SEC Saturday Storylines: League Title Up For Grabs?

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 6th, 2016

A little over a week ago it looked like Texas A&M was about to run away and hide with the SEC’s regular season title. The excursion into non-conference play and exciting win over Iowa State obscures the fact that the Aggies are now on a two-game SEC losing streak after dropping a game in Nashville Thursday night. That puts Johnny Jones‘ LSU squad in a tie for first midway through conference play. Just as everyone predicted, right? The regular season title scramble highlights a crucial weekend in the league.

Didn't expect to see me on top of the standings, did you? (sportsnola.com).

Didn’t expect to see me on top of the standings, did you? (sportsnola.com).

  1. Break out the binoculars and tape measures, we’ve got a race! The Aggies and Tigers are tied atop the standings, and five more teams sit within two games of the lead. LSU should take care of business against Mississippi State at home – although the Bulldogs have been competitive lately – and put pressure on Texas A&M to rebound against a hungry South Carolina team. The winner of Kentucky and Florida will position itself nicely for a run at pole position, as well. But don’t forget about Vanderbilt. Less than week after a disappointing performance in Austin, the Commodores have renewed momentum with that Texas A&M win. They now face Ole Miss, Missouri, Auburn and Mississippi State, and if they run through that manageable stretch undefeated the ‘Dores will be sitting pretty at 9-4 in league play. We were due intrigue in the league title race after Kentucky and Florida won the league by an average of 5.5 games the past two seasons, and we’ve definitely got it. Read the rest of this entry »
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The RTC Podcast: Ups and Downs Edition

Posted by rtmsf on February 5th, 2016

It might be Super Bowl week to everyone else, but to those of us around here it’s the beginning of the home stretch of the college basketball season. In this week’s RTC Podcast, hosted by Shane Connolly (@sconnolly114), the guys talk extensively about a few teams with their share of both supporters and detractors — Indiana, Louisville, and Texas A&M — as well as take a deep dive into last weekend’s Big 12/SEC Challenge and how the ACC is stacking up this season. The full rundown is below, and make sure to subscribe to the pod on iTunes so that you’ll have it as soon as it releases each week.

  • 0:00-7:25 – What to make of Texas A&M
  • 7:25-17:52 – Big 12/SEC Challenge review
  • 17:52-20:43 – Louisville’s ups and downs
  • 20:43-25:27 – ACC Power Rankings
  • 25:27-32:22 – Best Matchups of the season
  • 32:22-37:20 – Indiana’s Hot Streak
  • 37:20-48:45 – Weekend Preview
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Stopping at College Station: The Balance of Texas A&M

Posted by Shane McNichol on February 4th, 2016

So much has been made of the parity in college basketball this season. So-called top teams continue to lose to lesser competition; home courts haven’t been defended well; and prognosticating the future has become an exercise in futility. As we inch closer to March, it’s easy to wonder what sort of teams are capable of surviving this climate. A case can be made for any number of teams that can get hot for a month, riding good shooting to a string of consecutive wins. Oklahoma or Villanova are two such squads, for example, that could ride hot shooters all the way to the Final Four. Or maybe Louisville or West Virginia, teams that rely on pressure defense, can put together enough stops to find their way to Houston. Anything seems possible.

Texas A&M (USA Today Images)

Texas A&M Closed Out Iowa State in Impressive Fashion Last Weekend (USA Today Images)

Either of those avenues to the sport’s final weekend could work out, but the most likely survivors are usually the teams that can employ a variety of ways to win — teams with balance in their rotations and devoid of major weaknesses. There may not be a team that better encapsulates this concept than Texas A&M. The Aggies have been among the most consistent teams in America all season long, losing only three games to good competition along the way (Syracuse; Arizona State; Arkansas). They are 10-3 against the KenPom top 100 and have lost only once since early December. Their success begins with a defense that ranks second nationally, thanks to very good defensive turnover and free throw rates. Few things prove more reliable in March than the ability to generate stops, and four of Texas A&M’s last five opponents have failed to reach 65 points — most notably an Iowa State team that plays fast (37th nationally) and ranks seventh in the country in offensive efficiency.

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What’s Trending: A Month Away from March!

Posted by Griffin Wong on February 4th, 2016

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Griffin Wong (@griffwong90) is your weekly host.

SEC/Big 12 Challenge

The midseason SEC/Big 12 Challenge took place last weekend, giving teams from both conferences a chance to prove themselves in a high-profile event. The highlight of the weekend was surely Oklahoma’s surge to beat LSU in overtime, as senior Buddy Hield poured in 32 points and pushed still closer to legendary 50-50-90 Club (50% 3FG, 50% FG, 90% FT). While Hield’s late flourish stole the show, it may have been Texas A&M that proved the most. Behind 20 points from guard Danuel House, the Aggies, lacking a signature win, cemented themselves as one of the best teams in the nation with a 10-point win over Iowa State. Overall, the Big 12 took the bragging rights with a 7-3 victory, and the event was a resounding success.

More Tragedy Strikes

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SEC Rundown: Volume X

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 2nd, 2016

After a fun Saturday hanging out with the Big 12, SEC teams return to league action starting this evening. Waiting for them is a conference race with the potential to heat up considerably over the rest of the month. Quite the change from the last two years, right? Here’s a look back at last week’s SEC action and what to watch for ahead.

Dorian Finney-Smith and Florida made a bold statement against West Virginia (smokingmusket.com).

Dorian Finney-Smith and Florida made a bold statement against West Virginia (smokingmusket.com).

Trending UpFlorida‘s likelihood of returning to the NCAA Tournament. The Gators’ resume previously lacked a marquee win but that problem was solved by convincingly beating West Virginia at home on Saturday. KeVaughn Allen is also on the upswing, as he has been for most of his freshman season. The freshman is becoming the most important part of Florida’s offense and looked comfortable beyond his years against the Mountaineers’ unrelenting pressure. If he continues his scoring tear, he and Dorian Finney-Smith could be enough to keep Florida afloat on the nights when the team’s shots aren’t falling.

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SEC 3-Point Shot: Big 12/SEC Challenge Takeaways

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 1st, 2016

Saturday gave us a break from league play for the Big 12/SEC Challenge. Here are three takeaways from a fun day of college basketball in which the SEC faced off with arguably the best conference in the country.

  1. Open Look: Hey Big 12, let’s do it again? Let’s be honest, sometimes it’s not easy being an SEC basketball fan. How many times can you be expected to generate excitement for a “showcase” game between two unranked teams? This event between the two power conferences was something fresh and each time slot seemed to have an exciting game. ESPN was not shy about marketing it all week long and the push seemed to work (based on an admittedly unscientific peek at social media). Heck, Arkansas’ Dusty Hannahs even found himself trending on Twitter during the afternoon. The attendance and atmosphere in SEC venues was good; even Auburn was near capacity for an uninspiring Oklahoma State team. Here’s hoping the two leagues get together and keep this format — playing the challenge in the middle of conference play — for years to come.Screenshot 2016-01-31 at 3.14.01 PM
  2. Over the Close Out: This was a good day for the SEC. A quick look at the overall record (3-7 is definitively not good) might suggest otherwise, but it’s hard to walk away from Saturday’s action and not be happy about the SEC’s performance. The league was a Tyler Ulis mishandle and Tim Quarterman drive away from washing out the challenge at 5-5 and plucking off wins against the Big 12’s two heavyweights. Kentucky and LSU are developing in their own ways, so to play well against great competition shows that things for both teams are heading in the right direction. Meanwhile, Florida (#22) and Texas A&M (#7) backed up their lofty KenPom ratings by taking care of business at home. Losses in either of those games would have opened the door for questions like “how good are they?” We also need to consider that the SEC didn’t necessarily bring its biggest guns to the fight. Swapping in South Carolina and Alabama for Auburn and Tennessee might have resulted in two more wins (we’ll ignore that Missouri and Mississippi State were also left sitting at the table). Read the rest of this entry »
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Big 12-SEC Challenge: What Should You Know About The SEC?

Posted by Chris Stone on January 29th, 2016

With the Big 12-SEC Challenge taking place on Saturday, we teamed up with our sister microsite to get caught with what’s going on in the SEC. Joining us for this one is SEC microsite writer Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell).

  • There are quite a few matchups in the Challenge and plenty of them have NCAA Tournament implications. What SEC team needs a win the most?
Greg: The SEC needs as many wins as it can get Saturday to help its always-sagging basketball reputation. But that’s a cop out. Vanderbilt is probably the pick. The Commodores (more to come below) are the league’s most disappointing team and came up empty during the non-conference season for a marquee win. Beating Florida on Tuesday was the best win they can offer so far, and that’s not going to cut it. Great wins are few and far between in the SEC, so a road win against Texas is quite an opportunity. LSU is clearly in a similar spot with a lackluster non-conference and the #1 team coming to Baton Rouge, but the Tigers have generated a little more positive momentum in league play.
hield-simmons

Buddy Hield and Ben Simmons will face off in Baton Rouge on Saturday. (Photo Credits: USA Today Sports)

  • Two blue bloods are having trouble finding significant roles for their highly touted big men. Kansas has Cheick Diallo and Kentucky has Skal Labissiere. What’s keeping Labissiere from playing a bigger role for the Wildcats? 
Greg: Labissiere simply isn’t strong enough right now. He’s struggled to establish position in the post and routinely gets bodied out on the glass. Part of this might be that the “prep school” – or whatever you would like to call it – he spent last season at was reportedly playing glorified church league games and it stunted his development. But he’s 19 years old and also playing in a country he wasn’t born in. Like Diallo, sometimes these guys can’t always be Anthony Davis or Karl-Anthony Towns. Labissiere still has plenty of potential and could even develop into a more important piece this season as he’s used more as a spot-up shooter.

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Big 12 Q&A: Previewing The SEC/Big 12 Challenge

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 29th, 2016

The SEC and Big 12 regular season races are taking shape, but the leagues take a break on Saturday for the SEC/Big 12 Challenge. This year’s format has all 10 games on the same day and gives the SEC a rare mid-season chance to measure itself against arguably the best conference in the country. It’s also a penny from heaven for teams like LSU and Vanderbilt that are desperate for marquee wins, if they can take advantage. The Big 12 microsite’s Chris Stone (@cstonehoops) was nice enough to catch us up on the Big 12 and preview a few of Saturday’s match ups.

Kentucky will face something familiar in Lawrence: a team that has struggled to find consistent front court production (Photo: KUSports.com).

Kentucky will face something familiar in Lawrence: a team that has struggled to find consistent frontcourt production (Photo: KUSports.com).

It’s almost February and Kansas hasn’t locked up the regular season title. What gives? Is the Jayhawks’ streak actually at risk? 

CS: Very much so. Kansas is now 5-3 in Big 12 play despite having played only the seventh toughest league schedule so far. Bill Self and company still have to travel to Baylor, Oklahoma, and Texas before the season is up. Recent numbers from KenPom suggest the Jayhawks now have only a 10 percent chance of winning at least a share of a 12th straight regular season title. Honestly, that sounds about right.

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SEC Week That Was: Volume IX

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on January 26th, 2016

The regular season title is solidly Texas A&M‘s to lose at this point as the Aggies are two games clear of a trio of second place teams. But if college basketball has taught us anything this year it’s that the game can be fickle. Here’s what the Aggies and rest of the league were up to last week.

Dorian Finney-Smith and Florida are hanging around in the race for the regular season title (zimbio.com).

Dorian Finney-Smith and Florida are hanging around in the race for the regular season title (zimbio.com).

Team of the Week. For now the storm has passed in Lexington. Kentucky followed up the loss at Auburn with a good win over Arkansas at Bud Walton Arena and a dominant performance at home against Vanderbilt. Lost amid the hand-wringing over the front court has been another very good Wildcat defense. They were excellent in that regard on Saturday, making non-factors out of Wade Baldwin, Riley LaChance, and Mathew Fisher-Davis. “That’s the best defensive game we’ve had,” Tyler Ulis told the Lexington Herald-Leader. “That’s what we need to do every game because in order for us to win, we have to be a defensive team.”

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SEC Stock Watch: 01.22.16 Edition

Posted by David Changas on January 22nd, 2016

We are now one-third of the way through conference play, and the balance of power in the SEC is starting to take shape. This is our latest Stock Watch.

Buy: Texas A&M. The Aggies brought in a top-five recruiting class, and big things were expected. However, it hasn’t been the heralded crop of top-75 players — one of whom has already left College Station — that has carried Billy Kennedy’s team. Instead, it has been several veterans — Danuel House and Jalen Jones most prominent among them — and a graduate transfer (Anthony Collins) who have put the Aggies squarely in the driver’s seat in the SEC with a 6-0 start to league play. They should get to 8-0 with games against Missouri and at Arkansas forthcoming before things get more difficult, but it’s fair to say they have more than lived up to expectations, and with such a veteran club, a long run in the NCAA Tournament should be expected.

Danuel House has emerged as one of the most dangerous scorers in the SEC (247sports.com).

Danuel House has helped lead Texas A&M to a perfect start in SEC play. (247sports.com)

SellMissouri. Things for the other 2012 entrant into the SEC have not gone nearly as well as they have for their counterpart to the south. Kim Anderson’s Tigers have already a self-imposed a postseason ban that, with Missouri sitting at 8-10, is meaningless, and the future looks murky. This is what happens when Frank Haith has the reins of your program for three years. While the Tigers have a good tradition of strong basketball, it may take several years to right this ship, and questions as to whether the 60-year-old Anderson is the man to get it pointed in the right direction are fair, despite the fact that he had nothing to do with the troubles they are currently facing. Read the rest of this entry »

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Freeze Frame: Scouting Texas A&M’s Defense

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 22nd, 2016

A major reason Texas A&M is 6-0 in league play is its team defense. In last week’s SI power rankings, Luke Winn wrote about the best overall defenses with high defensive turnover rates. Texas A&M just missed the cut, but moved past Wichita State and Arkansas Little Rock this week by forcing a turnover on 39.8 percent of LSU’s possessions on Tuesday night. According to Winn’s fancy charts, that gives A&M the 11th best defensive turnover percentage by a top 20 overall defense in the last eleven years, trumped this season only by West Virginia. Given the historical significance of those numbers and its consistency all year, it might be time to start giving Texas A&M credit for one of the most efficient and high-pressure defenses in the nation outside of Morgantown.

Alex Caruso is the SEC's leader in steals at 2.3 steals per game (d1nation.com).

Alex Caruso is the SEC’s leader in steals at 2.3 steals per game (d1nation.com).

The Aggies boast the SEC’s best adjusted defensive efficiency rating at 91.5 (9th in the nation) and defensive turnover percentage at 24.0 percent (5th in the nation), according to KenPom. In an effort to determine how the Aggies forced all of those turnovers, I charted all of the 19 turnovers A&M’s defense came up with against LSU on Tuesday night. It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that senior guard Alex Caruso was involved in more than his fair share of the Tigers’ giveaways.

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SEC Is Texas A&M’s To Lose

Posted by William Ezekowitz on January 19th, 2016

As it often is, the SEC was supposed to belong to Kentucky this year. But now, five games into the conference season, should we already be penciling in current conference leader Texas A&M as the SEC’s presumptive champion, given the Wildcats’ struggles? Perhaps we should. The SEC schedule is kinder to Texas A&M than it is to any other contending team down the stretch, so the Aggies are poised to extend their advantage in the standings as the season progresses. KenPom provides a helpful conference SOS statistic, but that only covers games a team has played, which makes it only moderately valuable five games into the conference season. However, in order to gauge the difficulty of remaining schedules, we can still use KenPom’s game difficulty ratings. Starting this year, Pomeroy has given a game an “A” rating if it is equivalent to playing a top 50 team on a neutral court, and a “B” rating for top 100. As Pomeroy himself explains, these ratings account for home court advantage, which has large effects on how hard a game is to win.

So how do the teams with even somewhat realistic chances to win the SEC stack up in terms of difficulty of remaining games? Here it is:

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 1.01.53 AM

The disparity is so large because the SEC has 14 teams but 18 conference games, so each team must play five other teams twice. This is where South Carolina and Texas A&M receive a clear advantage. The Gamecocks don’t play a single team in the top half of the conference twice; Texas A&M, meanwhile, must play Vanderbilt, LSU and Arkansas plus cellar-dwelling Mississippi State and Missouri, which is slightly harder. Compare that to Kentucky, though, who gets Florida, Vanderbilt, LSU, Tennessee and Alabama. None of these are cupcake games – especially on the road – and for a team that just lost at Auburn. Read the rest of this entry »

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