ranking (24.1) ranks ninth. Oh, and he annihilated  a poor Southern Illinois-Edwardsville player with this dunk to begin the season. It’s time to take notice of this rising SEC star.
  4. One of the greatest players in Missouri history is keeping his NBA dream alive in the D-League. But this Tiger didn’t play for Frank Haith or Mike Anderson; he goes way back to Quin Snyder. At the ripe basketball age of 33, Kareem Rush is attempting to return to the NBA with the Los Angeles D-Fenders after being waived by the Los Angeles Clippers in 2009-10 because of a torn ACL. The Columbia Tribune‘s Joey Kaufman writes, “the average age of the D-Fenders is 26 years old, and nearly all of them were in junior high school when Rush led the Tigers to the NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight in 2002.” Rush is the darling of a generation of Missouri fans that falls between the Anthony Peeler-led teams of the mid 90s and NCAA Tournament drought-busting teams of Mike Anderson. It’s probably a longshot that he finds another NBA roster spot, but it’s encouraging to see a player come back from injury and give it his best against all odds.
  5.  Tennessee’s home loss to North Carolina State was “as bad as they come,” according to SI.com‘s Seth Davis. He writes, “first of all, how can a point guard (Memphis transfer Antonio Barton) play 21 minutes, miss all eight shots and not record a single assist? That can’t happen, ever. And Jordan McRae (6-for-22) needs to recognize when his shot isn’t falling and find other ways to help his team win. Lotta kinks to work out before the start of conference play.” Barton’s ineffectiveness with this (especially shooting the three) has been a problem, but another issue is the Volunteers’ lack of depth. They are reliant on three freshmen to give them quality off the bench (A.J. Davis, Darius Thompson and Robert Hubbs), but none of the three has stepped forward and been consistently productive this season. That needs to change if Tennessee is to make a run at a NCAA tournament bid. Each player has a potential role and skill set that could greatly help the Vols. Hubbs has the talent to be a primary scoring option, Thompson can be a distributor and Davis has size behind Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon. Whether they can reach this potential remains to be seen, but it will be a key for Cuonzo Martin.
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