What We Can Expect From Auburn in Bruce Pearl’s First Year

Posted by Greg Mitchell on October 16th, 2014

The SEC’s basketball profile will continue to flounder until some of the other 12 programs other than Florida and Kentucky develop into consistent winners. The conference needs the depth of several year-in, year-out NCAA bid contenders to complement those two crown jewels. Suddenly, Auburn, which hasn’t had a winning season since 2008-09 and hasn’t been ranked in over 10 years, looks as ready as anyone to make that leap. The reason? Simple. Bruce Pearl’s return to the conference.

Bruce Pearl is back in the SEC, albeit in a different shade of orange.

Bruce Pearl is back in the SEC, albeit in a different shade of orange.

The former Milwaukee and Tennessee coach has already provided a jolt in fan support and recruiting since being hired last spring. For example, in late August he signed three key recruits in four days to give Auburn one of the current best 2015 recruiting classes in the conference. It’s a virtual certainty that this excitement will eventually lead to on-court improvement, but how soon is it reasonable to expect? If his past performance is any indication, it might be sooner than you think. Below we examine how Pearl fared in each of his first years leading the Panthers and the Vols.

2001-02 Milwaukee Panthers

What happened: Pearl took over when Wisconsin hired a coach named Bo Ryan, who had gone only 30-27 in his two seasons at Milwaukee. At 16-13 overall, the Panthers won only one more game in Pearl’s first season than they had the year before, and there was no postseason. Nevertheless, Milwaukee jumped to third place in the Horizon League (11-5) after finishing fifth (7-7) in Ryan’s last year (in what was then unimaginatively called the “Midwest Collegiate Conference”). Not surprisingly, Pearl revved up the pace of action (72.7 possessions per 40 minutes) over Ryan’s more disciplined approach (65.3), but this didn’t necessarily yield better efficiency since the Panthers scored and allowed roughly the same number of points per possession and didn’t see a big uptick in free throw attempts. The biggest reason for the slight improvement in the conference standings seems to have been better play from a trio of junior guards: Clay Tucker, Ronnie Jones, and Jason Frederick. The diminutive Jones (5’9’’) made the biggest jump, upping his scoring average by seven points per game and dishing out an additional assist per contest.

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Putting Together the SEC Puzzle, Knockoff Style

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 22nd, 2014

Seth Davis has the Jigsaw Man, his alter ego that finds unheralded players and plugs them into more high-profile teams with a distinct need. I don’t have a creative nickname for this, but I do have some SEC puzzles to solve and following Davis’ lead sounds like a good idea. Joe Lunardi currently lists Florida, Kentucky, Missouri and Tennessee in his field of 68. Each team has its holes, so to get creative, I tried to plug them with one player from a conference foe that won’t hear its name called on Selection Sunday. Saying something like “Missouri can’t score inside, add Julius Randle” is too easy, though, and the knockoff Jigsaw Man likes to challenge himself. Here goes…

Florida gets: Brenton Williams, South Carolina

Billy Donovan could use Brenton Williams free throw prowess at the end of games in March (beachcarolina.com).

Billy Donovan could use Brenton Williams free throw prowess at the end of games in March (beachcarolina.com).

You have to search high and low to find something Florida doesn’t do well. One thing that stands out, however, is the Gators’ relatively poor team free throw shooting percentage (67.6%, ninth in the SEC). Foul shots become trickier in postseason play as the pressure of closing out a game intensifies. Florida doesn’t have anyone other than Michael Frazier and Scottie Wilbekin who Billy Donovan can feel confident about taking those big shots. Those limited options could make inbounding the ball to a reliable shooter at the end of a close game difficult. So why not give the Gators a player who has only missed three foul shots all season? Brenton Williams has not only been the best foul shooter in the SEC (78-of-81, 96.3%) but he is also a senior who fits Florida’s experienced theme. He’s also one of the best three-point shooters in the conference (42.8%) which addresses another area of relative weakness for the Gators. Let Casey Prather inbound the ball at the end of close games, and with Williams, Wilbekin, and Frazier making cuts, he’s sure to find a guy among the trio who can seal a win.

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Early SEC Trends: Kentucky’s Rebounding & Auburn’s Three-Point Shooting

Posted by Greg Mitchell on November 19th, 2013

The 2013-14 season has two weekends under its belt and we have a small sample size of SEC basketball to consider. Still, we’ve identified a couple of trends that have emerged in the young season, and what they could mean going forward.

Kentucky is in even better shape if Alex Poythress keeps rebounding the way he has in his first four games (photo courtesy vaughtsviews.com).

Kentucky is in even better shape if Alex Poythress keeps rebounding the way he has in his first four games (Credit: vaughtsviews.com).

Kentucky’s rebounding, Alex Poythress included. The Wildcats have flashed elite rebounding potential thus far. Kentucky has three rotation players with total rebounding percentages greater than 20 percent: Julius Randle (24.3%), Alex Poythress (22.6%), and Willie Cauley-Stein (20.7%). As a team they have outrebounded their four opponents by a combined total of 80 boards (199 to 119). This includes beating Michigan State on the boards by 12, and it’s not easy to do that to Tom Izzo’s Spartans. Poythress’ rebounding is especially worth keeping an eye on because he’s made marked improvement over last season’s rate (13.2%). It was a safe assumption that Randle and Cauley-Stein would be elite rebounders, and it’s only been four games, but adding Poythress to this category creates an even bigger advantage for the Wildcats since all three can feasibly play in the same lineup. Kentucky will likely have times where it struggles to execute its offense given the team’s relative inexperience, as in the first half against the Spartans. But their ability to limit second chances for their opponent and create some for themselves will help Kentucky weather these rough patches and avoid big deficits.

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SEC M5: 10.31.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on October 31st, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. James Young was the star of Kentucky’s Blue/White scrimmage. The 6’6” freshman wing scored 25 points, including three out of five from beyond the arc. Young with his length, athleticism, and ability to shoot is a type of player John Calipari hasn’t really had since taking over at Kentucky. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Terrence Jones had plenty of length and athleticism, but neither was a reliable outside shooter. If Young’s exhibition play is any indication of what he will be, then Kentucky will truly be able to hurt teams in a variety of ways given the low-post options they have. Another interesting tidbit is that Alex Poythress took only five shots. Last week we discussed Poythress’ importance to this Kentucky team, and the need for him to be more aggressive. It’s only one scrimmage, but this isn’t a good start for Poythress in that regard.
  2. Marshall Henderson‘s suspension is no longer indefinite. Ole Miss announced on Tuesday that the reigning SEC scoring champ will miss three games this upcoming season. Athletic director Ross Bjork and the Ole Miss administration got creative: Henderson will miss the season opener against Troy, but the balance of his suspension will be carried out in the Rebels’ first two SEC games against Auburn and Mississippi State. Henderson’s “flair for the dramatic” (to put it lightly) first got widespread attention after his interactions with the Auburn crowd, but the January 9 game he will miss is in Oxford. The January 11 Mississippi State game is in Starkville, and I imagine Bulldog fans will be upset they won’t see Henderson on the court (for a number of reasons). Ole Miss did a good job making this suspension look meatier than a brief absence against lesser competition while not sacrificing their season.
  3. Auburn cruised in its Tuesday exhibition game against Victory University winning 109-67. Chris Denson led the team with 21 points and asserted himself early by going 5-6 in the first half. This is a positive sign for Auburn because Denson will be counted on to replace Frankie Sullivan’s scoring. Tony Barbee gave point guard minutes to freshman Tahj Shamsid-Deen and junior college transfer Malcolm Canada, and liked what he saw. ““Those two together, they play well off of each other,” Barbee said. “They both bring something different to the floor. You look at their assist-to-turnover numbers, that’s unbelievable. We will take that every night if we can get it.” Shamsid-Deen hit three three-pointers as well, and should be an intriguing young player for a program that needs excitement. Christian talked about him in his impact freshman piece, and I (foolishly) failed to discuss him in my piece on SEC freshman poised to see big minutes at point guard this season.
  4. Billy Donovan secured another blue chip recruit on Wednesday, as five-star 2014 forward Devin Robinson committed to Florida. Robinson is a big signing for Donovan because he will need to replenish his frontcourt after this season. Patric Young, Will Yeguete, and Casey Prather are all seniors. Despite this loss of talent the Gators should still be in good shape in 2014-15, at least in terms of potential. Robinson’s offensive game is apparently more perimeter-oriented, but at 6’8” it’s likely he can defend post players. Five-star 2013 forward Chris Walker will be around, if he doesn’t leave for the NBA after becoming eligible this December. Since this is such a strong draft class it’s likely Walker stays. Transfers Dorian Finney-Smith and Damontre Harris will also be around, and we pointed out, Finney-Smith could be a breakout rebounding star.
  5. South Carolina plays USC Aiken this Sunday in an exhibition game, and Frank Martin wants his team to learn from their in-state opponents. “I love being around people that love the game of basketball, and [USC Aiken coach Vince Alexander] and his staff love the game and have done an incredible job here,” Martin said before the Pacers’ Tip-Off Banquet, where he was the guest speaker. “They’ve created a culture of winning here at Aiken, which is something we’re trying to build at Carolina.” Martin has spent a lot of time around Alexander and the Aiken program, and it’s neat he’s made these efforts to enter the state’s basketball culture. Exhibition games are ho-hum experiences for many fans. But it’s nice that Division II schools like USC Aiken and their players get a chance to play in the in-state Division I arenas.
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Welcome to the Show: Identifying the Impact Freshman for Each Team in the SEC “West”

Posted by Christian D'Andrea (@TrainIsland) on October 29th, 2013

Christian D’Andrea is an SEC microsite contributor and Managing Editor of Vanderbilt’s SB Nation site Anchor of Gold.

After suffering through one of the worst overall seasons in conference history, the Southeastern Conference is ready to rebound behind a strong group of freshman newcomers. SEC teams constituted six of ESPN’s Top 25 recruiting classes for 2013, and that includes Arkansas and LSU, two “West” programs that are looking to regain past glory after a disappointing start to this decade. Four and five-star big men like Jarrell Martin, Bobby Portis, Jordan Mickey and Moses Kingsley will join a league that seems to be shifting away from the small-ball lineups that dominated most of the conference’s rosters in 2012-13.

Mike Anderson now has an intriguing young duo to work with. (AP)

Mike Anderson now has an intriguing young duo to work with. (AP)

Last week, we took a look at the incoming players who could lift their squads to new heights in the former SEC “East.” Today, we’ll take a look at the new guys who will be cutting their teeth on the other side of the conference. Here are the true freshmen – one per team – who are slated to have a major impact for their new teams this winter.

Alabama: Jimmie Taylor. Anthony Grant had very little to rely on up front in 2012-13, but he still guided the Crimson Tide to the NIT with an unorthodox four-guard lineup last winter. Now, raw center Moussa Gueye has transferred to Valparaiso, giving 6’10” forward/center Taylor the chance to play a major role for Alabama from the outset. The in-state recruit is a long, lean player who has great instincts for shot-blocking and solid athleticism for a big man. He should provide a consistent presence in the paint and on the boards for a team that was hurting for rebounds in conference play.

Arkansas: Bobby Portis. Mike Anderson’s 2013 haul was small, but potent. The Razorbacks added two big men who combined to receive nine stars between them from both ESPN and Rivals last spring. That’s a huge boost for a team whose best rebounder was 6’7″ combo forward Marshawn Powell, pulling down fewer than six rebounds per game in 2012-13. Portis, a five-star power forward, will give the Hogs some much-needed bulk up front, and 6’10” center Moses Kingsley will provide an imposing presence next to him. Anderson was forced to play plenty of small-ball last season, but the addition of two impact players who can thrive in the paint will give Arkansas some much needed flexibility. While the team will still feel the sting of losing Powell and B.J. Young to NBA Draft declarations, the future is bright in Fayetteville.

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