Examining the SEC Bubble: Volume I

Posted by David Changas on February 8th, 2018

With just over a month remaining in college basketball’s regular season, the SEC is collectively better positioned for postseason play than it has been in a very long time. But as of today, only two teams – Auburn and Tennessee – should feel completely comfortable about making the upcoming Field of 68. On the other end of the spectrum, barring any unforeseeable late-season surges, we feel safe in saying that four SEC teams – Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, South Carolina, and LSU – will miss out on this year’s Big Dance. That leaves eight teams in the messy middle, so let’s take our first look at the otherwise crowded bubble and offer some predictions on the fortunes of those squads.

Kassius Robertson has been a huge part of Missouri’s turnaround. (Kansas City Star)

  • Kentucky. Despite the considerable angst in Lexington about these Wildcats — now 6-5 in SEC play with trips to Texas A&M and Auburn upcoming — they appear to be safe, for now. They have 10 top-100 RPI wins without any bad losses, and there will be several more opportunities for quality wins down the stretch. Chances of making the field: 90%.
  • Florida. The up-and-down Gators are a surprise on this list, and not in a good way. At 15-8 overall, they’ve now lost three in a row in SEC play and face a very difficult closing stretch. While they currently have seven top-50 RPI wins, four Tier-2 losses mean Mike White’s team needs to take advantage of its chances over the last two weeks. Chances of making the field: 85%.
  • Texas A&M. After what was the best performance of any SEC team in non-conference play, it is hard to understand how the Aggies have landed on this list. An 0-5 start in conference play will certainly do that, however, and even though they have won five of their last six SEC games and hold five Tier-1 wins, the Aggies have more work ahead. Chances of making the field: 80%.

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Recapping the Good and Bad from the Big 12/SEC Challenge

Posted by David Changas on January 30th, 2018

Despite being underdogs in seven of the 10 games of the Big 12/SEC Challenge last weekend, the SEC pulled off its first overall win (6-4) in the fourth year of the battle between power conferences. It was yet another boost to a league that has undergone a revival of sorts this season. Let’s take a look at the good and the bad for the SEC from Saturday’s action.

The Good

John Calipari paid homage to Bob Huggins with his attire, then saw his team pull off a big upset against the Mountaineer coach (John Clay/Lexington Herald-Leader).

  • Kentucky’s Upset of West Virginia. How improbable was it that the previously struggling Wildcats would come back from a 17-point second half deficit in Morgantown on Saturday night? According to KenPom’s win probability metric, the Mountaineers had a 97.8 percent chance of emerging victorious with 17 minutes left in the game. And yet, Kentucky stormed back and notched the impressive victory. While an inspiring road win doesn’t fix all of the Wildcats’ ongoing woes, it will serve as a clear resume-enhancer for a club desperately in need of one and should boost the team’s confidence as it heads into February.

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Ten Questions to Consider: Duke vs. Virginia Headlines This Weekend

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on January 26th, 2018

With no NFL action this weekend, Duke vs. Virginia should get the proper attention it deserves. That match-up of top-five teams leads 10 things that I will be paying attention to this weekend.

Duke Got the Best of Virginia in their Last Matchup (USA Today Images)

  1. Will Duke vs. Virginia come down to Duke’s offensive rebounding? In two ACC games against opponents with a top-10 offensive rebounding rate, Virginia allowed both to collect offensive rebounds more than 48 percent of the time. Even with a defensive efficiency that is better than any other team in the 17-year KenPom database, the nation’s best offensive rebounding team should give Virginia all it can handle.
  2. Is Notre Dame a strong Matt Farrell performance away from snapping out of its skid? After winning its first two games without the services of injured star Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame has now lost four straight games with Matt Farrell shooting 25 percent on his three-point attempts in his last two outings. Farrell’s 32.4 percent shooting from distance in conference play is down from a 45 percent clip a season ago. A hot-shooting Farrell is what Notre Dame needs to get back into the win column this weekend against Virginia Tech.
  3. Can Maryland show defensive signs of life against Michigan State? Maryland’s defense has fallen apart in Big Ten play, giving up 15 more points per 100 possessions than its season average. In its lopsided loss at Michigan State earlier this month, the Terrapins allowed the Spartans to shoot 57 percent on both two-point and three-point attempts. Maryland is 12-1 at home this season, but it will need a great defensive effort on Sunday to beat Michigan State. Read the rest of this entry »
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SEC Stock Watch: Volume II

Posted by David Changas on January 25th, 2018

As we approach the halfway mark of SEC play, it’s time for this season’s second installment of Stock Watch.

Trending Up

It’s been an unusual season for Bruce Pearl, who has Auburn in first place in the SEC (Joshua Lindsey-USA TODAY Sports)

  • Auburn as Regular Season Champion. With Wednesday night’s win at Missouri, Auburn is now 6-1 in the SEC with three road wins and a favorable schedule ahead. The Tigers are without question the biggest surprise in a league with quite a few of them, and there is no reason to think that they’ll fall apart anytime soon.
  • An Eight-Bid League. For a conference that submitted only three of its 14 teams into the Big Dance just three years ago, the fact that so many of its members are still reasonably in the hunt for a bid in late January is remarkable. Right now, Florida, Tennessee, Auburn, Kentucky, Texas A&M and Alabama all appear to be safe bets to make the field, while Arkansas, Missouri, Georgia and South Carolina are in the running. Whether any of these 10 teams can do any damage once they get there remains to be seen, but there is no doubt that times around the SEC have changed.
  • Yante Maten. The Georgia senior has not disappointed in his final campaign. He leads the SEC in scoring (19.9 PPG), ranks second in rebounding (9.4 RPG), and is almost single-handedly keeping the Bulldogs in the NCAA Tournament conversation. If they can make a run to .500 or better in the second half of conference play, Maten might be looking at SEC Player of the Year honors.

Flat

  • Bruce Pearl. It might seem odd for Pearl to land here given the remarkable job he has done with a team that has surged to a great start without the services of two expected elite talents, Danjel Purifoy and Austin Wiley. But it is the reason that those two aren’t playing that puts the fourth-year Auburn coach in this category. As long as the specter of the FBI investigation hangs over the program, no one on the Plains will get too comfortable regardless of how well things are going on the floor.

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Ten Questions to Consider: MLK Weekend Hoops

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on January 13th, 2018

Last weekend 11 of the 25 teams in the AP Poll lost a game. As we already know, in conference play, anything is possible. Here are 10 things to watch for this weekend.

Mike Brey Really Needs His Point Guard Back (USA Today Images)

  1. Can a short-handed Notre Dame find a way to stay close against North Carolina? Without the injured Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell available in its last two games, Notre Dame has shot 38.2 percent on two-point attempts and 23.1 percent on three-point attempts (yet still managed to beat Syracuse — go figure). With Farrell’s status still unclear heading into this weekend, the Irish will need production from T.J. Gibbs, Rex Pflueger, and Martinas Geben.
  2. Will the Cintas Center be the difference for Xavier? After dropping two straight games on the road, Xavier returns home to play Creighton. The Musketeers allowed both of their opponents last week (Providence and Villanova) to shoot the ball considerably better than what they typically allow.
  3. Can Texas A&M avoid an 0-5 start in the SEC?  Since starting the year 11-1, Texas A&M has lost its first four SEC games. The Aggies are coming off of a pair of one-point losses and need to find a way to turn its fortunes around very quickly. A&M hosts a Tennessee team that has struggled to keep its opponents off the offensive glass all season long, an area in which Texas A&M has shined.
  4. Is this an early “must-win” if Michigan State plans on winning the Big Ten? At 4-1 in the Big Ten, Michigan State is off to a fine start. That said, with the only loss coming to Ohio State and only a single game against Purdue to come, the Spartans could find themselves on the short end of several tie-breakers if they lose some games at home. Michigan State barely defeated Rutgers this week and now intrastate rival Michigan comes to town. Last season, star forward Miles Bridges shot over 54 percent on two-point attempts in conference play, but so far this year he is shooting just 37 percent on those same shots. Read the rest of this entry »
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Morning Five: 12.21.17 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on December 21st, 2017

morning5

  1. We all had been waiting for the fateful day when the NCAA would bring down the hammer on UNC basketball for its academic fraud and it happened last Friday to little fanfare. Of course, the reason for the lack of interest was that the NCAA’s sanctions were against Northern Colorado (a case we were unaware of as opposed to the much-publicized one against North Carolina). In its decision (full 45-page PDF here) the NCAA placed the men’s basketball program on probation for three years for academic fraud and recruiting violations. In addition to the probation, the school was given a one-year postseason ban (already served), pay back the money it received from its 2011 NCAA Tournament appearance, restrictions on scholarships and recruiting, and vacating records. They also gave seven coaches “show cause” penalties including a six-year penalty for B.J. Hill with the assistant coaches receiving penalties ranging from three years to five years. Despite his 86-98 record (the NCAA Tournament appearance was in his first year at the school), we would not be surprised to see Hill return to the sidelines after his show cause is up since he is only 44 years old.
  2. Kansas is off to an unexpectedly slow start this year, which some have attributed to the fact that they have been missing two key players–Billy Preston and Silvio De Sousa–as they await word on their eligibility. We tend to agree with Brian Goodman’s analysis that the team’s problems are more than just the absence of a few players, but we may start to get part of the answer for that as it appears that De Sousa could be eligible to play as early as the team’s Big 12 opener against Texas on December 29. De Sousa, who reclassified from the class of 2018 and is trying to get the necessary test scores to be eligible, is a top-30 recruit who will give an additional inside presence. Preston’s status is more uncertain as the school is still sorting out issues related to an incident in November that the school is investigating to get a “clearer financial picture specific to the vehicle”.
  3. Speaking of Kansas, given the way that things seem to function around college sports in college towns we are not surprised with the news that no charges will be filed over a report that a 16-year-old girl was raped at a Kansas dorm. The District Attorney stated that they did not have enough evidence to prove that the sexual assault occurred. It does not appear that any Kansas players were implicated in the alleged assault there, but five players listed as potential witnesses although that does not mean they were eyewitnesses to the alleged assault just that they were reportedly in the vicinity of where the girl/assault reportedly happened. Perhaps the only noteworthy thing to come of this case was that the investigation led police to find drug paraphernalia that they tied to Carlton Bragg Jr, who subsequently transferred to Arizona State before taking a leave of absence from there for personal reasons.
  4. On Friday, North Carolina State suspended starting point guard Markell Johnson indefinitely for violating the school’s student code of conduct. We still are not sure what Johnson did to merit the suspending and based on the response from Kevin Keatts so far (not giving any additional information and not acknowledging that Johnson’s absence hurt them in Saturday’s loss to UNC-Greensboro) we doubt will get more clarity any time soon. Until Johnson’s indefinite suspension is over (already at two games, which is two more games that other ACC coaches would keep their starting point guard out for an indefinite suspension), the Wolfpack will have to find a way to replace Johnson’s 8.7 points, 6.6 assists, and ACC-leading 2.4 steals per game.
  5. Texas A&M will be without junior guard Admon Gilder for 2-3 weeks as he recovers from a knee injury he suffered in last week’s win over Savannah State. Gilder is averaging 12.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game and although the Aggies have depth at guard that comes primarily in the form of freshman, which will make it will be hard to replace those numbers and Gilder’s defense consistently. Despite the absence of Gilder and Robert Williams the Aggies were able to win their first game without Gilder with a 6-point win over Northern Kentucky. Fortunately for the Aggies they have almost a week and a half left before they begin SEC play when Gilder’s absence will be more signifcant.
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SEC Stock Watch: 12.07.17 Edition

Posted by David Changas on December 7th, 2017

Now that the season is nearly a month old, it’s time to take stock of where the league stands. This is the debut of SEC Stock Watch for the 2017-18 season.

Trending Up

  • An Improved SEC. There was considerable discussion about SEC basketball being better this season, and so far, it has been. Improved coaching and recruiting has led to better depth across the league, and the number of quality wins in the non-conference season has correspondingly grown. Despite a few setbacks, all 14 SEC teams currently sit in the KenPom top 100, and Texas A&M, Tennessee, Georgia and Mississippi State have all been early surprises.

Tyler Davis has led the way for Texas A&M so far this season (San Antonio Express-News).

  • Texas A&M as a contender. Much was also made of the Aggies in the preseason, and despite Wednesday night’s loss to Arizona in the desert, Billy Kennedy‘s club has been even better than expected. Texas A&M’s opening-night blowout of West Virginia in Germany remains the biggest win for the league thus far. If the Aggies can get preseason all-conference forward Robert Williams going soon, look out.
  • Missouri without MPJ. Assuming Michael Porter, Jr. does not return to the Tigers this season, his career likely will go down as one of the shortest in the history of college basketball. The devastating loss of a player who many pundits considered the best freshman in the country is an indescribably difficult blow for first-year head coach Cuonzo Martin, but the Tigers have righted the ship on their way to a 7-2 start. There is no reason to think Missouri can’t be pretty good even without the services of Porter.

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The 2017-18 RTC16: Week Two

Posted by Walker Carey on November 28th, 2017

Feast Week has come and gone, and what a week it was. Several teams continued to distinguish themselves as among the nation’s best (more on one of those below), but there were a number of unexpected results all over the board. Two teams that looked outstanding last week include #7 Notre Dame, which put together an impressive three-day performance on its way to the Maui Invitational title, and #3 Villanova, which avoided the upset bug plaguing a number of marquee teams at the Battle 4 Atlantis. Mike Brey‘s group showed a great deal of resiliency throughout its trip to the Valley Isle, as the only leads it held in the championship game against Wichita State were 4-2 and the final 67-66 result. The Wildcats, on the other hand, simply powered through its field on the back of star point guard Jalen Brunson. The junior floor general was sensational over three games in the Bahamas, averaging 19.7 points per game, shooting 61.7 percent from the field, and turning the ball over only three times in 98 minutes. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty analysis is after the jump…

Quick N’ Dirty Thoughts.

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Breaking Down Texas A&M’s Elite Rim Defense

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 22nd, 2017

Texas A&M was maddeningly frustrating last season. A long, athletic team fresh off a Sweet Sixteen appearance and returning a likely lottery pick proceeded to suffer a painstaking nine single-digit losses to NCAA Tournament teams. High hopes followed that group into this season, as star big man Robert Williams elected to return to school and again set the bar high for the Aggies. So far — at 4-0 with a thumping over then-#11 West Virginia and this week’s Legends Classic championship — Texas A&M is most definitely living up to the hype.

While its offense continues to develop given new backcourt additions along with improved ball-handling and perimeter shooting, the team’s secret ingredient lies in its post defense. With a hulking front line featuring the sophomore Williams (6’9″, 240 pounds), Tyler Davis (6’10”, 265 pounds) and Tonny Trocha-Morelos (6’10”, 220 pounds), it shouldn’t come as a surprise that opposing teams struggle to score inside. But in the wake of today’s pace-and-space era of basketball, many teams also struggle to effectively play multiple bigs on the floor at the same time. Not so for Texas A&M. Lineups including two of the three big men have posted improved defensive numbers, as the below tables show.

So let’s examine both how and why the Aggies’ defense has been such a headache for their opponents. For one reason, Billy Kennedy‘s defense thrives on enlisting post players that possess both size and mobility to quickly slide into help position, preventing opponents from simply dragging the bigs out to the perimeter. In the clip below, watch how much ground Trocha-Morelos (#10) covers as he shifts between playing disruptive help defense on multiple occasions to defending his man on the perimeter. Read the rest of this entry »

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The 2017-18 RTC16: Week One

Posted by Walker Carey on November 20th, 2017

The first few weeks of the college basketball season are normally characterized by quality teams distinguishing themselves as teams to watch the rest of the season. #13 Texas A&M acquitted itself as just such a a team with its dominating opening night victory over West Virginia. The most impressive aspect of the Aggies’ big win was it came without the services of standout sophomore Robert Williams — suspended for the first two games of the season. With Williams set to return for today’s game against Oklahoma State, it is safe to assume A&M’s hot start is poised to continue. #8 Purdue proved it deserves some early season attention by securing an impressive road victory last Tuesday against a solid Marquette squad. The Boilermakers will have a chance to further distinguish themselves this week, as they are in the same Battle 4 Atlantis field as both #2 Arizona and #5 Villanova. With Feast Week now upon us, you can expect more teams will begin to showcase the traits necessary to become a team to watch for the balance of the season. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty analysis is after the jump…

Quick N’ Dirty Thoughts.

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