SEC Superlatives: The Non-Traditional Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on March 11th, 2014

The SEC’s long (and often bumpy) basketball road has finally led to Atlanta. There were some memorable performances as the season unfolded, and players stood out in a number of ways. Before we unveil the RTC SEC microsite’s predictable year-end superlatives, here are players that made impressions in less traditional ways:

Most Exciting Player Award

This isn’t necessarily the player you know will consistently produce. In fact, it might be a player that spends most of his time maddening you. But every so often this guy will throw down a dunk or hit a crazy three that gets you out of your seat like no one else.

Somehow, Marshall Henderson was not a unanimous selection as the SEC's Most Exciting Player.

Somehow, Marshall Henderson was not a unanimous selection as the SEC’s Most Exciting Player. (Getty)

  • Brian Joyce (@bjoyce_hoops): For me, there is no one more exciting than Marshall Henderson. You don’t have to like him, but you have to appreciate what he is able to do on the court. Henderson single handedly shot Ole Miss into contention during several games this year (and subsequently shot the Rebels out of many games too), so he is nothing if not entertaining.
  • David Changas (@dchangas): Marshall Henderson. Sure, he didn’t recreate the magic or draw the attention of last season, either on or off the court, but anyone who shoots so often (12.2 threes attempted per game) and from so many spots on the floor and keeps his team in games they otherwise wouldn’t be in is fun to watch. And there’s still time for the senior guard to do something special and go out with a bang at the SEC Tournament in Atlanta.
  • Christian D’Andrea (@TrainIsland)Marshall Henderson. Come on – like it could be anyone else? Henderson misses way more shots than he makes, but the ones he hits have kept us all coming back for more. I’ll be disappointed if we don’t get at least one Land Shark moment in Atlanta this week.

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A Fond Farewell to Alabama’s Trevor Releford

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

“Trevor’s going to be the next biggest star. In my book, it was Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and then there will be Trevor Releford.” Those words were spoken three years ago by an understandably gigantic fan of Releford, his mother Venita Vann. The Alabama senior hasn’t lived to his mom’s lofty standards, but you can count on one finger the current players who have. Instead, this week in Atlanta, Releford will wrap an incredibly accomplished college basketball career. It will probably be an especially sentimental moment for Crimson Tide head coach Anthony Grant, since Releford was one of his first major recruits and a constant bright spot in this year’s frustrating season.

Trevor Releford leaves Alabama as one of the most accomplished players in program history (tide991.com).

Releford leaves Alabama as one of the most accomplished players in program history (Tide991.com).

On November 12, 2010, Releford became only the fourth freshman point guard to start a season opener in Alabama history, joining a list that includes former Tide greats Mo Williams and Ronald Steele. He played only a bit part that night in a win over Florida A&M (five points and three assists), but would play a bigger role as his freshman season advanced. Releford posted solid numbers (11.0 PPG, 3.4 APG, 56.7% TS) en route to a spot on the all-SEC rookie team that year. His assist numbers would never be that high again as he assumed a bigger scoring load in Grant’s offense, but he continually improved throughout his career. After being a dismal three-point shooter during his first two years (27.6% 3FG) he was able to increase that by leaps and bounds over his final two season (40.1% 3FG). And he did all of this without sacrificing his slippery way of making tough shots around the basket at a height (realistically) shorter than six feet. It culminated in spot on the all-SEC second team in 2011-12 and the first team in 2012-13.

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SEC M5: 02.12.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 12th, 2014

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  1. Florida may have sealed its last two wins as much at the beginning of those two games than at the end of them. Against Tennessee, an early 10-0 run by the Gators allowed them to stabilize an otherwise lackluster first half (36.4% FG) and only trail a hot-shooting Vols team by one at halftime. To be sure, a couple of late threes from Michael Frazier and Scottie Wilbekin put the game out of reach, but the Gators might not have been in that position if not for that early turnover-fueled surge. The same can be said for their game last Saturday against Alabama. The Gators had an 8-0 lead before the Tide had even gotten the ball across midcourt. This early surge similarly allowed them to withstand some frustration with Alabama’s zone and 16 first half points from Trevor Releford. Sometimes it’s not only about how you finish, but also how you start. Where does Tennessee go from here? The Vols are out of chances for a sparkling Florida/Kentucky resume-enhancing win, but their NCAA Tournament situation is far from dire. They should be favored in all of their remaining SEC games other than next weekend’s contest at Missouri, and currently at 6-5, they could be in good position to rack up an impressive conference record. Pair this with their solid overall RPI and a win or two in the SEC Tournament, and Cuonzo Martin may get his first invitation to March Madness while living in Knoxville.
  2. Momentum was there for Ole Miss to grab. The Rebels had beaten a fellow bubble buddy in Missouri, and then faced manageable road games against Alabama and Georgia before massive back-to-back home dates with Kentucky and Florida. A three-game winning streak followed by a statement win would surely have been what the resume doctor ordered. But it wasn’t meant to be, as the Tide upended Ole Miss in Tuscaloosa last night. Trevor Releford (26 points on 8-of-16 shooting) refused to let another game slip away for the Tide when the Rebels regained the lead with just under 10 minutes left. The senior went on to score 14 of the Tide’s last 16 points, including a game-winning three with under a second left. He won’t be playing in the NCAA Tournament (or NIT, barring a minor miracle) in his final amateur season, but he can contribute to Anthony Grant’s program in a big way by playing hard and showing leadership despite the team’s struggles. There aren’t many young players on Alabama’s roster (just two freshmen and a sophomore), but he has set a great example nonetheless. The Rebels, for their part, essentially face a must-win game in Athens on Saturday. If they were to lose that one they could conceivably be stuck with a 7-7 record after the Kentucky/Florida gauntlet. That’s not a good look for a team that appears to be on the outside looking in right now. It’ll help if Jarvis Summers, who has had an excellent season, breaks out of his mini-road slump. In the Rebels’ last two losses at Kentucky and Alabama, he’s only 6-of-22 from the field and 1-of-6 from three despite shooting 50 percent (and that’s not a typo) from distance on the season. Marshall Henderson may be the Ole Miss wildcard, but Summers has been the steady hand that Andy Kennedy needs to return sooner than later.
  3. Johnny Jones has to plug a hole in his rotation after losing Malik Morgan for the rest of the season. The sophomore injured his knee during LSU’s weekend win over Auburn, and had surgery Monday evening. “It’s certainly a blow to us,” Jones said. “That’s an area we are certainly going to have to look at and find out exactly how we will dispatch those minutes. He was able to give us positive minutes.” Jones indicated that freshmen Tim Quarterman (12.5 MPG) and Shane Hammink (6.3 MPG) will be counted on to replace Morgan’s 15.5 minutes per game. This isn’t a crushing blow to LSU since Morgan wasn’t relied on heavily on either end of the floor. But it does limit Jones’ options, and takes away a high energy player and occasional starter. Morgan’s length (6’4’’) and energy was valuable when the Tigers went to a zone look. Quarterman and Hammink do both have length, which is good for Jones. The other angle to this injury is how it’ll affect Morgan’s development. Andre Stringer and Shavon Coleman are seniors so there will be an openings on the perimeter next season, and a full season of games would’ve been ideal for Morgan and LSU.
  4. Kentucky has won three straight games. Up next is an Auburn team against which the Wildcats own a 15-game winning streak. And after them? The third-ranked team in the country and the SEC’s biggest game to date. That game would lose a tiny bit of luster if the Wildcats are caught overlooking Auburn and suffer a letdown. “There’s no risk in overlooking Auburn. We all know that Auburn can beat us. We know that we’re going to get their best game. We know that they’re a very, very good team who has two guards who are really playing well,” said Kentucky assistant Kenny Payne. Count tonight as an unexpected measuring stick in the great experiment that is the 2013-14 Kentucky Wildcats. It’d be hard not to be excited for the upcoming game against Florida at home, and how hard the Wildcats play against Auburn will reveal a lot about their team maturity and development. It’s an easy game to look past, but Kentucky has already been burned on the road by a tandem of high-scoring guards. KT Harrell and Chris Denson average more combined points per game (39.6) than Jordan Clarkson and Jabari Brown, who went for 61 against the Wildcats. This also might be another good chance for John Calipari to work on the zone defense he’s flashed recently. Harrell has been effective from deep this season (39.1 3P%) but that’s been it for the Tigers. As a team they’ve shot 31.9% from three, and two of the three players that dominate the ball (Denson and Tahj Shamsid-Deen) shoot under 30.7%. A final interesting angle to a game that looks mundane on the surface is the relationship between Calipari and Tony Barbee, who got his coaching start as a graduate assistant under Calipari at UMass, and was on his Memphis staff for six years. Since Barbee is sitting on the hot seat, this could be the last time the two face off in the SEC.
  5. There were some upgrades for the SEC this season after Mike Slive mandated tougher scheduling outside conference play. For one, despite not actually winning any of its tough games, Alabama did jump from the 69th toughest nonconference schedule in 2012-13 to the ninth toughest this season. They weren’t the only teams to upgrade. According to the Associated Press, “Kentucky (59th to 14th), Mississippi (271st to 103rd) and LSU (234th to 137th) are also among the teams who made big leaps in strength of nonconference schedule.” This still wasn’t enough, as the SEC nonconferene RPI on the whole was bad, and only Kentucky and Florida have tournament spots seemingly locked up. Slive’s policy should start to see greater returns over the next few years when coaches have greater flexibility to add more name-brand opponents. It’s unlikely anyone schedules like the Tide this year: they played Wichita State, Duke, UCLA, Oklahoma and Xavier. But their fate shouldn’t be a cautionary tale that scares off other SEC coaches. Had the Tide won even one of those difficult games (and they were close) their season could’ve taken on a different feel RPI- and momentum-wise. The SEC doesn’t currently have the cache to get their teams in based on conference play alone. Risks like Anthony Grant’s aggressive nonconference schedule need to be taken to build national respect.
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SEC M5: 02.05.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 5th, 2014

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  1. The most unlikely of Wildcats played the starring role in Kentucky‘s win over Ole Miss last night. A guy who had lost his starting spot and grabbed 13 total rebounds in the last five games suddenly looked like an NBA prospect again. I’m talking about Willie Cauley-Stein, who put up a great stat line (18 points, 11 rebounds, six blocks) to bust out of his slump in a big way. His effort contributed to Kentucky’s dominance on the glass (+15) despite Andy Kennedy starting a big lineup that included Aaron Jones, Anthony Perez and Sebastian Saiz. Cauley-Stein’s out-of-nowhere performance is part of what makes the Wildcats so dangerous. They’ve been inconsistent, but there are seven players on that team who will play professionally, and each can break out and carry the team for a few moments at a time. That’s something opposing coaches just can’t prepare for. On the Rebels’ side, Jarvis Summers had a disappointingly quiet 11 points and three assists. The junior has been one of the best guards in the SEC this season, and it was a shame he wasn’t able to make his mark on national television.
  2. There are teams that grind you to a nub, and there is Florida, which grinds you into oblivion. The Gators were sloppy with the ball in the first half and let Missouri hang around in Gainesville until deep into the second half. But Florida’s high-energy, effective defense finally wore the Tigers down, forcing them into a prolonged scoring slump midway through the second half that allowed the Gators to reach a comfortable lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Jabari Brown ended up with a decent stat line (15 points, six assists), but the Gators did a great job chasing him off of screens and denying him open looks. Florida’s offensive balance also showed up big time in this game. Casey Prather was held to a season-low five points, but Scottie Wilbekin got to the line 16 times while Michael Frazier had four second half threes to bury the Tigers. There are a variety of ways the Gators can score, and Chris Walker is now in that mix too. The freshman only played seven minutes, but snuck behind Missouri’s zone for two lob dunks in that brief time. Billy Donovan simply has an embarrassment of riches at his disposal this season. Earnest Ross’ play is somewhat concerning for Missouri. The senior scored just three points and is 3-of-15 in his two games (after scoring 24 points on 7-of-12 shooting against Arkansas). A two-game slump isn’t a death sentence, of course, especially when it comes against Kentucky and Florida, but Missouri doesn’t have the offensive firepower to overcome another low-output game from Ross.
  3. Jordan Mickey was bound to eventually get some national credit, and he finally broke through by winning last week’s Wayman Tisdale Watch’s Freshman of the Week award. He outclassed Kentucky’s bigs during the week, then outperformed Arkansas’ Bobby Portis over the weekend. CBSSports‘ Jeff Borzello writes, “He will continued to be overshadowed within the SEC by Kentucky’s stud group of freshmen and on a national level by the future top-five draft picks, but Mickey has shown for three months that he is one of the best freshmen in the country — at both ends of the floor.” He was also initially overshadowed in his own class by Jarrell Martin, but at this point it’d be hard to keep him off the SEC’s lengthy all-conference first team. Mickey is leading the conference in blocks per game (3.8), eighth in rebounds per game (7.3) and averaging a healthy 13.6 points per game. It’s nice to see him get some well-deserved recognition after spending all that time in the shadows.
  4. Alabama‘s tumble can be seen in a lot of places, one of which is the current RPI standings. The Tide dropped 27 spots to #114 after lopsided losses to Auburn and Tennessee in the last week. According to AL.com‘s Andrew Gribble, no team in the current top 175 took a bigger hit last week. Anthony Grant’s squad entered SEC play with a fair number of understandable losses (five losses against teams in the RPI top 25), but they can no longer hang their hat on that qualifier. The Tide now have four losses to teams with worse RPI ratings, and that is the real disappointment. It’s a shame that Trevor Releford, one of the SEC’s more productive four-year players in recent memory, is having to wallow through such a frustrating senior season. What’s scary for Grant is that he has only three players on his roster that are either freshmen or sophomores and he loses Releford’s stabilizing presence after this year.
  5. Apparently Billy Kennedy hasn’t shown much emotion since arriving in College Station, but he showed a sense of humor recently. That’s probably a good thing, since his team’s offense has been depression-inducing. The Aggies have averaged fewer than 0.77 points per possession in three of their last four games. This culminated in their 36-point, 0.57 points per possession performance on Saturday against Florida. What needs to change? For one, Kennedy could use a true point guard that would allow Alex Caruso to play off the ball, and he might have that next season in incoming four-star point guard Alex Robinson. Caruso is a great creator, but not a true point guard in terms of speed, and putting his abilities off the ball could really open up the offense. This all assumes that Kennedy is still the coach next season, which is not a sure bet in Aggieland.
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SEC M5: 01.29.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 29th, 2014

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  1. Perhaps no team in the country has had as many highs and lows as LSU since conference play began. The Tigers have been blown out at home by Tennessee, endured a 15-0 run by Ole Miss to lose a game of which they were in control, and erased a 19-point deficit against Alabama only to lose the game. But last night they reached the highest point of their season with an impressive home win over Kentucky. The win is a huge boon to LSU’s NCAA Tournament prospects as they head into a relatively benign four-game stretch (Arkansas, at Georgia, Auburn, at Texas A&M). The Tigers still have their warts (notably, poor free throw shooting and turnovers) but their frontcourt has to be considered one of the top units in the country. Jordan Mickey, Johnny O’Bryant and friends held Julius Randle to the lowest scoring output of his career (six points) and gave up just 11 combined rebounds to he and Willie Cauley-Stein. And while Dakari Johnson and Alex Poythress found a number of tip-ins and other baskets in the second half, it didn’t matter with the way O’Bryant was playing on offense.
  2. Missouri picked up easily its best road win since joining the SEC last night by winning at Bud Walton Arena. The win pumps life into the Tigers’ sagging NCAA Tournament hopes, and gives them momentum heading into consecutive games against Kentucky and Florida. There’s a legitimate rivalry growing between these two schools. The last two games in Fayetteville have come down to the wire, and there will always be added juice as long as former Missouri head coach Mike Anderson is at Arkansas. A lightning quick postgame handshake (without the seemingly standard shoulder pat) suggests things aren’t exactly rosy between he and Frank Haith. Part of what makes college basketball so great are the regional rivalries and atmosphere surrounding them, and it looks like the SEC is on the verge of having another special match-up.
  3. Billy Donovan has a lot of talent to work with at Florida, but he  also has something that’s become increasingly rare at big-time programs: plenty of senior leadership. There are four seniors averaging over 24 minutes per game, and that experience should keep Florida focused as the schedule winds towards March. Part of that responsibility includes mentoring young players such as Kasey Hill and Michael Frazier. “They don’t really know how to get themselves prepared, how to to make their way through practice every single day,” Will Yeguete said. “We talk to them and let them know that we have to get ourselves ready.” The Gators’ defense was highlighted on the microsite yesterday, and it’s the biggest reason Florida is in the running for a No. 1 seed. But their intangibles and experience will also come in handy during postseason play.
  4. The numbers are not on Tony Barbee‘s side. The Tigers have the second worst SEC record over his four years Barbee (12-44), and the Tigers have not won a conference game in 51 weeksAl.com‘s Kevin Scarbinsky wonders whether Barbee should get the fifth year that Gene Chizik didn’t get on the gridiron. He writes, “Forget winning any kind of championship. Barbee’s program has yet to stage even a one-hit wonder of a major upset over the likes of a Kentucky or a Florida. His Tigers haven’t beaten a ranked team, and they haven’t won a game in the SEC Tournament.” Barbee also hasn’t yet lived up to his reputation as a top-flight recruiter. He hasn’t brought a single player to Auburn who was the caliber of Randy Culpepper, a fringe pro prospect he recruited while at UTEP. The good thing for Barbee is that given the priority put on the Tigers’ football team (and things are going pretty well on that front), the administration can be patient without major repercussions if they have faith in him.
  5. Trevor Releford got quite a workout last week. Backup point guard Retin Obasohan’s injury absence forced Releford to play 40 minutes in Alabama’s games against LSU and Florida. “He’s our only senior. He’s a veteran so he gets the sense of urgency in terms of what we need to do,” Grant said. “To play 80 minutes in 48 hours, that was all heart and guts on his part.” The workload might have taken a toll on Releford, as he only scored two points in the second half against LSU. Seemingly to give him a rest, Grant played him off the ball and ran the offense through Levi Randolph instead. This might not be a bad look going forward because Randolph has the size to see passing lanes and the ability to penetrate, while Releford is a good three-point shooter. One thing, however, is for certain: Kyle Fuller and Rod Odom feel no sympathy for Releford.
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Prather, Randle, Clarkson Emerge as Favorites for SEC POY

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on January 7th, 2014

Conference play finally gets underway tonight, so there’s no better time than now to look at which players have emerged as the top contenders for SEC Player of the Year. The following list definitely omits a number of worthy candidates, but as with any list, debate is encouraged through social media and in the comments section. Also, overall team success was definitely a factor, but not a definitive one. Here are the players who have set themselves up in the non-conference season for a run at SEC POY:

Casey Prather, Florida (17.3 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 28.5 PER, 61.4% eFG, 94.2 dRTG)

It's never too late: Casey Prather has broken out in his senior season (msn.foxsports.com).

It’s never too late: Casey Prather has broken out in his senior season (msn.foxsports.com).

If you’d have asked a Florida fan before the season which Gator would have the biggest impact this year, Prather might’ve been the fifth or sixth player mentioned. But he’s easily topped that list thus far for Florida, turning himself into one of the best players in the SEC. The senior is playing 12 more minutes per game this year, and has built on the solid peripherals that he posted in his junior season. Prather’s emergence has been key for a team that had many important players either suspended or injured to begin the season. The big pluses of his talent (getting to the rim and playing defense) are generally sustainable attributes that should help Florida win a lot of games in SEC play. Florida is the conference’s highest-ranked team right now and Prather has been their best player. For those reasons, he deserves to be at the front of the POY discussion.

Julius Randle, Kentucky (18.1 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 28 PER, 56.6% eFG, 94.7 dRTG)

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Pac-12 Roundup: Week Seven

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) and Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on December 31st, 2013

Out of the country? Living under a rock? Here’s what you missed in the seventh week of Pac-12 basketball. 

Power Rankings (as voted upon by Connor Pelton and Andrew Murawa):

Arizona is once again the unanimous top choice, with the next four slots all agreed upon as well. From there, things get somewhat muddied but we both agree that there isn’t a lot of difference between the two Washington schools and, say, Arizona State. The #6-#10 spots are the most interesting, so check the results below.

Sophomore Forward/Center Tony Parker Came Up Huge For UCLA On Saturday, Scoring 16 Points In The Bruins Win Against Alabama. (credit: Katie Meyers)

Sophomore Forward/Center Tony Parker Came Up Huge For UCLA On Saturday, Scoring 16 Points In The Bruins Win Against Alabama. (Katie Meyers/AP)

  1. Arizona (13-0, 2 Points). Comment: “The Wildcats have steamrolled the teams you’d expect them to and answered the bell against each of the talented opponents it has faced. But there’s probably even a higher gear the team is capable of and will need to bring out to perform like they are expected.” – Bryan Doherty (@BDohertyCFB)
  2. Oregon (12-0, 4 Points). Comment: “There may be other backcourts that are more efficient, but nobody has more weapons than the Ducks. The firepower is nearly impossible for an opponent to guard on a regular basis.” – Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein)
  3. Colorado (11-2, 6 Points). Comment: “Coming into the season, the biggest question mark surrounding this team was whether they could find a way to make up for the 11 rebounds per game that Andre Roberson took with him to the NBA. With the non-conference portion of the schedule now complete, the Buffaloes can confidently answer that question with a “yes.” – Brian Howell (@BrianHowell33) Read the rest of this entry »
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SEC M5: 12.30.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on December 30th, 2013

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  1. Kentucky‘s starting trio of guards closed out the Wildcats win against Louisville, showing why they were such highly-regarded recruits. It has been a largely inconsistent first two months for the Harrison twins and James Young, with some good moments and some bad. But with Julius Randle out of the game and Louisville taking the lead in the second half, the trio took over. CBSSports‘s Jeff Borzello writes, “The shooting numbers won’t look great (16 for 45 from the field, 3 for 12 from 3, 11 for 21 on free throws), but one has to look past that in order to see the impact the Harrison-Harrison-Young trio made in the final 20 minutes. Those three scored 25 of the Wildcats’ 30 second-half points — including 14 points during a game-changing 15-4 run after Jones’ three-point play.” This collective performance comes just weeks after the Wildcats attitude and “togetherness” was questioned. It’s thus encouraging for John Calipari and Big Blue Nation that it was in a close rivalry game with Randle on the bench that the Widlcat guards took over. If they can show that sort of resolve in a situation like that, there’s no reason they can’t show it in March too.
  2. True road wins were hard to come by for Missouri last season, as the Tigers only picked up two of them. Frank Haith is already halfway to that total this season after Missouri’s win at North Carolina State on Saturday night. Most impressive was that the Tigers executed (for the most part) down the stretch and won a close game. They were not able to do this in a similar situation against Illinois the week before. “Our guys showed great character and great toughness after getting down 10 in both halves,” Missouri coach Frank Haith said. “Everything wasn’t pretty, but I thought we were gritty and we made big plays.” This isn’t the first time the Tigers have shown resilience this season, as they fought back from several big runs and ten plus point deficits to beat UCLA. It’s definitely been an overall positive non-conference season for Missouri.
  3. Anthony Hickey moved to 11th all-time on LSU’s assists list in the Tigers win against McNeese State last Saturday. The guy he passed was the one giving him directions from the sideline, Johnny Jones. “I’m not exactly sure where I was on the list, but he better get a lot better because I was probably down the list,” Jones said with a proud smile. “Anthony has done a tremendous job for us leading our basketball team.” Hickey has indeed quietly had a solid season alongside the great starts from Johnny O’Bryant and Jordan Mickey. Hickey has kept his assist numbers consistent (3.5 per game, 21.3% assist percentage) while turning the ball over less than he did last season (1 per game this season v. 1.8 last season). He’s also doing a good spacing the floor for LSU’s bigs by hitting a career best 39% from three.
  4. Mike Anderson must be having fun this season. Not only is Arkansas 10-2, but he has the Razorbacks playing fast (32nd in the country with 75.2 possessions per game) and is using nearly every able body on his bench. Anderson played 12 players at least 12 minutes in the Razorbacks’ win against High Point last Saturday. The “40 Minutes of Hell” system presents a number of interesting angles. On one hand, players that go to Arkansas will play fast and often get playing time early in their career. But on the other hand, that playing time may be limited, and by nature will generally be less than it would be elsewhere. Sophomore guard Michael Qualls is having a break out season, but is only playing 25 minutes a game. That’s still a significant chunk, but should he be playing more? Or are his solid numbers a product of not being over-exposed? Again, there are a lot of interesting aspects to Anderson’s system.
  5. There was a moment late in Alabama’s loss to UCLA that it appeared Trevor Releford (34 points) was about to will the Tide to a win. He sunk a three-pointer to pull Alabama within two, then stole the ball and tied the game with a layup. But the Tide wouldn’t score again and lost yet another close game to a good team. Anthony Grant’s team sits at 5-7 (the first time that Grant has been two games under .500 at Alabama) and has to be considered the biggest disappointment in the SEC. Hard-fought losses to Oklahoma, Duke, Drexel, Wichita State, and now UCLA are commendable, but nothing more than losses in the end. Given their talent and Releford’s ability to take over, the Tide should threaten in games against the conference’s upper tier. But it doesn’t appear they will threaten for a NCAA Tournament invite after how the non-conference season has unfolded.
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SEC M5: 12.18.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on December 18th, 2013

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  1. Hello there, Casey Prather. A week after this brilliant clueless writer suggested his big scoring nights might be few and far between against good competition, the senior went out and led Florida to a win over Memphis with a game-high 22 points. This was a good match-up for Prather, as he was defended by smaller players most of the night because of Memphis’ frequent four-guard lineup. For the second straight Tuesday, Florida had to execute late in a close game against a good opponent, and that should serve as valuable experience down the road. The Gators coughed it up a fair amount (18 turnovers), but this was expected against Memphis. They were able to offset this by outrebounding the Tigers by 11. Essentially, the game played out like it was projected, with two excellent teams doing what they do best. The Gators can now claim two of the better non-conference wins in the country, with Chris Walker still on the way. Holiday cheer is spreading in Gainesville.
  2. You can’t fault Alabama for losing to Wichita State, even at home. The loss is still excruciatingly disappointing for the Tide because they had numerous chances to pull off the upset and resuscitate their season. Trevor Releford (22 points, six assists) didn’t get much help from his supporting cast, and Retin Obasohan had scored a combined 42 points in Alabama’s last two games but sank to only eight points on 2-of-10 shooting against the Shockers. The Belgian sophomore has emerged as one of the best slashers in the SEC, but he only got to the line four times (two of which were from a stop-the-clock foul late). Alabama played hard all night, but missed an opportunity when Ron Baker, Fred Van Vleet and Cleanthony Early were all on the bench in the first half with two fouls. Creating some separation from that golden opportunity would have gone a long way towards a win.
  3. LSU has had a mostly positive start to the 2013-14 season, but Johnny Jones is looking for improved ball-handling as the Tigers head to Lubbock to take on Texas Tech this evening. “In other areas we’re not being as fundamentally sound as we’d like to with the travel calls or taking a pass and throwing it over the top in our offensive set because we’re taking a chance,” he said. “We’re better, and they will continue to go down. We’re hopeful that our turnovers will go down. If we can get to 11 or 12 [per game], I think it’ll be a good trade-off from how we play.” LSU is currently averaging the highest number of turnovers per game in the SEC (16.1 TOPG). NOLA.com‘s Randy Rosetta points out that some of that is due to Jones’ fast style of play, but that Johnny O’Bryant and Jordan Mickey need to do a better job of not coughing it up when they face double teams. Big men struggling with double teams has been somewhat of a theme in the SEC recently. Jarnell Stokes was stifled against Wichita State, and Gavin Ware has been lost the last few weeks. Rosetta thinks O’Bryant has shown improvement in passing out of the paint, but Anthony Hickey (38% FG) and Andre Stringer (41% FG) need to knock down jump shots at a better clip to really make the offense hum.
  4. A bumpy road was inevitable for Frank Martin and South Carolina due to transfers and a general lack of talent within the program when he took the job. But the Gamecocks got a rather jarring bump last night with an 18-point loss at home to Manhattan. This was only South Carolina’s sixth game, and the Gamecocks have had three understandable losses in that span (Clemson, Baylor, and Oklahoma State). Last night’s loss may end up being understandable in principle because the Jaspers are 8-2, but even if Manhattan ends up as one 2013-14’s better mid-majors, an SEC program shouldn’t lose at home by 18 to a team from the MAAC (with all due respect to the Siena and Iona teams of recent vintage). The one bright spot was freshman Sindarius Thornwell, who looks like he can become a reliable scorer (17 points, 10-of-13 FTs). He also only turned it over once despite playing 36 minutes. Martin knew he was in for a challenge in Columbia, and he indeed has a big one ahead of him.
  5. Scottie Wilbekin (Player of the Week) and Jordan Mickey (Freshman of the Week) picked up last week’s SEC weekly awards for what was a period light on games because of final exams. In Wilbekin’s lone contest, a home win against Kansas, the senior controlled the game on both ends of the floor. He ended up with 18 points and six assists, and created havoc at the bottom of the Gators’ 1-3-1 zone with four steals. This production came a week after Wilbekin had suffered an ankle injury against Connecticut which looked far worse than it ended up being. Mickey wasn’t as hyped as fellow LSU freshman Jarrell Martin, but he has been one of the best freshmen in the SEC thus far. He scored 25 points and grabbed nine rebounds against Louisiana-Monroe, and also blocked five shots. He’s averaging nearly four blocks per game this season, which is good for the top 10 in the country. His shot-blocking presence will let Anthony Hickey and Andrew Stringer take more chances on the perimeter as the season goes on.
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How Alabama and Florida Can Win Difficult Tuesday Tests

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on December 17th, 2013

The SEC has two important games tipping off at 8:00 PM CST tonight, as Florida takes on Memphis in the Jimmy V Classic in New York and Alabama hosts unbeaten Wichita State in Tuscaloosa. Momentum is building for the Gators after a November full of injuries and suspensions. Highly-touted freshman Chris Walker enrolled in class last weekend, only a few days after Florida knocked off Kansas in Gainesville. Alabama, on the other hand, stands at the precipice. The Tide are only a game over .500, and hard-fought losses to Oklahoma, Duke and Drexel will only be seen as losses come March. A win over a Shockers team that looks primed for another deep run in the NCAA Tournament would be a giant boost heading into conference place. Here’s what each team faces this evening, and what they will need to do to come away with a win.

Memphis vs. Florida, New York, NY

Patric Young should be able to feast on the glass against a small Memphis team.

Patric Young should be able to feast on the glass against a small Memphis team.

What Memphis does best: Active hands. Memphis has created havoc with its perimeter-oriented lineups. The Tigers have four high-quality guards, and they’ve done a good job creating turnovers this season. Joe JacksonMichael DixonGeron Johnson and Chris Crawford each average over 1.4 steals per game, and the team itself is 14th in the nation at forcing miscues (23.3% of possessions). But their most effective configuration has been when big men Shaq Goodwin and Austin Nichols are paired with three of the guards, allowing Memphis to be more aggressive on the perimeter with the knowledge that the rim is protected underneath.

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SEC M5: 12.11.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on December 11th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. Kentucky burst out of its Baylor doldrums with a win over a good Boise State team at Rupp Arena last night. Willie Cauley-Stein had something to prove after a rough showing against the Bears, and he while he didn’t have gaudy rebounding numbers, he controlled the paint against the Broncos with nine blocks. Boise State continued to drive towards Cauley-Stein throughout the evening, and he continued to turn them away at the rim. Julius Randle also got back on the double-double track with a 17/11 night. Alex Poythress earned 17 minutes after being limited to just six against Baylor because of foul trouble. His progression and use will be interesting to watch the rest of the season. The big positives for Big Blue last night were that they regained their edge on the boards, and bottled up an effective offense.
  2. It wasn’t a good weekend for Alabama basketball. The Tide lost on the road to South Florida, and also lost the “yes, but all their losses are good” consolation. AL.com‘s Michael Casagrande suggests that part of the Tide’s struggles are due to lackluster three-point shooting and an inability to create for others as a team. The problem for Alabama is that the only player on their team who has proven that he can do both effectively over the long term is Trevor Releford. He’s shooting 38 percent from three this season, and playing him off the ball would create more space for the Retan Obasohan’s slashing and Nick Jacobs’ hook shots. But the Tide need Releford to handle the ball and run the offense. Levi Randolph is off to a torrid start from three (9-of-20), and they’ll need him to continue this so the offense has balance. Another option would be to give junior Algie Kay more time at point guard, as he currently has the highest assist percentage on the team. The Tide have officially entered the danger zone, and need to start stringing some wins together.
  3. It’s always interesting for the detached observer to see how fans think their team is doing. Arkansas is 6-2 and fresh off a sluggish win over a down Clemson team. The folks at Arkansas Fight slotted the Razorbacks fifth in their SEC power rankings, and that sounds about right. They write, “The Hogs joined the ‘we beat the pants off Southeastern Louisiana’ club last week. However, that doesn’t mean much in the power rankings. A lethargic performance at home against a team that is projected to finish close to last in the ACC doesn’t help either.” Arkansas hasn’t moved the needle in an upward direction this season, but “meh” losses to California and Gonzaga haven’t put them on a downward trajectory either. Frankly, outside of Florida’s win over Kentucky, Missouri’s win against UCLA, Tennessee’s redemption win over Xavier, and Ole Miss’ close call against Oregon, no one in the conference has done anything to really get their fans too excited.
  4. Julius Randle‘s double-double streak may have been broken last week, but he’s sitting in second place in the Wayman Tisdale Award Watch (Freshman of the Year) by CBSSports‘ Jeff Borzello. The Kentucky forward lags behind Jabari Parker, who had a tempered week himself, with 15 points and six rebounds in his only game. Borzello notes that zone defenses with length along the back have slowed Randle. Outside of LSU, Florida, and maybe Tennessee, there aren’t any other SEC teams with the personnel to pull that off, though. If Kentucky doesn’t hit more outside shots with consistency, they could be on upset alert January 28 in Baton Rouge.
  5. OK, we couldn’t get away from writing about Marshall Henderson. For the third morning in a row, let’s look back on Henderson’s prolific chucking display against Oregon. Jeff Eisenberg at Yahoo Sports breaks down the eight shots Henderson managed to get up in the final 1:52 of regulation, complete with visuals. It’s early, but I’d be surprised if Henderson tops 29 shots this season. His season-high last year was 21, and not many teams will be content with getting into a shootout with Ole Miss like the Ducks were.
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Early Returns: Alabama Crimson Tide

Posted by Greg Mitchell on November 21st, 2013

Alabama doesn’t play again until November 27 in New York against Jabari Parker and #6 Duke. In honor of this mini-break, let’s take a look at what the Tide have done in the early part of their season.

Wins (plus Kenpom rating): Georgia State (#114), Texas Tech (#144), Stillman (NR, Division II)

Loss: Oklahoma (#55)

Trevor Releford is perfect from the free throw line, but needs to cut down on turnovers.

Trevor Releford is perfect from the free throw line, but needs to cut down on turnovers.

The GoodRebounding and free throw shooting. Alabama has rebounded well considering Nick Jacobs is the only player taller than 6’8” who is playing more than 20 minutes per game. The Georgia State win is a good illustration of how the Tide will have to attack the boards the rest of the season given their guard-oriented lineup. Seemingly everyone chipped in: five players had more than four rebounds, and Trevor Releford and Levi Randolph had six each. Another key statistic is that of the six players with more than eight free throw attempts on the season, five are shooting above 75 percent. This includes a perfect season (11-of-11) from Releford thus far. Alabama can help itself immensely by keeping this up given the new hand-check rules.

The BadTaking care of the ball. The Tide have turned the ball over too much and are not creating opportunities off the bounce. The only positive assist/turnover ratio the team recorded was against Division II Stillman, and they had an ugly four to 14 ratio in their loss to Oklahoma. A team at the Tide’s level simply can’t cough it up 10 more times than they dish it out and hope to win many games against quality competition. Some of that can be attributed to early season rust and Releford sitting on the bench with foul trouble, but he is off to an especially tough start, averaging a turnover more and assist less than his career averages. Given that he’s the active SEC assist leader, though, there’s a good chance he’ll turn this around, and that would have a big impact considering he is Alabama’s primary ball-handler.

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