SEC Offseason Burning Questions, Part I

Posted by Greg Mitchell on April 12th, 2016

The SEC will be a very different league next season, in no small part as a result of losing its two most influential players to the NBA — Kentucky’s Tyler Ulis and LSU’s Ben Simmons. Here are five burning questions looking ahead to next season, as the league will once again try to put #SECBasketballFever to bed.

Can Mike Anderson Survive Another Year?

Can Mike Anderson Survive Another Year?

  1. Can Kentucky start completely from scratch? It’s become played-out sarcasm: the Wildcats lose a lot of talent; how ever will they recover? We should assume that Coach Cal will seamlessly mold a group of elite freshmen into a team deserving national consideration, and next year will be no different. Top-10 recruits Malik Monk, De’Aaron Fox and Bam Adebayo lead another stacked class headed to Lexington, but consider this: The Wildcats have not truly had to start from square one in three years. The 2014-15 (Harrison twins, Willie Cauley-Stein, Dakari Johnson, Alex Poythress) and 2015-16 (Ulis, Poythress) teams each  returned major contributors from Final Four runs. The Isaiah Briscoe/Marcus Lee/Derek Willis trio figures to be a solid core but lacks the star power of the previous groups. We know Calipari is up for the challenge, but it has been a few years since he’s had this much inexperience in key roles.
  2. Is Mike Anderson under pressure? The prodigal son has gotten Arkansas to the NCAA Tournament only once since returning to Fayetteville five years ago. Given that Stan Heath earned twice as many bids in his five years before being shown the door, Anderson’s performance thus far has come in well under expectations. This year could be considered a write-off after Bobby Portis and Michael Qualls left school early, but patience is clearly wearing thin in Fayetteville. Anderson without question feels the pressure, as he signed four JuCo players in this year’s class, including well-regarded guards Jaylen Bradford and Daryl Macon. They’ll pair with returnees Dusty Hannahs and Moses Kingsley, both of whom should be in the running for preseason all-SEC honors. Losing Monk to the Calipari Machine was a huge blow no matter the circumstances, but it’s even more damaging for a coach that might be advocating for his job next season. Read the rest of this entry »
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Rushed Reactions: #2 Oklahoma 77, #3 Texas A&M 63

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 24th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion

Three Key Takeaways.

Buddy Hield Led His Team to Its First Elite Eight Since 2009 (USA Today Images)

Buddy Hield and Friends Move On to Oklahoma’s First Elite Eight Since 2009 (USA Today Images)

  1. Buddy Ball. When you’ve got a National Player of the Year candidate like Buddy Hield involved, one of the big questions going into a game is always how the opponent plans to slow him down. Texas A&M head coach Billy Kennedy opted to put his best defender, Alex Caruso, on Hield from the opening tip in an effort to deny him the ball. In implementing this strategy, however, it took Caruso — a defender effective at coming off his man and providing help defense — out of his normal role. This opened up the rest of the Oklahoma offense to take advantage of a distracted Aggies’ defense to find driving lanes and easy looks around the hoop. Hield didn’t exactly have his normally explosive offensive night, but the attention the Aggies paid him left a distinct mark on the rest of the game.
  2. A&M Mis-Step and Adjustment. Early in the first half, Texas A&M had the good fortune of knocking a few early threes down. This turned out to be a short-term blessing and a long-term curse. Following the discovery of that fool’s gold, the Aggies spent the remainder of the first half relying unsuccessfully on jumpshots, leading to an extended drought that allowed Oklahoma to build a lead. Over the last 14 possessions of the first half, A&M turned it over six times, missed three threes, clanked five two-point jumpers and only made one layup and one jumper — turning a game that was tied 18-all into an overwhelming 45-25 deficit at the half. A&M adjusted, however, by pounding it inside either via the post-up game (specifically freshman Tyler Davis) or the drive early in the second half. That proved much more successful, but its inability to hit free throws (11-of-22 in second half) was the ultimate killer. Of interest going forward is that this is an area that Oklahoma could potentially be taken advantage of in the next week-plus.
  3. Scrappy Sooners. Perhaps the popular conception of this Sooners team is a fun-loving bunch of three-point bombers. While there’s some truth to the notion, there’s also a little bit of junkyard dog in this team as well. Despite statistics telling the story of a team that struggles to clean the glass, the Sooners today paid special mind to it and fought the bigger A&M team almost to a draw there. Even superstar Hield grabbed 10 boards on his way to his first double-double of the season. More to the point, though, is that the Sooners were consistently first to a number of loose balls in order to add extra possessions.

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NCAA Regional Reset: West Region

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on March 21st, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

New Favorite:  #2 Oklahoma. We previously had Oregon as the favorite here,  but we’re going to switch it up and go with the Sooners instead because it is starting to look like Buddy Hield is going to drag his team to Houston and a possible national title one way or the other. There’s reason to be fearful of the Sooners’ chances, though, as they’ve been pressured by a pair of double-digit seeds. In this region, with the top four seeds still alive, would anybody be surprised if anybody made its way to Houston?

Buddy Was Just Doing Buddy Things to Get to the Sweet Sixteen (USA Today Images)

Buddy Was Just Doing Buddy Things to Get to the Sweet Sixteen (USA Today Images)

Horse of Darkness: #3 Texas A&M. This team was dead. Ceased to be. Expired and gone to meet it’s maker. Shuffled off the mortal coil, and all that. And yet somehow, the Aggies pulled off their best Lazarus impression and miraculously moved on to the Sweet Sixteen. Sometimes, miracles like these in early rounds are springboards to national titles: Witness Tyus Edney 21 years ago. Sometimes, it just extends the inevitable a little longer. For about 39 minutes and 22 seconds on Sunday night, A&M was getting run out of the Tourney by Northern Iowa. But somehow, some way, they survived. Will it be a springboard to bigger and better things or is it a sign of an inherent weakness? Poised veterans Alex Caruso and Anthony Collins have been solid, but leading scorers Danuel House and Jalen Jones will need to be more consistent to keep advancing.

Biggest Surprise (1st Weekend): Everything Having to Do With Northern Iowa. At this point, we should just offer up a standing invitation to any halfway decent Northern Iowa team to join the NCAA Tournament, because you just know we are going to be treated to a classic one way or another. The Panthers’ opening round game against Texas was absolutely insane. It wasn’t just the final 10 seconds worth of an Isaiah Taylor game-tying floater and the Paul Jesperson game-winning half-court heave; the whole game was amazing. Those final 10 seconds immediately vaulted up into the top tier of NCAA moments ever. And then Sunday night? Northern Iowa, much to its chagrin, may have topped that one by its involvement in an even more memorable game (for completely different reasons). In any March Madness epic, there is always the transposition of the elation of the winner and the heartbreak of the loser. In a 48-hour span, Northern Iowa felt both ends about as shockingly as possible.

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Rushed Reactions: #3 Texas A&M 92, #11 Northern Iowa 88 (2OT)

Posted by Czech Smith on March 20th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Screen Shot 2016-03-20 at 8.32.43 PM

  1. Epic meltdown. Northern Iowa held a 12 point lead with 44 seconds left in regulation and ended up losing in double-overtime. In one of the most incredible meltdowns ever seen in modern college basketball, the Panthers simply could not inbound the ball in their own backcourt — time and time again turning it over and giving Texas A&M a chance. The Aggies took that opportunity, going on a 14-2 run over the final FORTY-FOUR SECONDS to tie the game and send it to overtime. After a back-and-forth first overtime session, Texas A&M took control in the second and eventually worked itself to the Sweet Sixteen. 
  2. Northern Iowa has a flair for the dramatic. The Panthers took the emotional high from their win over Texas on Friday and rode it for most of the game against A&M. They came out of the locker room ready to play and established an early lead that they nurtured until the final minute of regulation.  Despite several attempts by the Aggies to close the gap in the second half, Northern Iowa seemed to always had an answer. Jeremy Morgan’s fantastic overall performance was all for naught — he finished with 36 points and 12 rebounds.
  3. Texas A&M leading scorer Danuel House was held scoreless until late in the second half… and then he turned it on. House scored 19 points in the last 5:14 of regulation and first overtime, finishing with 22 points. Northern Iowa guard Wes Washpun did a great job defending House until he fouled out in overtime. However, Texas A&M missed a big opportunity in regulation: House at 6’7” failed to post up on the 6’1” Washpun all night, especially after Washpun drew his fourth foul of the contest. House had a rough night but came alive when it mattered, allowing his Aggies to see another day.

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Rushed Reactions: #3 Texas A&M 92, #14 Green Bay 65

Posted by Czech Smith on March 18th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Danuel House was a man amongst boys Friday evening. (USA TODAY Sports)

Danuel House was a man amongst boys Friday evening. (USA TODAY Sports)

  1. Texas A&M was dominant inside and has a deep bench. The Aggies recorded 46 points in the paint and dominated the boards throughout. A&M’s bench can play – they had 44 points, and with 10 minutes left in the game 10 different players had scored while the game was still not put away.
  2. This was not a game of experience going in. Texas A&M had one total player with tournament experience going in and Green Bay hasn’t been to the tournament in 20 years. The good news for A&M is they played like a seasoned team throughout. They’ll be able to rely on their newly acquired experience with confidence in their next contest.
  3. A&M did a great job of controlling tempo. The Phoenix started fast and furious and had some fortunate breaks go their way early in the game. They hung in for most of the first half, but A&M was able to slow them down quickly. Green Bay began to falter when forced to slow down and play A&M’s game. It led to a 37.5% performance from the field for Green Bay and showed A&M is strong defensively.

Star of the Game. Danuel House, Texas A&M. House was steady all game and showed he’s solid all-around. He finished with a game-high 20 points, going 8-of-12 from the field and 2-of-3 from behind the line. Read the rest of this entry »

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Preseason Unranked to Ranked: These Teams Underperform in the NCAAs

Posted by William Ezekowitz on March 16th, 2016

Preseason rankings. Irrelevant in professional sports, but weirdly important in college basketball. I have shown in the past that rankings released before a single game has been played overvalue previous year’s NCAA Tournament success, so they clearly aren’t perfect. The odd wrinkle is that they also are just as predictive as pre-tournament rankings in determining who will make the Final Four. Given that the First Round starts tomorrow, I decided to look more closely into just how important preseason rankings are by looking at whether teams that outperform their preseason expectations regress in the NCAA Tournament. To do this, I reviewed all of the teams since 2007 that were unranked in the preseason and were ranked in the polls just before the NCAA Tournament (i.e., teams that performed better than expected during the regular season). In order to gauge how a team should do in the Big Dance, I borrowed Neil Payne’s win expectation chart by seed listed in this very interesting article. I then tested whether the teams that fit my definition for outperforming expectations did better or worse relative to win expectations than the rest of the field.

Ron Morris Was Certainly On To Something

Kemba Walker and UConn were one of the few programs to buck statistical trends. (Getty)

Here are the results.

# of Teams Expected Wins Actual Wins
Over-Performers 90 125.7 98
Everyone else 344 425 461

 

The tested group of over-performers did in fact do worse in the NCAA Tournament than everyone else, and the difference is statistically significant. It should also be noted that an examination of the converse group — preseason ranked teams finishing the regular season unranked — produced no difference between win expectation by seed and actual wins. For some frame of reference, there are seven teams this year that have gone from unranked in the preseason to ranked now. That group is listed below. Read the rest of this entry »

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Why Each SEC team Will Advance to the Second Weekend… and Why They Won’t

Posted by Brian Joyce on March 15th, 2016

After watching five teams head to the Big Dance a year ago (including one eventual Final Four participant), the SEC managed just three bids in a disappointing 2015-16 campaign. Honestly, the league was lucky to get to three. While some teams have to feel pretty good about where they landed (Texas A&M is a #3 seed?!), others should feel happy to be invited (welcome Vanderbilt!), and still others can rest comfortably knowing that the committee didn’t have the option to send them to Alaska to face the Golden State Warriors (Hey Kentucky, Des Moines, Iowa, is supposed to be nice this time of year). Now that the brackets are set, will the SEC continue to disappoint, or might we see one of these three teams still standing in the Sweet Sixteen? Here are some quick reasons why each team will advance to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, and some equally compelling reasons why they won’t:

Kentucky's offensive efficiency under coach John Calipari

Kentucky’s offensive efficiency under coach John Calipari.

Kentucky

Why the Wildcats will advance to the second weekend: Kentucky’s backcourt is playing very well on offense right now, moving the Wildcats into the top spot for offensive efficiency nationally over the weekend. Tyler Ulis has the ability to carry the team for stretches on his 5’9” frame, but with the added marksmanship of shooting guard Jamal Murray and a front line that provide spot duty, the Wildcats are scoring better than any other team in the John Calipari era. In the first two games of the SEC Tournament, Kentucky scored at the second and third most efficient clips per 100 possessions of his tenure. The last time the Cats met up with possible Second Round opponent Indiana in the 2012 NCAA Tournament, it was a high scoring affair — Kentucky should feel comfortable in entering into a shootout with any team in the nation.

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Bracket Prep: West Region

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 14th, 2016

bracketprep22

On Monday and Tuesday we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: Monday (East and West); Tuesday (South and Midwest). Here, Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) breaks down the West Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC West Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCwestregion).

Region: West

Courtesy of SI.com

Courtesy of SI.com

Favorite: Oregon, #1, 28-6. Maybe there are college basketball fans back east that go to sleep early and haven’t seen the Ducks this season. And maybe some fans out west have chosen to ignore the Pac-12 Network. Because there are some people who are surprised that the Ducks are a #1 seed. But news for the uninformed: Oregon is really, really good. KenPom ranks Oregon as the fifth-most efficient offensive team in college basketball. It’s a squad built around a seven-man rotation that is dedicated to truly positionless basketball. Everybody on the team can handle and pass; just about everyone can take their defender off the bounce; most are capable of knocking in jumpers at a high rate. But where the Ducks have morphed from a good team into a great one is on the defensive end. With two elite shot-blockers in Chris Boucher and Jordan Bell anchoring the back line, quick and aggressive athletes swarming the perimeter and offering help defense, and a savvy defensive tactician on the sideline in Dana Altman, Oregon is capable of taking away a team’s best options, forcing turnovers (on better than 20 percent of opponents’ offensive possessions) and converting easy (and often spectacular) transition opportunities. There are without a doubt teams in this region that can beat Oregon, but the Ducks should be favored in every game between now and Houston.

These Ducks Are Strong (John Locher, AP)

These Ducks Are Strong. (John Locher, AP)

Should They Falter: Oklahoma, #2, 31-3. If your team has a National Player of the Year candidate like Buddy Hield, shoots 42.6 percent (second in the nation) from three-point range, plays solid defense and also has one of the nation’s best coaches in Lon Kruger, it has a chance to go very far in this NCAA Tournament. After starting the season 15-1 (with the only loss a triple-overtime epic to Kansas), the Sooners have cooled by going 10-6 down the stretch against strong Big 12 competition. But when things are going good for Oklahoma (and they are often going good), the Sooners can play with any team in the country. Hield, Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard are the flashy names, but big men Kadeem Lattin and Ryan Spangler do the dirty work that can help win tight games in March.

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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: SEC

Posted by Greg Mitchell on March 13th, 2016

The SEC is sending just three teams to the NCAA field as South Carolina found itself on the outside looking in. Here are some quick impressions of the conference’s NCAA Tournament draw:

Tyler Ulis will try to carry Kentucky on another deep tournament run (USA Today).

Tyler Ulis will try to carry Kentucky on another deep NCAA Tournament run (USA Today).

Texas A&M

  • Seed: #3, West.
  • Quick First Round Preview: Horizon League champion Green Bay lost all of its games against power conference foes this season (Georgia Tech, Stanford and Wisconsin). It barely has a top 100 KenPom offense (#96) and a #168 rated defense. Senior guard Carrington Love (17.7 PPG) could find Admon Gilder glued to his hip after the freshman’s impressive job marking Jamal Murray in the SEC championship game.
  • Intriguing Potential Matchup: This one is easy — an intrastate rivalry rematch with Texas in the second round. The Aggies won their first game back in November, but the Longhorns have improved since then even if they are unlikely to have Cameron Ridley.
  • Final Word: The Aggies could be a popular pick to make the Final Four, especially for those wary of three-point shooting dependent Oklahoma. The potential Second Round game with Texas won’t be a cakewalk but the Aggies are the more balanced team. Stopping Buddy Hield in the Sweet Sixteen would be quite a challenge — something the Aggies’ wings weren’t able to do with the smaller Ulis. The run could end there in what would still be a hugely successful season.

Kentucky 

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Seems Familiar: SEC’s Country Music Doppelgangers

Posted by Greg Mitchell on March 10th, 2016

Nashville is a great place for a conference tournament. Even if the basketball happens to be underwhelming, there’s plenty of other forms of entertainment just steps away from Bridgestone Arena. It is the Music City, after all. In the spirit of basketball and honky-tonk, here are some of the SEC’s teams and the country music stars they most resemble.

Screenshot 2016-03-09 at 8.05.59 PM

Blake Shelton And Kentucky Are Both Living Large Again

Kentucky as… Blake Shelton. Before Wisconsin extinguished that dream, life was perfect for the unbeaten Wildcats last year as they tried to notch an unprecedented 40-0 record. Similarly, it wasn’t very long ago that Shelton and Miranda Lambert were living large as country’s pre-eminent power couple. But life happens, and the two stars have since gone their separate ways. Kentucky and Shelton, however, have both found a neon light at the end of the tunnel. Against the odds, Shelton has put together a run of hit singles, is dating Gwen Stefani and even has a Country Music Hall of Fame exhibit opening. The Wildcats, to their credit, claimed a share of this season’s SEC regular season title with a guard-oriented team. Life goes on.

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The SEC Tournament: What’s at Stake in Nashville

Posted by Greg Mitchell on March 9th, 2016

The SEC Tournament returns to Nashville tonight for the second year in row. Unlike the last couple of years, however, there isn’t a team trying to cap off a perfect conference run and there doesn’t figure to be much drama surrounding NCAA at-large bids (but you never know). Before getting into what is at stake for individual teams, here are several completely unscientific predictions on how things will look by Sunday afternoon.

  • Tournament FinalKentucky over Vanderbilt
  • MVPJamal Murray, Kentucky
  • Biggest Surprise: #11 seed Mississippi State makes it to the SEC Tournament semifinals
  • Tournament Storylines: Was the season-ending win over LSU Skal Labissiere‘s breakout game? Will Ben Simmons really be locked out of the NCAA Tournament? Can Florida do enough to force its way back into the field? Can Retin Obasohan or Stefan Moody shoot their teams into the NCAA Tournament?
Skal Labissiere might have finally arrived (courier-journal.com).

Skal Labissiere may have finally arrived (courier-journal.com).

Teams Playing For Seeding

It’s safe to assume that KentuckyTexas A&MSouth Carolina and Vanderbilt are all locked into the field of 68 and are playing for seeding. Of those four teams, the Commodores and Gamecocks have the most at stake this week. Bracketologists project both teams into the #8-#9 seed range and an unenviable downstream date with a #1 seed looming. Winning twice in Nashville and getting to Sunday’s SEC championship game should be enough to lift either team off that seed line (and potentially facing a #2 seed in a parity-driven field). This might be more important for a team like the Gamecocks since Vanderbilt will not be at much of a talent disadvantage against any of the projected #1 seeds.

The Wildcats and Aggies appear to be in a similar situation. Both teams look like #4 seeds with potential to jump to the #3 line as a result of cutting the nets down in Nashville. Losing their respective opening games probably wouldn’t do much damage since all four potential opponents (Florida/Arkansas for Texas A&M; Ole Miss/Alabama for Kentucky) have solid enough metrics to avert a disaster. There is the interesting matter of the South Regional in Louisville but it’s hard to see the Selection Committee gifting that to a #3 seed Kentucky team (much to the detriment of the top two seeds) even if the Wildcats were to win the SEC Tournament with three consecutive blowouts. That probably won’t stop Big Blue Nation from flocking to wherever Kentucky ends up, though, even if it’s Spokane.

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Texas A&M’s Scenic Route to the SEC Title

Posted by Greg Mitchell on March 7th, 2016

In some ways, the final Saturday of the SEC regular season played out like many thought it would in October. Kentucky’s Skal Labissiere altered shots left and right; LSU’s Ben Simmons nearly put together a triple-double; and KentuckyLSUVanderbilt and Texas A&M all entered the weekend with a shot at a share of the regular season title. Ultimately it was the Aggies and Wildcats that became this season’s SEC co-champions, and while that result isn’t at all surprising, the path that led both teams there certainly is.

Tyler Davis and the Aggies are charging into the postseason (12thman.com).

Tyler Davis and the Aggies are charging into the postseason (12thman.com).

The Wildcats’ share of the conference title is a testament to the coaching and player development of John Calipari. Kentucky appeared vulnerable in December losses to thoroughly mediocre UCLA and Ohio State teams, but Calipari coaxed a surprise season from Derek Willis and successfully navigated injuries and inconsistency to win the league. The title is assuredly a little sweeter for an Aggies program that notched its first conference championship since sharing the 1986 Southwest Conference title with TCU and Texas. During that same period, the Wildcats have won a share or more of 10 SEC regular season titles.

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