SEC M5: 03.19.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on March 19th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. The SEC’s 2014 NCAA Tournament action is now upon us. Cuonzo Martin will makes his NCAA debut against Iowa and its high-powered offense this evening in Tennessee’s third-ever game in Dayton (losses in 2001 and 2009). The Hawkeyes ranked fourth in KenPom’s offensive efficiency ratings, and are headlined by all-Big Ten first team selection Roy Devyn Marble (17.3 PPG, 22.2 PER). If the Vols need some confidence in keeping elite scores in check, they need not look very far. In recent poundings of Auburn and Missouri, Tennessee held the SEC’s top two scorers (Jabari Brown and Chris Denson) to 1-of-10 shooting nights. Do something like that to Marble tonight and the Vols have a great chance to keep on playing through the weekend.
  2. If there was any question about Arkansas’ motivation for the NIT, it was answered with a 54-point second half in the Razorbacks win last night over Indiana State. In an ideal world, the NIT can be used as a confidence-builder and springboard to next season for young players. If that’s the case, Anthlon Bell will have something to feel good about this offseason. The sophomore scored 28 points on 11-of-13 shooting, including 6-of-8 from three-point land. This was only the second time he has hit the 20-point plateau this year (23 points against Ole Miss). With Fred Gulley and Mardracus Wade graduating, Bell will be in a position for more playing time on the wing, and Mike Anderson has to hope he can become a more consistent offensive option. The Razorbacks play the winner of California and Utah Valley in the NIT next.
  3. Missouri was shorthanded, both on its roster and in the stands, but still found a way to erase a 13-point second half deficit and beat Davidson in its NIT opener. The Tigers weren’t able to bully Davidson on the glass like it first appeared, grabbing only one more rebound than the Wildcats for the game. But they were able to attack the basket on the smaller Davidson team, shooting 58.0 percent from the field and getting to the line 34 times. Jabari Brown’s 30 points were the headline, but also notable was Frank Haith giving a good chunk of playing time to junior forward Danny Feldman (four points, four rebounds), who had seen the court for only 19 total minutes all season. This could have been a message to suspended freshmen Wes Clark and Shane Rector about the value of doing things the right way. The Tigers will play the winner of Toledo and Southern Miss next.
  4. The SEC’s other two NIT squads open the tournament this evening. LSU takes on a San Francisco team that finished third in the WCC and is making its first postseason appearance since an appearance in the CBI in 2011-12. This may be the last chance to see Johnny O’Bryant in a LSU uniform, and he should have ample opportunities against a porous Dons’ defense (KenPom #145). Georgia tips off its NIT campaign at home against Vermont, a team that briefly grabbed the nation’s attention with a near-win at Duke in November. The Catamounts are an experienced team (five of their top six scorers are seniors), and face a much younger Bulldogs squad in Athens. It’ll be interesting to see how the two juxtaposed teams approach this game.
  5. Auburn made a giant splash by hiring former Tennessee head coach Bruce Pearl, bringing the accomplished and controversial coach back to the conference in which he excelled for six years. David Changas had a great take on the hire, pointing out what it could mean in a larger context. He writes, “after seeing the coup that [Auburn AD Jay Jacobs] was able to pull off, perhaps other SEC schools that have not shown they are serious about basketball will renew their commitment to the sport.” For the conference’s profile to improve, it only takes a few schools to become consistent NCAA Tournament threats. Consistently elite programs are great, but they’re not the only way to respectability. Pearl’s hire is a long-term step in this direction.
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SEC M5: 03.17.14 Edition

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

SEC_morning5

  1. In his South region preview, Jeff Borzello thinks that Florida should have an open road to the Final Four. He writes, “I like Florida’s combination of experience, balance and lockdown defense. They can play at multiple tempos, which is also key in the Big Dance.” All in all it seems the Gators got a pretty good draw. They don’t have a potential nightmare of an 8/9 match-up (like Oklahoma State or, conference aside, Kentucky), and while a hot UCLA team poses a threat, the Gators defense should win the day should that game happen. It is curious to me that Florida, the overall #1 seed, got Kansas as its number two seed. The Jayhawks are in my opinion the best of the number two seeds, and have a potential game changer waiting in the wings in Joel Embiid.
  2. Bracket madness ruled the day Sunday, but the most important game of the SEC season did precede it. Glenn Logan at A Sea of Blue has an overall positive take on Kentucky‘s 61-60 loss to Florida. He writes, “Many teams would have mailed it in down 16 in the second half, but Kentucky bowed their backs and showed their quality, in spite of their youth.” As far as losses go, there should be no shortage of encouragement coming out of this one for Big Blue Nation. Kentucky’s competitive psyche has been questioned all year, and you saw a team with a lot of fight in that second half. You also saw Willie Cauley-Stein play a dynamic role against arguably the best team in the country (10 points, 11 rebounds, 5 blocks). Even had James Young not fallen down and sunk the final shot, the overall takeaways would have been the same.
  3. Will Shelton at Rocky Top Talk has a detailed breakdown of Iowa ahead of Tennessee’s Dayton date with the Hawkeyes. Shelton points out that we would’ve already seen this game had the Vols not lost a stinker to UTEP in the Battle 4 Atlantis. The rub of the preview is that this should be an interesting matchup between an Iowa team that can score (1.15 points per possession) and a Tennessee team that has been stout defensively of late. And despite 12 losses apiece, the two teams are both in KenPom’s top 30. This game doesn’t lack for talent or ability, and there’s the potential for a “can you top this?” game within the game between Jordan McRae and Roy Devyn-Marble.
  4. The search for Auburn’s next coach is less than a week old, and something that could work against AD Jay Jacobs is the Under Armour logo on the Tigers’ jerseys. Charles Barkley and Gary Parrish both told AL.com that Auburn is at a recruiting disadvantage since Nike and Adidas have far more clout on the AAU circuit. Apparel issues aside, it has been reported that Jacobs is interested in a proven, major conference coach. But he shouldn’t foreclose the up and coming mid major coach route just because Barbee and Jeff Lebo didn’t work out. At the time, Barbee was a wise hire: it’s hard to argue with the logic behind a John Calipari-connected coach that just went 15-1 with UTEP in Conference USA. Things just don’t work out sometimes, and Jacobs should keep all options on the table.
  5. Take away Frank Martin’s one-game suspension and it has been a pretty positive few weeks for South Carolina. The Gamecocks won four of six including one road and two neutral site wins, and picked up a quality victory over (what should have been) a desperate Arkansas team. This was also the first year South Carolina won a SEC Tournament game since 2008. The positive momentum should build into next season, as everyone returns except for Brenton Williams. Point guard Ty Johnson will be back after healing his broken foot, and there was a silver lining to his absence. “Sindarius [Thornwell] and Duane Notice will be so much better next year, because they were forced to learn how to play a new place on the floor,” Martin said.
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SEC M5: 03.14.14 Edition

Posted by David Changas on March 14th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. Given the way Auburn AD Jay Jacobs fired Tony Barbee an hour after the team’s loss to South Carolina, the job got a lot of attention today among those covering the SEC Tournament. On the broadcast, ESPN’s Jeff Goodman, who is handling sideline TV duties at the tournament, listed four candidates he has heard are on Jacobs’s list. They are former Tennessee coach and ESPN analyst Bruce Pearl, Duke assistant and former Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel, Southern Miss coach Donnie Tyndall, and Louisiana Tech coach Michael White. Goodman joked that Pearl, who is his colleague at ESPN, would not give him any hints about whether he is interested in the job. While it’s certainly possible that Pearl will show interest, it doesn’t make sense to us. Auburn is a very difficult job, and it stands to reason that Pearl will have other options, either this year or next (his show cause expires in August). Of the four candidates Goodman named, we think Tyndall and White would make the most sense.
  2. There has been much discussion about how mediocre the SEC has been this year, and the tournament does not present many opportunities for quality wins. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi thinks that Kentucky has very little to gain from the event. He points out that the Wildcats, who come into the tournament with only one win against a top 50 opponent – a December victory over Louisville – and the only opportunity for one that will help their seed this weekend will come against Florida on Sunday, should both teams get there. Otherwise, Lunardi thinks Kentucky is stuck in the 6-7 seed range, and could drop if it were to drop a game against a lesser opponent. The Wildcats take on LSU, which defeated Alabama Thursday night, in Friday’s quarterfinal round. The Tigers beat Kentucky in Baton Rouge and should have duplicated that feat in Lexington a few weeks ago, as they dropped an overtime decision to the Wildcats. If Kentucky can make it to Sunday’s championship game, it likely will not hurt its seeding, but it’s hard to see the Wildcats beating Florida to jump up a line or two, given how they’ve performed against the Gators so far this year.
  3. Much has been made of Casey Prather‘s improvement for No. 1 Florida, and this piece from Franz Beard at GatorCountry.com chronicles the senior’s rise. Prather was recently named to the first team of the all-SEC squad, and he talked about how he persevered through difficult times early in his career. He even thought about transferring after his freshman season, but after talking every day with teammate and newly-minted SEC player of the year Scottie Wilbekin, Prather stuck it out in Gainesville. Now, as his career draws to a close, he has a chance to compete for the national championship on arguably the nation’s best team. It’s quite a turnaround for Prather, and his and the team’s testament to the bond the Gators’ senior class has formed.
  4. Missouri got by Texas A&M in overtime on Thursday to advance to Friday’s quarterfinal round, where the Tigers will take on Florida. But the St. Louis Post-Dispatch‘s Bernie Miklasz talked about the future of the Missouri program, and didn’t pull any punches. Miklasz was less than complimentary of head coach Frank Haith and the way he has run the program, and he has serious questions about whether Haith is capable of turning things around. He suggests that Haith has one more year to do so, and if he can’t, it’s time to move on. Miklasz cited KenPom.com‘s offensive and defensive efficiency ratings in the column to support his point that Missouri hasn’t been particularly stellar on either end of the floor since Haith arrived. It’s a worthwhile read, and it’s likely plenty of Missouri fans agree with Miklasz’s points.
  5. Most people expected Tennessee to play Arkansas in a Friday quarterfinal, in what many anticipated would be a de facto play-in game for the NCAA Tournament. However, after the Razorbacks almost certainly blew their chance for an NCAA bid with a loss to South Carolina, the Volunteers will now take on the lowly Gamecocks for a chance to most likely get another shot at Florida. Tennessee comes into the game as a double-digit favorite, but anyone who has followed the Volunteer program knows the SEC Tournament has been less than kind to them. Despite their recent failures in the event, this year’s team comes into the tournament playing well, and they are aiming to reverse the program’s trend. Tennessee is clearly a bubble team, and a win over RPI No. 150 South Carolina certainly won’t help its resume, but it would give it an opportunity for a third shot at Florida (assuming the Gators beat Missouri). Even with a loss there, the Volunteers would be in good shape to sneak into the Big Dance.
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SEC Tournament Preview: Which Coach Has the Most on the Line During This Postseason?

Posted by Brian Joyce on March 11th, 2014

In anticipation of all the action at the Georgia Dome later this week, the SEC microwriters will be previewing the SEC Tournament all week by answering several of the key questions heading into the event in a roundtable format. Today’s burning question has to do with the personalities on the sidelines. Postseason tournaments can make or break a coach’s reputation. Which coach has the most on the line during this postseason?

Is Bruce Pearl primed to return to the SEC next season?

Is Bruce Pearl primed to return to the SEC next season?

Brian Joyce (@bjoyce_hoops): The coach with the most on the line during this postseason is Tennessee’s Cuonzo Martin. Volunteer fans are clamoring for former head coach Bruce Pearl to return to the sidelines in his orange blazer after serving time on a three year show cause penalty. Pearl took the Volunteers to six NCAA appearances in his six seasons in Knoxville, including an Elite Eight and two Sweet Sixteen appearances. Pearl was wildly successful in orange, but one thing he never did was win an SEC tournament championship. Meanwhile, Martin hasn’t even made it to Saturday in the SEC tournament, much less Sunday for the championship game. Tennessee hasn’t won more than one game in the SEC tournament under Martin. The Vols didn’t make an NCAA tournament appearance either in his first two seasons at the helm, instead settling for early round exits in the NIT. Tennessee finally has a chance to return to the Big Dance as long as the Vols don’t slip up in the quarterfinals on Friday against fellow bubble team Arkansas, or worse, bottom dwellers Auburn or South Carolina. There is unrest in Knoxville, and it will only get louder with a slip up in the Georgia Dome. An untimely loss in the SEC tournament could ultimately leave Martin’s team on the wrong end of the bubble come Selection Sunday, and then the murmur among fans could become a full on uproar. The only way to quiet the desire for Pearl is to create your own success, and Martin and Tennessee have a chance to do that this March.

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SEC Tournament Preview: Which Team Other Than Florida Can Cut Down the Nets?

Posted by Brian Joyce, David Changas & Greg Mitchell on March 10th, 2014

In anticipation of all the action at the Georgia Dome later this week, the SEC microwriters will be previewing the SEC Tournament by answering several of the key questions heading into the event in a roundtable format. Today’s burning question covers which teams can cut down the nets on Sunday. Florida is clearly the favorite after an 18-0 run in SEC play, but besides the obvious choice of the Gators, which other team could realistically win the championship game on Sunday?

Billy Donovan and Florida are the clear favorites in the SEC, but can any other team take down the mighty Gators? (AP)

Billy Donovan and Florida are the clear favorites in the SEC, but can any other team take down the mighty Gators? (AP)

Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell): Tennessee. The Vols are more than just the current flavor of the week after winning each of their last three games by more than 27 points. Their talent is undeniable, as Jarnell Stokes and Jordan McRae will both probably get shots in the NBA, and there aren’t many other teams outside of Kentucky in this conference that can say that. That talent didn’t translate to consistently good performances throughout the entire season, but it has lately. The Vols’ defense has been especially effective in recent weeks, as Tennessee has held opponents under 0.93 points per possession in five of its last six games. Locking down teams is usually a great pathway to success in March, and with a big, bruising frontcourt that causes match-up problems and a guy in McRae who can go off for 30 points at any time, this is a dangerous team.

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SEC M5: 03.10.14 Edition

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

SEC_morning5

  1. There it is folks, the first 18-0 season in SEC history. “A perfect team? No. No one is,” writes CBSSports.com’s Matt Norlander. “Right now, Florida is as close to great as you can get before earning a Final Four trip to validate such a title.” A perfect conference record, in whatever conference, is so rare that the Gators’ season can be considered special regardless what happens from here on. Obviously an early loss in the tournament would be crushing, but 18-0 means more than just a “good” season, or even a regular season title in some ways. Teams win conference championships every year, but they don’t often go undefeated on the way. The perfect mark may also be an indictment on the state of the SEC, but just like with Wichita State, the quality of the league shouldn’t damper the undefeated end result.
  2. Three straight beatdowns will quiet all that Bruce Pearl talk, at least for the moment. Tennessee killed two birds with one stone Saturday: picking up a decent win and essentially eliminating bubble buddy Missouri. They might also be a smart sleeper pick for not only the SEC Tournament, but the NCAA Tournament too. Cuonzo Martin’s team has quietly risen to #12 in the KenPom ratings, one of only three teams with 10+ losses in the top 30. The Vols have balance that plays well this time of year, as they are in the top 28 in KenPom’s offensive and defensive efficiency ratings.  Antonio Barton has 51 points (13-of-21 from three) in the last three games, and has helped the Vols offense get to a different level. If he keeps it up and Josh Richardson shuts down opposing perimeter scorers like he did Jabari Brown, watch out for Rocky Top.
  3. Arkansas had a chance to take the drama out of its trip to Atlanta. Win Saturday in Tuscaloosa, and the Hogs probably only needed to get by their first game in SEC Tournament to feel secure. Instead, they were done in by an awful offensive first half and Trevor Releford’s 24 points in his final game in Coleman Coliseum. This was simply not the game for the Hogs to lose the turnover battle (15 to 12) and put up only 0.84 points per possession. The loss to a #100+ RPI team means Arkansas must absolutely win its first game (Auburn or South Carolina) and then another virtually must-win game against Tennessee, which won the only meeting this season and is currently steamrolling its opponents. Hog fans also have to now keep a closer eye on smaller conference tournaments, with fingers crossed that teams like Wichita State and Gonzaga don’t get upset.
  4. Georgia locked up the three seed in the SEC Tournament, and in finishing with a 12-6 conference mark it’s hard to deny the Bulldogs are anything but a quality team right now. They limited LSU to 36.4% shooting and beat them on the glass (37 to 29), which they have done to many teams en route to a surprising conference season (best SEC field goal defense, fourth best rebounding rate). Only eight of Georgia’s 69 points and three of its 37 rebounds came from seniors, so Mark Fox has something to build off of. I desperately want to make a case for Georgia as a bubble team, but at RPI #70 it just isn’t possible right now. The Bulldogs avoid Florida until the final, and getting there would mean a 20-12 record and (probably) a win over Kentucky. We’ll re-evaluate then.
  5. You have to hand it to Auburn, Tony Barbee’s team hasn’t quit. The Tigers picked up a solid road win Saturday in College Station against Texas A&M, where the Aggies finished the year 16-3. Auburn’s six conference victories are the most under Tony Barbee. After the game Chris Denson admitted a recent slump (9 points on 3-of-25 shooting over the past two games) was due to him pressing to get the SEC scoring title. That kind of candid comment is refreshing, and Denson rebounded with 19 points to finish second in the scoring race (19.2 PPG). That’s not bad for a guy who averaged under 12 points per game last season. The Tigers tested Florida, Kentucky and Missouri this season, and could be a minor challenge in Atlanta as far as a lower seed goes.
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SEC M5: 03.05.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on March 5th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  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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RTC Bracketology: March 3 Edition

Posted by Daniel Evans on March 3rd, 2014

Selection Sunday is almost here and the field is starting to take shape. Everything will obviously clear up a lot more when conference tournaments get underway this week and next as teams play themselves into and out of the 68-team field. This time of the year is like a whirlwind, though. It’s hard to keep up with all of it because there are still so many things we do not know. But if we focus on what we do know, things get a lot easier. Let’s do that with today’s RTC Bracketology.

  • Unless  something unbelievable happens down the stretch, Wichita State is going to get a No. 1 seed. The Shockers are basically a lock for the top line and Florida and Arizona are very close to it as well. I think if the Gators and Wildcats win both of their games this week, they will be No. 1 seeds regardless of what happens in their conference tournaments. This is the clearest the top line of the bracket has ever been at this point. Of course, losses by the Shockers, Gators and Wildcats in the next  two weeks would muddy that picture, but let’s count those three teams as No. 1 seed locks at this point.
  • The fight for the fourth No. 1 seed is insane. I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the possibility of Wisconsin earning the final No. 1 seed, and as of today, I think the Badgers have the nation’s fourth-best profile. For now, I’m leaving Syracuse on the top line, because that’s what I think the Selection Committee would do, but in my opinion, both Kansas and Wisconsin have better resumes. We know that the fight for the last No. 1 seed is really unclear right now, because there are so many teams still alive for it: Syracuse, Wisconsin, Kansas, Villanova, Duke, Virginia, Michigan, Creighton, and and San Diego State. Obviously some of those teams are long shots.
  • The bottom of the bracket is a complete mess. Arkansas moves in with a sweep over Kentucky, and Tennessee hangs on to the last spot in, which gives the SEC a surprising four teams. It’s still very possible that both the Hawgs and Vols could miss the field, leaving the conference with only two teams playing in the NCAAs. I will say this, though: Tennessee was the only team I got incorrect last year. I picked the Vols over Middle Tennessee last season, and although that won’t factor into the decision on my final field of 68, I won’t be too happy if Cuonzo Martin’s team costs me  a perfect field again. Luckily, there is still a lot of basketball to be played before a final field is seeded.
  • I’ve got 32 locks at  this point. I realize some other websites are more patient on their locks, but there are only 13 days left until Selection Sunday. It’s time to lock teams up. Here are the teams I have locked in the field right now: Arizona, Florida, Wichita State, Syracuse, Wisconsin, Kansas, Duke, Villanova, Virginia, Creighton, Michigan, San Diego State, Iowa State, Michigan State, Louisville, North Carolina, Saint Louis, Cincinnati, UCLA, Texas, Oklahoma, Connecticut, Kansas State, VCU, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Iowa, Ohio State, George Washington, Memphis, Arizona State  and New Mexico.
  • Teams moving down the seed list in a hurry this week include Michigan State, which lost at home Saturday to Illinois, and Kentucky, which lost at South Carolina. Ohio State is also on the decline after a loss to Indiana on Sunday.

Bids by Conference: Big 12 (7), Big Ten (6), Pac-12 (6), Atlantic 10 (6), ACC (5), AAC (5) SEC (4), Big East (4), Mountain West (2).
First Four Out: Providence, Missouri, BYU, Oregon

Complete bracket after the jump:

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Chaotic Weekend Builds Drama for Regular Season’s Final Act

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 3rd, 2014

It was a weekend that saw 11 ranked teams fall, an unlikely band of Shockers find a small slice of immortality (the regular season variety), and an already jumbled NCAA Tournament bubble grow exponentially more confusing. Ever predictably, the arrival of March meant great drama for college basketball fans. With one week now left in the regular season, here are three key storylines that emerged from a riveting weekend of action on the college hoops hardwood.

Last #1 Seed Up For Grabs

Syracuse Has Suddenly Lost Three Of Four After A 25-0 Start; Can Jerami Grant, Tyler Ennis, And Company Right The Ship In Time To Get Back On The #1 Seed Line?

Syracuse Has Suddenly Lost Three Of Four After A 25-0 Start; Can Jerami Grant, Tyler Ennis, and Company Right The Ship In Time To Get Back On The #1 Seed Line?

Presumptive #1 seeds Arizona, Florida and Wichita State were all able to avoid the upset bug this weekend, and barring multiple losses in the next two weeks, each seems adequately safe on the top line. But with Syracuse continuing its mini-slide in Charlottesville Saturday afternoon, that fourth #1 seed has no apparent owner heading into the season’s final week. By my count, no fewer than eight teams should still be in play for the honor, although scenarios for five of those squads — Creighton, Michigan, Wisconsin, Villanova and Virginia – would almost surely include winning out through their conference tournaments, and then also getting help from elsewhere. The trio with the firmest grasp on their own fate — Duke, Kansas, and the aforementioned Orange — may not be doing as much Championship Week scoreboard watching as those five teams, but all would still likely need to win out to earn that last #1 seed. But before those three schools face the gauntlet that will be the Big 12 and ACC Tournaments, there is still business to be tended to this week. Despite a date with surging rival UNC (at Cameron), Duke may have the easiest list of chores among the three: KenPom’s predictor gives the Blue Devils a 68 percent chance of finishing off the regular season with a pair of wins. Kansas faces Texas Tech at Allen Fieldhouse before concluding the regular season with a visit to West Virginia; the latter contest offers a challenge sufficient enough to leave KenPom predicting that a Jayhawks’ final week sweep will occur only 60% of the time (and that number probably does not account for the likelihood that Joel Embiid sits out). Syracuse shouldn’t look past Georgia Tech on Tuesday (don’t forget those Boston College Eagles!), but its Sunday trip to Tallahassee is a significant landmine — significant enough that the Orange are expected to polish off their regular season with two wins just 48 percent of the time. The margin for error is thin for all three of these teams; a loss – no matter where it comes from – would all but end dreams of that fourth #1 seed.

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SEC M5: 03.03.14 Edition

Posted by David Changas on March 3rd, 2014

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  1. Kentucky‘s 72-67 loss at South Carolina Saturday night may rank as the most shocking result in SEC play so far this season. The Wildcats are now 11-5 in league play and 21-8 overall. The loss was their third in five games, and one of those wins was a near-miss against LSU at home. Given the preseason hype for John Calipari‘s collection of freshman, and the nonsensical talk about a 40-0 season for this team, it’s safe to say the Wildcats’ season has been a disappointment so far, and if things don’t get turned in the right direction soon, a quick exit from the NCAA Tournament is inevitable. Yahoo’s Pat Forde took stock of the situation and pulled no punches in his criticism of Calipari. Among other things, Forde criticized Calipari for his scapegoating of Ryan Harrow after last season’s disappointment, his unwillingness to take the blame for what’s gone wrong with this team, and his failure to answer tough questions in the face of the team’s struggles. Needless to say, Forde’s take will be the subject of much discussion in the Bluegrass state in the coming days, and we have a tough time finding too much to criticize about what the veteran writer had to say.
  2. Perhaps it was Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings seeking validation for his comments about Tennessee fans who want to see Cuonzo Martin fired after three seasons at the Volunteers’ helm that led to Tennessee‘s crushing 76-38 victory over the Commodores Saturday in Knoxville. Whatever it was, the performance was a welcome sight for Vol fans who have been frustrated with the level of performance they have seen for most of the year from a squad that appeared before the season to be a clear-cut NCAA Tournament team. Tennessee’s stifling defense forced Vanderbilt to make only 11 field goals on its way to shooting 22%. Meanwhile, the Volunteers shot 53% from the field, and 48% from three-point range, controlled the glass, and turned the ball over only 8 times. Tennessee also got a fantastic performance from Antonio Barton, the senior transfer from Memphis who has been mostly disappointing in replacing the departed Trae Golden. Barton was assertive on both ends of the floor and scored a season-high 21 points on 5-for-7 three-point shooting. If he can give the Volunteers more of that, perhaps they can finally become the team many expected prior to the season.
  3. Speaking of Tennessee, the Volunteers are one of three SEC squads fighting for the NCAA Tournament lives. It appears that they, as well as Arkansas and Missouri, will take things down to the wire as they try to make the field of 68. According to CBSSports.com’s Jerry Palm’s latest bracketology, the Razorbacks and Tigers are in the field, with Missouri starting out in a “First Four” game in Dayton. Tennessee is the third team out, which means the Volunteers should have a chance to work their way back into the field. They travel to Auburn on Wednesday for a game that they simply cannot afford to lose, before coming home Saturday to host Missouri in what will be a crucial bubble matchup. As we chronicled here Friday, Arkansas’s win at Kentucky may have propelled them into the field, though it’s clear they must keep winning to stay there. The Razorbacks took care of business on Saturday against Georgia in winning for the eighth time in their last nine tries. While the SEC has seen plenty of mediocre basketball this year, with three teams squarely on the bubble, the final week of the regular season and the SEC Tournament will offer plenty of drama about who makes the field.
  4. With the SEC Tournament just over a week away, teams are jockeying for position in the Georgia Dome. The tournament is now a five-day event, and the top four seeds receive double byes to Friday’s quarterfinal round. Not only does securing one of those double byes give the teams who earn them extra rest, they likely eliminate the possibility of having to play a team with a low RPI in a second-round game. As it stands now, Florida has secured the top seed, and Kentucky looks good for the second spot. Georgia currently sits at third and looks to be in good shape to secure one of the double byes. Tennessee controls its destiny and will secure a double bye by winning out, given that the Volunteers own wins over most of the teams also in the running for the final double bye spot. A lot can happen in the next week, but for the league’s bubble teams, avoiding a game with one of the conference’s bottom-feeders is of paramount importance.
  5. In its first week as the nation’s top-ranked team, Florida acquitted itself well, pulling out a 57-54 win at Vanderbilt on Tuesday before coming home Saturday and trouncing a solid LSU team 79-61. The primary knock against the Gators this year has been their inconsistency from the perimeter, but they knocked down 13 of 23 threes (56.5%) against the Tigers and were never threatened. Dorian Finney-Smith, who came into the week having made one three-point attempt in his seven previous games, went 7-for-14 from behind the arc in the two games. Florida coach Billy Donovan knows having Finney-Smith shoot the ball this well is a big boost for the Gators, and for them to have any chance to win the national championship, it will need to continue. With the win, Florida extended its school-record winning streak to 21, and must only win at South Carolina and at home against Kentucky to finish the conference regular season at 18-0. Despite the mediocrity of the league, going through any power conference without a loss is quite an accomplishment, and it appears the Gators are well on their way to achieving it.
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Can Win at Rupp Propel Arkansas to the SEC’s Third NCAA Tournament Bid?

Posted by David Changas on February 28th, 2014

For the past several weeks, many have wondered if the SEC, a power conference with 14 teams, could actually only get two bids to the NCAA Tournament. The maddening inconsistency of teams other than Florida and Kentucky made it seems like a real possibility. After Missouri recently won three straight home games, it looked like the Tigers could be the third team to step up and solidify the conference’s standing. The Tigers proceeded to drop road games to Alabama and Georgia — the latter giving the Bulldogs a season sweep — and now again appear to be on shaky ground. Tennessee, which in the preseason was considered a lock by many to make the Big Dance, went to College Station last Saturday and lost to lowly Texas A&M for the second time this season, and, although a 4-0 finish to the regular season is possible, the Vols’ Tournament chances appear to be tenuous at best. LSU, another team many thought could compete for a bid, has been inconsistent, and does not have a resume that merits serious consideration at this point.

Is Mike Anderson on the verge of taking Arkansas back to the NCAA Tournament? (AP)

The only other hope the league has had for an at-large bid is Arkansas, and for most of the season, the Razorbacks have not been considered a legitimate contender because of their inability to win away from Bud Walton Arena. Prior to this season, Mike Anderson’s only two conference road wins came at Auburn, and this year started out no differently. After getting blown out in their first league road game at Texas A&M, Arkansas lost close but winnable games at Georgia and Tennessee, and began the conference season a chilly 2-6. That appeared to all but end any thought that the Razorbacks could make the NCAA Tournament this season. Since that time, however, the Hawgs have won six of seven, including three on the road. And none have been bigger than last night’s overtime win at Kentucky. Not only was it the first win for Arkansas at Rupp Arena since 1994, it was easily Anderson’s biggest win since taking over for John Pelphrey three years ago. Despite turning the ball over 20 times and giving up 26 offensive rebounds to the Wildcats, the Razorbacks, which led by double-figures for much of the first half and by seven at the break, were able to overcome a late five-point deficit to force the extra frame on their way to a 71-67 win. Thanks in large part to holding Kentucky to 34.2 percent shooting and a 16-of-16 mark from the line, Arkansas was able to get a win that will serve them very well with Selection Sunday just over two weeks away.

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SEC M5: 02.28.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 28th, 2014

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  1. Chris Mannix’s NBA Big Board 4.0 has three SEC players on it, all of them Wildcats. None of the three, however, has the last name of Harrison. Mannix has Julius Randle at #4, James Young at #14 and Willie Cauley-Stein at #15. He writes that Cauley-Stein has the tools to be a solid defensive presence but his “lack of consistency is alarming.” This makes me wonder whether it would make sense for him to hold back on the NBA yet again? Cauley-Stein will always have a place in the league, at least for a few years; his seven-foot frame and athleticism virtually guarantee that. While going in the middle of the first round is attractive, if he were to stay another year and show a bit more consistency and development, he could potentially crack the lottery in a weaker draft class. That could be a decision worth several million dollars, but there’s also risk associated with it. In a somewhat smaller role, his rebounding and shooting percentages are down, and a similar setback next season could start to raise serious questions about his commitment. The point is that Cauley-Stein should at least consider hanging around Lexington another year. Again.
  2. LSU has gone over a week without a bad loss, and that’s an accomplishment in the SEC’s middle class. Their RPI is still too high (#66) to seriously be in the NCAA Tournament discussion, and as Brian pointed out yesterday on Twitter, Tennessee is the best bet for a third SEC bid. Still, LSU has a potential ace in its pocket. If the Tigers can somehow, someway, win at Florida this weekend, they’ll vault themselves right into the picture. It’s not likely, but LSU did play a great game at Rupp Arena last weekend and Florida hasn’t blown many teams away recently. Jarell Martin continuing the improvement he showed against Texas A&M could go a long way in LSU pulling off the upset. The freshman scored 20 points in part by tweaking his shooting form by going straight up more often and not falling back. “We had to double on Johnny O’Bryant so much that Jarell was just spotting up and shooting threes,” Billy Kennedy said. “He’s a McDonald’s All-American and played like it.” That’s the encouraging thing about LSU making a late run: The Tigers don’t lack for talent.
  3. Ole Miss will be without Derrick Millinghaus for the foreseeable future, as the sophomore guard has been suspended indefinitely. This caps off a disappointing season for Millinghaus. Despite getting six more minutes per game this season his usage rate has been virtually identical to what it was as a freshman. His PER (9.0) and true shooting percentage (37.7%) have both sharply declined, and his results have been especially poor lately. In the last three games he’s played 39 minutes, and scored five points on seven shots. Millinghaus has the ability to put up points, but is the type of player that needs a high volume of shots to do so. That simply isn’t a good fit alongside Marshall Henderson. But Henderson will be gone next season, and Millinghaus (if whatever spawned this suspension doesn’t linger) could be a candidate to replace some of those shots and points. In short, this suspension doesn’t hurt the Rebels much the rest of the way, but Millinghaus can still be a big part of their future.
  4. Matt Norlander has an interesting look at Billy Donovan’s career that is steeped in historical nuggets. Donovan will almost certainly get to 500 wins before he turns 50 and he has a legitimate chance to become only the sixth coach with three or more national titles. He definitely already gets recognized as a great coach, but Donovan seems to always slip through the cracks when the “elite coaches” discussion gets going. That’s obviously not a scientific statement, just based off a feeling. If Florida were to win the title this year, what would there be left for Donovan to prove? Putting together two completely different championship teams just about does it. To connect this team to the Al Horford/Joakim Noah teams, you need to go back to when these seniors were freshmen playing with Chandler Parsons and Nick Calathes, who played with Walter Hodge and Mareese Speights when they were freshmen. That’s a lot of good recruiting and coaching. Would winning this year be enough for Donovan to finally make a (permanent) jump to the NBA? On a non-Donovan note, Norlander also mentioned Adolph Rupp’s “Cy Young-like unbreakable record” of being the fastest coach to reach 500 wins, in only 583 games. No matter in what era the achievement was reached, that is insanity.
  5. If you want to be called an idiot, just walk up to Kevin Stallings and suggest that Cuonzo Martin should be fired. The Vanderbilt coach went on the offensive to protect his in-state counterpart. “Hopefully, the powers that be over at Tennessee will tune those idiots out and give [Martin] the kind of time he deserves to do the job he needs to do,” Stallings said. This is an admirable coaching fraternity defense, but also goes deeper as Stallings and Martin both come from the Gene Keady-Purdue tree. On Wednesday we wrote about the growing calls for Bruce Pearl around the Tennessee program. And this makes sense, especially if Martin misses the NCAA tournament this year. It’s a difficult situation to really get a handle on because it is unique. Martin may be a good coach: he comes from a good coaching tree and did build a winning program at Missouri State, and you can’t always establish yourself in three years. But the pressure is ratcheted up on Martin with the fan favorite and uber successful Pearl still living in Knoxville and being visible on ESPN.
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