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

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  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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SEC M5: 12.20.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on December 20th, 2013

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  1. Tennessee stubbed its toe against North Carolina State at home on Wednesday, and it will now need a spectacular conference record to get into the NCAA Tournament this season. Rocky Top Talk‘s Will Shelton points out that the SEC will likely offer few opportunities for signature wins, putting the Volunteers in an all too familiar tough early spot for head coach Cuonzo Martin. The last two years it has taken frantic finishes from the Vols to generate NCAA consideration, but this hasn’t led to anything substantive for Tennessee’s postseason. Shelton writes, “those 8-1 runs were indeed special during every second of them, right up until the moment we didn’t hear our name called because we screwed it up just bad enough beforehand to miss out.” The Vols can pull themselves out of their 6-4 hole, of course, but there’s simply no room to drop another winnable game at home. There are wins to be had in the soft underbelly of the SEC but at this point it will take a lot of wins to avoid another disappointing Selection Sunday in Knoxville. The shame is that Tennessee’s schedule hasn’t been brutal. Xavier looks like a solid team, but is only #57 in Kenpom‘s ratings; outside of Wichita State, the Vols shouldn’t have run into the problems that they have.
  2. For what seems like the first time this season, Auburn is in the SEC M5 with some positive news. The Tigers picked up their biggest win of the season over Clemson, beating the (other) Tigers 66-64 last night. The picture isn’t yet clear on Clemson this season, but they stood at 8-2 before the game with reasonable losses against UMass and at Arkansas. Auburn was outclassed against Iowa State and Illinois, so getting a win against another power conference team should be a confidence booster for Tony Barbee’s squad. Chris Denson again led the Tigers in scoring and only committed one turnover despite playing 33 minutes and constantly handling the ball. Right now he’s in serious contention for an all-SEC spot and he might in fact be the most improved player in the conference. A lot of it has to do with the loss of Frankie Sullivan, but Denson’s scoring average is up nearly nine points per game along with his other averages as well.
  3. Mike Anderson’s pair of highly-touted freshmen forwards lived up to the hype last night, and that could be the key for better times away from Fayetteville this year for the Razorbacks. It was a night of highs for Moses Kingsley in a win against Tennessee-Martin, as he played the most minutes (20), scored the most points (12), and grabbed the most rebounds (12) of his young career. Bobby Portis also continued his steady improvement, scoring 15 points and grabbing nine rebounds of his own. The development of these big men is important not only because they’re talented, but also because Anderson’s teams have historically had rebounding issues. If these two can help reverse that trend, Arkansas could actually get enough wins away from Bud Walton Arena to truly be in the NCAA tournament discussion later this winter.
  4. Mississippi State conquered the remnants of Dunk City last night, beating Florida Gulf Coast 66-53 at home. The win runs the Bulldogs’ record to 8-2, which has reached a level that merits some attention. Mississippi State is still probably a lower-third SEC team when it’s all said and done, but through 10 games last year, Rick Ray’s team stood at 4-6 (albeit with a much tougher schedule). Even if the Bulldogs own no notable wins and barely hung on against a couple of low-major teams, that’s still a drastically different record. Ray needs to build momentum for this program and piling up wins no matter how it’s done or who it’s against is important. This is especially so because the major contributors will all be back next year and, in some cases, beyond: I.J. Ready is a freshman; Craig Sword, Fred Thomas and Gavin Ware are sophomores; Roquez Johnson is a junior.
  5. This was a disastrous week for South Carolina, and that might be sugarcoating it. The Gamecocks fell to Manhattan on Sunday then followed that up with a loss to 6-5 USC Upstate last night. Both of these losses happened at home. To be fair, USC Upstate has beaten Virginia Tech (so Carolina is not its first power conference victim), but you can only make so many excuses for a loss like this. The Gamecocks have a long ways to go, and maybe this isn’t surprising given the program Frank Martin inherited. Michael Carrera was suspended for the game because of an “altercation” following the Manhattan loss, and although it’s good to see passion in players, Carrera didn’t help his team by sitting at home last night. The Carolina guards outside of Sindarius Thornwell didn’t help much either. Brenton Williams, Bruce Ellington and Tyrone Johnson went a combined 8-of-28 from the field.
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SEC M5: 12.18.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on December 18th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. Hello there, Casey Prather. A week after this brilliant clueless writer suggested his big scoring nights might be few and far between against good competition, the senior went out and led Florida to a win over Memphis with a game-high 22 points. This was a good match-up for Prather, as he was defended by smaller players most of the night because of Memphis’ frequent four-guard lineup. For the second straight Tuesday, Florida had to execute late in a close game against a good opponent, and that should serve as valuable experience down the road. The Gators coughed it up a fair amount (18 turnovers), but this was expected against Memphis. They were able to offset this by outrebounding the Tigers by 11. Essentially, the game played out like it was projected, with two excellent teams doing what they do best. The Gators can now claim two of the better non-conference wins in the country, with Chris Walker still on the way. Holiday cheer is spreading in Gainesville.
  2. You can’t fault Alabama for losing to Wichita State, even at home. The loss is still excruciatingly disappointing for the Tide because they had numerous chances to pull off the upset and resuscitate their season. Trevor Releford (22 points, six assists) didn’t get much help from his supporting cast, and Retin Obasohan had scored a combined 42 points in Alabama’s last two games but sank to only eight points on 2-of-10 shooting against the Shockers. The Belgian sophomore has emerged as one of the best slashers in the SEC, but he only got to the line four times (two of which were from a stop-the-clock foul late). Alabama played hard all night, but missed an opportunity when Ron Baker, Fred Van Vleet and Cleanthony Early were all on the bench in the first half with two fouls. Creating some separation from that golden opportunity would have gone a long way towards a win.
  3. LSU has had a mostly positive start to the 2013-14 season, but Johnny Jones is looking for improved ball-handling as the Tigers head to Lubbock to take on Texas Tech this evening. “In other areas we’re not being as fundamentally sound as we’d like to with the travel calls or taking a pass and throwing it over the top in our offensive set because we’re taking a chance,” he said. “We’re better, and they will continue to go down. We’re hopeful that our turnovers will go down. If we can get to 11 or 12 [per game], I think it’ll be a good trade-off from how we play.” LSU is currently averaging the highest number of turnovers per game in the SEC (16.1 TOPG). NOLA.com‘s Randy Rosetta points out that some of that is due to Jones’ fast style of play, but that Johnny O’Bryant and Jordan Mickey need to do a better job of not coughing it up when they face double teams. Big men struggling with double teams has been somewhat of a theme in the SEC recently. Jarnell Stokes was stifled against Wichita State, and Gavin Ware has been lost the last few weeks. Rosetta thinks O’Bryant has shown improvement in passing out of the paint, but Anthony Hickey (38% FG) and Andre Stringer (41% FG) need to knock down jump shots at a better clip to really make the offense hum.
  4. A bumpy road was inevitable for Frank Martin and South Carolina due to transfers and a general lack of talent within the program when he took the job. But the Gamecocks got a rather jarring bump last night with an 18-point loss at home to Manhattan. This was only South Carolina’s sixth game, and the Gamecocks have had three understandable losses in that span (Clemson, Baylor, and Oklahoma State). Last night’s loss may end up being understandable in principle because the Jaspers are 8-2, but even if Manhattan ends up as one 2013-14′s better mid-majors, an SEC program shouldn’t lose at home by 18 to a team from the MAAC (with all due respect to the Siena and Iona teams of recent vintage). The one bright spot was freshman Sindarius Thornwell, who looks like he can become a reliable scorer (17 points, 10-of-13 FTs). He also only turned it over once despite playing 36 minutes. Martin knew he was in for a challenge in Columbia, and he indeed has a big one ahead of him.
  5. Scottie Wilbekin (Player of the Week) and Jordan Mickey (Freshman of the Week) picked up last week’s SEC weekly awards for what was a period light on games because of final exams. In Wilbekin’s lone contest, a home win against Kansas, the senior controlled the game on both ends of the floor. He ended up with 18 points and six assists, and created havoc at the bottom of the Gators’ 1-3-1 zone with four steals. This production came a week after Wilbekin had suffered an ankle injury against Connecticut which looked far worse than it ended up being. Mickey wasn’t as hyped as fellow LSU freshman Jarrell Martin, but he has been one of the best freshmen in the SEC thus far. He scored 25 points and grabbed nine rebounds against Louisiana-Monroe, and also blocked five shots. He’s averaging nearly four blocks per game this season, which is good for the top 10 in the country. His shot-blocking presence will let Anthony Hickey and Andrew Stringer take more chances on the perimeter as the season goes on.
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SEC M5: 11.20.13 Edition

Posted by Justin Bridgman on November 20th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. For the first time in eight seasons, Alabama scored more than 100 points in a game. All it took was playing Division II Stillman to pull it off. Two things worth noting really stood out in the box score. First, the Crimson Tide attempted 31 free throws while Stillman took just nine. Clearly, Alabama was more aggressive offensively, and were able to take advantage of the new NCAA rules. Second, and perhaps more remarkable in the age of the three-pointer, but Alabama made just five threes for the game. They made 32 two-point field goals, yet another testament to their aggressive mentality on offense. That is the mentality Anthony Grant needs from his team when they play better opponents the rest of the season.
  2. Frank Martin is concerned that his team is suffering from a lack of leadership, and it is showing with the team’s bad start. Martin felt that a lack of preparation led directly to the Gamecock’s inability to run their offense against Clemson, in true coach’s fashion Martin hated the team’s defense too. With seven true freshman on the roster, this really shouldn’t come a surprise. While Martin can lean on sophomore Michael Carrera for leadership, that is a lot to ask of a player with just one year of NCAA experience under his belt. As the season goes on, South Carolina will work out their issues, and a leader will emerge. In the meantime, enjoy Frank Martin’s brilliant quotes throughout the article, which include complimenting his team’s defense by calling it “not pathetic”.
  3. When a team is as deep and talented as Kentucky is, someone suffers a loss of playing time. At the start of the season it looked like Marcus Lee and Dominique Hawkins would not be in the Wildcat rotation. Flash forward to five games into the season and the picture has already changed. Lee started his second straight game last night, scoring 10 points and three blocks. Hawkins only scored 3 points, but played 13 minutes in a blowout win. John Calipari likes the way Hawkins brings energy when he plays, something the Wildcats have struggled with at times this season. Lee adds a versatile defensive element that Calipari loves. Lee can lead a press and also protect the rim in half court situations. Exactly what the rest of the country wanted, for Kentucky to find even more depth.
  4. LSU has one of the most talented front courts in the country this season, and their rebounding numbers reflect that so far. Even without start freshman Jarell Martin, the Tigers averaged 53.5 rebounds in their first two games, and added 56 last night. Johnny O’Bryant and Jordan Mickey have been dominating the glass, and even 5-9 guard Andre Stringer has been contributing quite a few rebounds. This is an advantage that LSU should continue to exploit all season long. Not only will it keep them in contention against Kentucky and Florida, but it will cause major issues for teams like Missouri that don’t have much size inside.
  5. Speaking of Martin, his return is still up in the air right now. While there was speculation he might return last night, precaution won out and Martin sat out again. It’s hard to determine the impact of Martin’s injury since he has only played 33 seconds and the LSU big men haven’t missed a beat without him. Still Martin is a five-star recruit and expected to make a major impact whenever he does get back from his injury. The sooner he comes back and develop chemistry with his teammates the better. In the meantime, fellow freshman Jordan Mickey has been a revelation for LSU and added 16 points and 11 rebounds last night.
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South Carolina Better Than Expected, But Needs to Improve on the Boards

Posted by Justin Bridgman on November 16th, 2013

Frank Martin was quite clear in his impressions a day after his team lost to Baylor by two points earlier this week. He felt that his team gave the game away, and blamed a variety of factors for the loss: weak perimeter defense, a lack of off the ball movement on offense, a complete lack of rebounding. Martin used a zone defense to help negate the size advantage that Baylor had inside, and for the most part he made the right choice. The Bears only shot 38 percent from the floor and their starting five only attempted three three-point shots. The problem was that Martin failed to make the necessary adjustments when Baylor’s best shooter, Brady Heslip, was in the game. Heslip made five three-pointers and led Baylor with 18 points for the game.

Frank Martin can fix the offense, but he needs to get better rebounding effort in order to win

Frank Martin can fix the offense, but he needs to get better rebounding effort in order to win

Martin placed the perimeter defensive struggles on a lack of understanding by his players. “The personnel is there, it’s just a matter of developing their understanding and a desire to do it on a more consistent basis.” That is the kind of thing that will develop as the season goes on as players learn to trust the zone concept more and put forth the necessary effort to recover. If the Gamecocks can add a stronger perimeter defense while staying in their zone, it will force their opponents to take a lot of contested, inefficient jump shots.

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SEC’s Six Losses: Will Any Of Them Haunt The League?

Posted by Greg Mitchell on November 15th, 2013

Avoiding the bad loss. It’s as important right now as it is at the end of the season, and given the lower level of most non-conference opponents in November, the traps are ugly and plentiful. ESPN.com‘s Eamonn Brennan writes that despite solid metrics and wins against Duke and North Carolina, Virginia found itself in the NIT last season because of early losses against George Mason, Delaware and Old Dominion. Is the SEC already in trouble with six losses before the first week of the season is done? Alabama, Tennessee and LSU are trying to take the next step and make the NCAA Tournament but have they already stubbed their toes with a loss each on their resumes? No. Not yet. Despite the large number of early losses, it appears no SEC team has suffered a crippling loss that could haunt it on Selection Sunday. In fact, each of the six could be characterized as a “good” loss at this point. Here is the KenPom rating for each team that has beaten an SEC squad:

Billy Donovan and the Gators already have a loss, but it's not one that will haunt them.

Billy Donovan and the Gators already have a loss, but it’s not one that will haunt them.

  • Michigan State: #2
  • Wisconsin: #12
  • Baylor: #30
  • UMass: #44
  • Xavier: #48
  • Oklahoma: #57

This loss was “A-OK”

It almost goes without saying that Kentucky’s loss falls into this category. Yes, there was talk of perfection before the season even began and that bubble burst early. But the Wildcats lost a game to a perennially-elite team, and were able to bring the game down to the final minute despite a sluggish start, a lot of turnovers and bad play from the Harrison twins. There’s no shame in that. Florida is in the same boat. Injuries and suspensions made the Gators short-handed in one of college basketball’s toughest road environments. South Carolina played a good team on the road too, and nearly won a game many thought would be a mismatch.

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SEC M5: 11.15.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on November 15th, 2013

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  1. NOLA.com‘s Randy Rosetta had a brief LSU basketball chat yesterday and mentioned a couple of interesting Tiger nuggets. Rosetta said Johnny Jones has been vague on the timetable for Jarrell Martin‘s return, but given the iffy, inconsistent nature of ankle injuries, that isn’t too surprising. He also suggests that seven-foot Australian freshman Darcy Malone may be in line for a redshirt because he didn’t see the floor against UMass despite injuries and foul trouble in the frontcourt. This would make sense, as the Tigers’ training staff is desperately trying to get Malone bigger and stronger, and a year of conditioning would benefit both player and program in the long run. Finally, Rosetta suggests that this LSU team is more talented than the 2006 version. That’s a big statement: the 2006 Tigers made the Final Four behind the services of future pros Glen Davis and Tyrus Thomas. Garrett Temple and Chris Johnson have also bounced around the NBA, and Tasmin Mitchell was on that team too. That’s a lot of talent, and a pretty high and likely unrealistic bar for the current team.
  2. Don’t tell Frank Martin that South Carolina’s close call against Baylor was a moral victory. “Let one get away the other afternoon,” Martin said to open his Thursday afternoon press conference at the Colonial Life Arena. “We did some things well, but we also are not anywhere near who we need to be in order to win high-level games here. We’ve got to find a way to be a little more disciplined.” But the fact is that the Gamecocks should feel good about what happened in Waco. A win would’ve obviously been ideal, but competing on the road against a good team this early in the season is an encouraging sign for a rebuilding program. Last season, the Gamecocks lost by 10 or more in six of the their 10 road games. It’s an important sign that they established a competitive road precedent this early. If nothing else, the Gamecocks enter their rivalry game on the road against Clemson with some confidence.
  3. SI.com‘s Luke Winn discussed some interesting defensive metrics from the Kentucky-Michigan State game in his weekly power rankings. Winn writes, “On the Kentucky side, Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein combined to force 16 misses, but there was little-to-no turnover creation, and starting guards Andrew and Aaron Harrison had negative defensive impact. Perimeter and transition D are the areas where the Wildcats have the most room for improvement.” This looks like the rare time experience was in Kentucky’s favor, as their sophomores contributed the most defensively against the Spartans. As Winn notes, Kentucky certainly needs to get better on the perimeter, but with Cauley-Stein’s ability to clean up a lot of mistakes,  even a small amount of improvement over the course of the season can go a long way.
  4. Mississippi State picked up its second win of the season against Kennesaw State last night, a team that has already played an ironman-like five games by virtue of an opening weekend tournament. A couple of things stand out from this game, both from the Bulldogs’ backcourt. First, Craig Sword led the league in turnovers last season, partly offsetting an otherwise promising freshman year. This problem has carried into his sophomore season as he turned the ball over six times in Mississippi State’s first game against Prairie View A&M, and another three times last night. Second, I.J. Ready has indeed been ready to contribute as a freshman, and has shown the ability to adapt in his first two games. Fred Thomas was suspended for the opener and Ready looked to score more, with 14 points on 10 shots. With the scoring-minded Thomas back in the lineup (17 points on 14 shots), Ready assumed more of a distributor role, attempting only two shots and handing out six assists with only one turnover.
  5. Welcome back, Trevor Releford. After a quiet opening game against Oklahoma, the Alabama senior roared back with 29 points on only 14 shots in the Tide’s win over Texas Tech. This included 5-of-7 from the three-point line. Also impressive was that Releford only committed one foul in 33 minutes, a game after he was stuck to the bench with foul trouble against Oklahoma. The Tide in general avoided the referee’s whistle, only getting called for nine fouls. Anthony Grant’s Big 12 week is over, and the Tide can now tune up against lower division teams before a December 7 game against rebuilding South Florida, and a December 17 match-up with Wichita State.
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SEC M5: 11.13.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on November 13th, 2013

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  1. The Preseason Wooden Award list was announced yesterday afternoon and the SEC occupied seven of the fifty spots. This was the first year freshmen and transfers were included and not surprisingly Andrew Harrison, James Young, and Julius Randle were among them. They are joined by teammate Willie Cauley-Stein, and Jarnell Stokes and Jordan McRae. The “snub” discussion is too tempting after any list is put out there, and there’s a good argument Trevor Releford should have been included. He’s the SEC active leader in points, assists and steals. Releford (career: 12.6 points, 2.9 assists, 16.5 TO%, 20.2 PER) is comparable to Memphis point guard Joe Jackson (career: 11.5 points, 3.9 assists, 22.1 TO%, 18.3 PER), who is on the list. Patric Young might have an argument too.
  2. LSU’s heralded freshmen class had a relatively rough go at it in the Tigers’ season opening loss to UMass. Jarrell Martin turned his ankle on the team’s first possession and didn’t return. This proved especially costly when Johnny O’Bryant picked up a third foul late in the first half, and a fourth midway through the second half. Jordan Mickey played well overall (16 points on 7-of-15 shooting, 10 rebounds), but missed a couple point blank layups and more importantly allowed the Minutemen far too many easy looks at the rim. Johnny Jones probably had to play Mickey far more (38 minutes) than he wanted in this game because of the circumstances. Tim Quarterman got the start, but the offense moved much better when Anthony Hickey and Andre Stringer were the primary ballhandlers.
  3. South Carolina nearly toppled #23 Baylor in Waco in what would have been the signature win of Frank Martin‘s young tenure. Three things from this game stand out going forward. Freshman guard Sindarius Thornwell is emerging as a legitimate go-to offensive option as he scored 20 points on 6-of-13 shooting. His 6’5” size and perimeter skills will be a tough match-up for most teams. Second, the Gamecocks interior defense, led by the undersized Michael Carrera, was impressive against one of the more talented frontcourts in the country as Isaiah Austin and Corey Jefferson scored only 21 combined points. Finally, high foul counts are a theme of the season thus far, and Frank Martin’s aggressive style play was no stranger to this. The Gamecocks were whistled 29 times, leading to 43 Baylor free throw attempts. The Bears were atrocious from the line (51 percent), and had they been better the game would’ve been very different.
  4. Billy Donovan has a lot of nice pieces at Florida this season. He has a frontcourt that goes four deep and two distributors in Scottie Wilbekin and Kasey Hill. But for perimeter scoring he is relying on two players transitioning from bench players to main contributors, one of which is sophomore Michael Frazier. “My team is going to need me to have an increased role this year,” Frazier said. “I knew that going into the summer. I’ve been really trying to expand my game.” The three-point shot is a big part of Frazier’s game (46 percent last year), but he struggled in only shooting 29 percent from three during a stint with the Team USA U-19 team this summer. He began the season with a career high 19 points on 6-of-10 shooting against North Florida, so it doesn’t appear his summer struggles had a lasting effect on his confidence.
  5. John Calipari might be beginning damage control with Marcus Lee. “‘But this program is going to be about you Marcus Lee. I just need you to get better. I’m going to coach you and I’m going to develop you, and understand right now these guys are ahead of you, but that doesn’t mean anything’. You know what he responds? Greatest kid. Tried to leave the locker room, he forgot shoes he was walking out with bare feet. I said, ‘what are you doing?’ He said, ‘oh, I forgot my shoes,’” said Calipari. It was inevitable that someone in Kentucky’s historic recruiting class would have a tough time getting on the court; there are only so many minutes to go around. Lee appears to be the guy thus far, and he played less than a minute against Michigan State last night. Media blitzes like this are part of what makes Calipari such a great coach because he understands better than probably anyone how to manage emotions and personalities.
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Tuesday is Full of Opportunity for SEC Teams

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on November 12th, 2013

Mike Slive made crystal clear this offseason that SEC schools must schedule better non-conference opponents. One school’s weak slate not only hurts its own RPI, but also drives down the league’s RPI and overall profile. “One of the things that was eye-opening to coaches was how much every team’s schedule impacts the other teams,” said Florida coach Billy Donovan. To guard against scheduling anvils going forward, Slive hired a scheduling consultant and each school must now get their final basketball schedules approved by the league. These won’t have much effect this season given how far in advance games with bigger conference schools have to be set. But the SEC has a huge opportunity this evening to put a smile on Slive’s face and grab some early season respect for the league. There are five “statement” games on tonight’s schedule:

#2 Michigan State vs. #1 Kentucky

It's not unfair that the college basketball world is treated to #1 against #2 matchup less than a week into the season.

It’s not unfair that the college basketball world is treated to #1 against #2 match-up less than a week into the season.

The season isn’t yet a week old and the first edition of the Game of the Year has arrived. John Calipari made waves last week by saying that it’s “not fair” his young team has to play an experienced team like Michigan State this early. Despite the ridiculousness of that tongue-in-cheek comment, the Wildcats will get about as stiff a test as there is at the United Center tonight. The Spartans have quick and strong perimeter athletes that Kentucky will have difficulty matching up with. On the flip side, Michigan State will have difficulty matching up the Wildcats’ interior size. If Kentucky were to lose this game, especially in close fashion, no one should bat an eye. But a win, though hardly surprising, would truly establish Kentucky as the team to beat this season (if they aren’t already).

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