Baylor’s Man-to-Man Defense a New Wrinkle With Promise

Posted by Kendall Kaut on December 8th, 2015

Baylor scored its biggest victory of the young season on Sunday night, beating Vanderbilt, 69-67. The Bears played to a key strength against the Commodores, forcing 17 turnovers in an effort that has propelled Scott Drew‘s team all the way to seventh nationally in turnovers forced per 100 possessions. But Baylor wasn’t proficient in every area on the defensive end, as Vanderbilt made 10 of their 21 relatively clean looks from three-point range. Moving forward, Baylor’s focus should be to design a defense that still allows it to play to its strength in forcing turnovers but avoids giving opponents open opportunities from three-point range. Drew is sure to switch between zone and man to find the perfect amount of each strategy, but a full-time man-to-man approach may be most likely to maximize turnovers while also defending the perimeter.

Rico Gathers and Baylor pulled off the victory Sunday against Vanderbilt. (Cooper Neill – Getty Images Sport)

Rico Gathers’ And The Bears Snuck By Vandy On Sunday. (Cooper Neill – Getty Images Sport)

Baylor has primarily been a zone team over the last seven years. Drew’s current defense of choice is a 1-3-1 zone that is usually anchored by one of the country’s best rebounders in Rico Gathers. After a rough start against Oregon in Eugene three weeks ago, Baylor switched to man-to-man and nearly came back and won. In four home blowouts of less talented teams, Baylor stuck with the man-to-man. On Sunday, the Bears mixed defenses against Vanderbilt, switching from zone to man as part of a strategy that included alternating looks on the first eight possessions.

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SEC Week That Was: Volume III

Posted by Greg Mitchell on December 7th, 2015

Don’t look now but the congealed middle that has defined the SEC the last few seasons is beginning to take shape. Nearly half the conference (six teams) have at least three losses, and part of this jumble are two teams in LSU and Mississippi State that we expected to be better. The league also whiffed on two opportunities for statement road wins this past week as Vanderbilt fell to Baylor and Texas A&M lost to Arizona State. Let’s get to the weekly roundup.

The Gators turned in a dominant performance against Richmond (sportspyder.com).

The Gators turned in a dominant performance against Richmond. (sportspyder.com)

Team of the Week. There were relatively slim pickings this week with the Commodores and Aggies falling on the road along with Kentucky losing to UCLA. What is left is Florida, which was borderline dominant in a win over Richmond. The Spiders may not be great, but they were coming off a win over a good Cal team and haven’t had trouble scoring this year (33rd in KenPom’s offensive efficiency ratings). The Gators squashed this momentum by dominating the boards and holding Richmond to just 0.78 points per possession for the game that included allowing just a single offensive rebound in the first half. Florida’s athletic front line of Dorian Finney-Smith, John Egbunu and Devin Robinson has been a load on the glass this year and that should continue to be an advantage the Gators hold over most teams. The big question for Mike White’s team will continue to be the point guard position until either Kasey Hill or Chris Chiozza clearly grabs the reins. Chiozza had arguably his best game of the season in hitting a pair of threes and handing out five assists. There’s still room for improvement, but the Gators have some margin for error on offense when they defend and rebound as well they did against Richmond. Read the rest of this entry »

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Baylor’s Battle With Vanderbilt a Chance to Show Bears Belong

Posted by Chris Stone on December 6th, 2015

Baylor has jumped out to one of the more interesting starts in college basketball. The Bears entered the season solidly ranked in the Top 25 but now voters aren’t sure what to make of them. They smashed a solid Stephen F. Austin team by 42 points on opening night before falling short in a true road game against Oregon in their second contest. Since then, Baylor has recorded four blowout home victories over the softest stretch of its non-conference schedule but Scott Drew’s squad has another chance to prove itself against Vanderbilt tonight in Waco. This game, sprouting out of the two teams’ meeting in the 2014 Big 12/SEC Challenge, represents an opportunity for the Bears to pick up their first non-conference win over a ranked opponent since defeating Kentucky in 2013-14. A win here would establish the Bears as a league contender alongside Kansas, Oklahoma and Iowa State.

Rico Gathers and Baylor can establish themselves in the Big 12 race with a win over Vanderbilt. (Cooper Neill – Getty Images Sport)

Rico Gathers and Baylor can establish themselves in the Big 12 race with a win over Vanderbilt. (Cooper Neill – Getty Images Sport)

Vanderbilt, a team that should challenge Kentucky for the SEC title, will quite literally be a big test for Baylor, as the Commodores are anchored by seven-footers Luke Kornet and Damian Jones. Although the Bears boast one of college basketball’s best rebounders in Rico Gathers, the senior big man has rarely faced the kind of size he’ll see tonight. To date, Gathers and fellow forward Johnathan Motley have helped Baylor collect 42.2 percent of their own misses, a mark that ranks sixth best nationally. If Kornet and James can succeed in keeping the Bears off the offensive glass, Baylor could be in for a difficult night that has to rely on forcing turnovers and its half-court offense.

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SEC Week That Was: Volume II

Posted by Greg Mitchell on November 30th, 2015

Feast Week is in the books and there’s plenty of good and not-so-good happening throughout the SEC. Here’s the good: The league boasts two undefeated teams and four teams with just a single loss. On the flip side, there are two teams siting at .500 and two others already under .500. Here are the nuts and bolts of the previous week in SEC basketball.

The Aggies didn't win the Battle 4 Atlantis, but they impressed nonetheless (cbssports.com).

The Aggies didn’t win the Battle 4 Atlantis, but they impressed nonetheless. (AP)

  • Team of the WeekTexas A&M didn’t win the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas, but the Aggies nonetheless made a statement. They started with an emotional win over intrastate rival Texas in the opener, and while the Longhorns are in a transition year, that win may improve as the year wears on. A&M then knocked off top 10 team Gonzaga in its second game, notching a win that will pay dividends the rest of the year. The experience that young players such as Tyler Davis and Tonny Trocha-Morelos got against the Bulldogs’ elite frontcourt should be a good primer for future games against Kentucky. And while the team ran out of gas against Syracuse in the championship game, what stood out most might have been the Aggies’ depth. Over the three-game tournament, Davis, Morelos, Jalen JonesDanuel House and Anthony Collins all played starring roles at various times. The team has been extremely balanced in both contributions and results, ranking among KenPom’s top 30 in adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency — a combination that can be useful in predicting March success.

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Feast Week Previews: Maui, Legends, CBE & Cancun Tourneys

Posted by Andrew Gripshover on November 23rd, 2015

There are talented tournament fields everywhere this Feast Week. The Gulf Coast Showcase has a relatively strong mid-major field headlined by Murray State, Duquesne (which absolutely BLASTED Penn State on Friday) and Texas Southern. Four capable teams — Clemson, UMass (already a winner over Harvard), Creighton and Rutgers — will tussle in another four-team field in Vegas. Looking further ahead, Atlantis tips off on Wednesday before a handful of other events kick off on Thanksgiving Day and beyond. As we did with Puerto Rico and Charleston last week, here’s a look at the event favorite, a dark horse, and the teams who have the most on the line this week. We’ll also highlight a player and a storyline to watch.

Maui Invitational

Despite some early season struggles, Bill Self and Kansas are still the clear favorite in Maui. (Getty)

Despite some early struggles, Bill Self and Kansas are still the clear favorite in Maui. (Getty)

  • Favorite: Kansas. Even with no Cheick Diallo or Brannen Greene for the week and the second half collapse to Michigan State in Chicago notwithstanding, the Jayhawks are still the clear favorite in Maui as the only top 10 team in this tournament. Perry Ellis and Jamari Traylor are seniors. Frank Mason and Wayne Selden are juniors. This is an experienced team that might be going on its last ride together. As usual, there’s chatter about this being the year the Big 12 title streak is broken. Winning the Maui title would probably pump the brakes on that notion, at least for the time being.
  • Darkhorse: UCLA. In terms of talent and potential, the Bruins are a clear sleeper. Aaron Holiday, Bryce Alford, Tony Parker  you could easily see a team with talented pieces like these upsetting a still-not-quite-right Kansas in the semifinal and then taking out Indiana or Vanderbilt the next night. Of course, they’re flaky enough that they could brick the last Maui quarter to UNLV, especially after that whole Monmouth thing.

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“Secret” Scrimmages Results and #HotTakes

Posted by Andrew Gripshover on November 13th, 2015

This post doesn’t matter. Scrimmages are poor man’s exhibition games; exhibition games are in the preseason; and the preseason is useless. The only people who watched these “secret” scrimmages are the participating coaches and players. And yet, information about them always gets out because nothing’s ever a secret on the Internet, allowing us to wildly overreact to games that don’t even count as not even counting. As we head into the opening weekend of the regular season, here are some such overreactions. Information herein is mostly courtesy of random message board posts and hearsay. #HotScrimmageTakes (miss you, Grantland) are my own and should definitely be saved to fill out your brackets in four months. Enjoy.

Scrimmage or note - Roy Williams and UNC will be expected to perform at a high level this season. (Getty)

Scrimmage or not – Roy Williams and UNC will be expected to perform at a high level this season. (Getty)

No. 1 North Carolina defeated No. 18 Vanderbilt by 12. The Heels stormed out to a 20-3 advantage and never looked back. Justin Jackson was their leading scorer and Isaiah Hicks was impressive off the bench. Joel Berry II started at point guard and ran the show most of the way. The Commodores got good performances from Camron Justice — Kentucky’s Mr. Basketball last year — and Riley LaChance, but those were not enough to prevent the nation’s No. 1 team from exacting some measure of revenge from previous scrimmages.

#HotScrimmageTakes – This UNC team is a hybrid of 2009 and 2005. Berry is Ty Lawson. Marcus Paige is Ray Felton. Kennedy Meeks is Sean May mixed with Tyler Hansbrough. Jackson is a bigger, less temperamental Rashad McCants. Hicks is a cross between Danny Green and Marvin Williams. 40-0 or bust. Vandy starts slowly and is shocked by Stony Brook before placing seventh in Maui (needing overtime to beat Chaminade) but goes 12-6 in SEC play thanks to Justice and LaChance averaging a combined 44 points per game. They’re one of the Last Four In and lose yet again in March to a mid-major as Dayton (yep, Dayton gets another home play-in game) completes the season sweep after winning in Memorial Gym on December 9. Read the rest of this entry »

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SEC Impact Newcomers: Part I

Posted by Greg Mitchell on October 28th, 2015

Any team’s collection of freshmen and incoming transfers provides for excitement at the start of a new season. It should be no shock that in a conference that John Calipari calls home, there is A LOT of that form of excitement this season, as the SEC is once again loaded with freshman talent. The one difference is that it’s not just Kentucky bringing in the SEC’s blue-chippers this year. Less heralded programs such as LSU, Mississippi State and South Carolina all feature potential NBA First Round picks in their new classes. And lets not forget about the impact transfers who will make SEC debuts this season, especially in light of a transfer leading the league in scoring last year (Auburn’s K.T. Harrell) and another finishing fourth (Ole Miss’ Stefan Moody). Today we’ll look at half of the league and and focus on a freshman or transfer player who should play a key role for each team this season:

Kentucky – Skal Labissiere. Selecting Labissiere here is a no-brainer. Calipari brings in another extraordinarily talented group of freshmen this season, but Labissiere, possibly the first overall pick in next year’s NBA Draft, is the clear headliner. The Haitian-born big man will undoubtedly draw comparisons to former Kentucky star Anthony Davis because he’s a lean, explosive and tall forward who really runs the floor. Comparing any player to Davis — potentially the best basketball player in the world right now — is setting an unrealistic expectation, but Labissiere’s ability to control the paint on both ends will be a key to Kentucky’s success this season. One thing big Skal has that Davis did not is an experienced point guard running the show in Tyler Ulis. 

Now that Skal Labissiere's eligibility status is cleared up he can focus on leading another talented Kentucky team (collegebasketball.nbcsports.com).

Now that Skal Labissiere’s eligibility status is cleared up, he can focus on leading a talented Kentucky team (Photo: collegebasketball.nbcsports.com).

Texas A&M – D.J. Hogg. The Aggies’ freshman bigs need to replace Kourtney Roberson’s steady play down low, but Hogg should help diversify the offense from the outside. Danuel House is one of the best wings in the country, but with the departure of three-point marksman Peyton Allen, A&M is thin on perimeter shot-makers. Alex Caruso has all-SEC potential, but he’s a distributor first and scorer second. Hogg comes in as a four-star prospect with the potential to be both a long-range threat and an athletic slasher. He won’t be pressured to shoulder a heavy early load, but could develop into another consistent source of offense on what looks like a deep team. Read the rest of this entry »

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SEC Way-Too-Early 2015-16 Power Rankings

Posted by Greg Mitchell on April 23rd, 2015

The SEC coaching carousel’s dust appears to have settled with Avery Johnson, Rick Barnes and Ben Howland having moved into their new offices at Alabama, Tennessee and Mississippi State, respectively. Kentucky’s John Calipari is making the recruiting rounds with a new pitch after seven more of his players declared for this summer’s NBA Draft. Anthony Grant is getting re-acclimated to the assistant’s chair next to Billy Donovan at Florida that has worked out so well for both of them in the past. There’s still more to be determined about how the SEC will look heading into next season, but here are some way too early predictions on the season to come.

Tyler Ulis should contend for SEC Player of the Year honors next season (AP Photo)

Tyler Ulis should contend for SEC Player of the Year honors next season. (AP Photo)

Coach of the Year

  • John Calipari, Kentucky

Player of the Year

  • Tyler Ulis, Kentucky

Freshman/Newcomer of the Year

  • Ben Simmons, LSU

All-SEC First Team

  • Tyler Ulis, PG, Kentucky
  • Stefan Moody, SG, Ole Miss
  • Danuel House, SF, Texas A&M
  • Ben Simmons, SF, LSU
  • Skal Labissiere, C, Kentucky

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The Non-Kentucky SEC Postseason Review

Posted by Greg Mitchell on April 1st, 2015

Only one of the SEC’s eight postseason teams is still playing, and you may have heard of them a time or two over the weekend. For the other seven schools, the season is now over. Let’s take a look at whether they met, exceeded or fell short of their postseason expectations.

Jarvis Summers and the Rebels stormed back against BYU, but couldn't find the same shooting touch against Xavier (espn.com).

Jarvis Summers and the Rebels stormed back against BYU, but couldn’t find the same shooting touch against Xavier. (Getty)

Three That Exceeded Expectations

  • #11 Ole Miss (beat #11 BYU in the NCAA First Four; lost to #6 Xavier in the Second Round). The Rebels’ magical second-half outburst to beat BYU in Dayton was a real treat and it gave Andy Kennedy just his second NCAA Tournament win at Ole Miss. That alone has to qualify the Rebels’ postseason journey as a success, especially since the team had lost four of five to end the season and had to be feeling fortunate just to be there. It’s a shame M.J. Rhett has used all of his eligibility since his inside/outside game was instrumental in the First Four comeback and was one of the few players to perform well against the Musketeers.
  • #6 Alabama (beat #3 Illinois in the NIT First Round; lost to #2 Miami (FL) in NIT Second Round). The Tide’s underwhelming season ultimately cost Anthony Grant his job, but for the team to stick together to win at least one game just days afterward is impressive. There’s also no shame in losing to a Miami team that had several big wins this year and ended up reaching the NIT Semifinals in New York. The big question now is whether the gobs of money Alabama has reportedly thrown at Gregg Marshall will be enough to lure him to Tuscaloosa.
  • #5 Vanderbilt (beat #4 St. Mary’s in the NIT First Round; beat South Dakota State in the NIT Second Round, lost to Stanford in the NIT Quarterfinals): The Commodores looked primed for a run in the SEC Tournament but were knocked out in their opener against Tennessee. A run eventually came in the NIT, however, and the future appears bright for Kevin Stallings’ club. Vanderbilt opened with a road win in Moraga and fought to the bitter end against Stanford in Palo Alto. The Commodores’ are certainly pleased with this week’s news that Damian Jones intends to return. Stallings will pair him with a stockpile of sophomore guards (Riley LaChance, Matthew Fisher-Davis, Shelton Mitchell, Wade Baldwin IV) that will keep Vanderbilt competitive.

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SEC Tournament Preview: What Teams Are Playing For

Posted by David Changas on March 11th, 2015

As Nashville awaits the inevitable Big Blue mist that will descend upon it Friday afternoon, let’s take a look at what each of the 14 SEC teams has to play for with the start of tonight’s SEC Tournament.

SEC tournament bracket 2015

The Outsiders

  • Missouri (9-22, 3-15). After winning its SEC opener against LSU, Missouri earned only two more conference victories all season — at home against Florida and Auburn. Kim Anderson’s first year at his alma mater has been a trying one, and there likely will not be much sadness when this campaign comes to a merciful end sometime soon.
  • Mississippi State (13-18, 6-12). Given that Rick Ray won seven league games in his first two seasons in Starkville, this year’s six-win campaign is a substantial improvement. This appeared to be a team that would struggle to win any conference games, so getting six has surely earned Ray the right to coach a fourth season at Mississippi State. While the Bulldogs have nothing to play for beyond Nashville, expect them to be motivated to move into Thursday’s round against Texas A&M.

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The SEC Week That Was: Volume X

Posted by Greg Mitchell on March 10th, 2015

For the next two weeks, or however long it takes, we’ll run down a few weekly superlatives from league play, take a look at how conference teams look in the eyes of the NCAA Tournament selection committee, and anything else that merits discussion. Here is Volume X, including games from March 2 to March 8.

Player of the Week. Kentucky has no shortage of star power, but Karl-Anthony Towns is the most complete player on the roster and gets the nod as the final regular season Player of the Week. The 19 points he scored against Georgia included two layups in the final minutes while the Wildcats were squashing the Bulldogs’ upset bid. Against Florida he controlled the paint as he has all season with six blocks. Towns has been an impact player on both ends of the court, but might be John Calipari’s most reliable offensive threat heading into postseason play. Andrew Harrison has shown a willingness to attack the paint lately, Devin Booker has the ability get hot and Aaron Harrison has a postseason track record, but it’s Towns that has shown an ability to constantly find high percentage looks. He’s been lethal finishing at the rim (74.7 percent), effective as a mid-range shooter (51.3 percent) and more than solid at the free throw line (79.0 percent). There are some compelling cases for SEC Freshman of the Year, including Riley LaChance and Booker, but Towns would get my vote because of the well-rounded role he’s played on the country’s top-ranked team.

Karl-Anthony Towns is set up a great run in both the SEC and NCAA tournaments (Mark Zerof/USA Today Sports)

Karl-Anthony Towns is set up a great run in both the SEC and NCAA tournaments (Mark Zerof/USA Today Sports)

Team of the Week. The spotlight is yours, Kentucky. The Wildcats finished off their perfect regular season in beating Georgia and Florida, and it wasn’t without some drama in Athens. The Bulldogs held a 62-56 lead and the ball with under five minutes to go, and as Jay Bilas pointed out at the time, Kentucky looked to be in real danger. But Willie Cauley-Stein forced turnover that began a transition opportunity that ended in an Aaron Harrison and-one. Cauley-Stein rebounded the miss off the free throw and dunked it to complete a major swing in momentum. Just like that, Kentucky didn’t look back and didn’t allow the Bulldogs many good looks the rest of the way. Towns starred offensively in both games, and his back-to-the-basket game is peaking at the right time. Pairing that with Andrew Harrison’s recent aggressive play should make for a lot of easy opportunities in both upcoming tournaments. History has been increasingly nipping at the Wildcats heels, but they don’t seem to be feeling any pressure. Just nine more wins separate Kentucky from joining the 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers as the only teams to finish a season unbeaten.

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SEC M5: 02.25.15 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 25th, 2015

SEC_morning5

  1. I’m not ashamed to admit it: There are few things in my hoops world that I enjoy more than watching Willie Cauley-Stein move his feet. Observing a seven-footer glide across the perimeter in a defensive stance is art. Hyperbole aside, Cauley-Stein’s versatility is why NBCSports.com‘s Rob Dauster has him in the top five of his most recent Player of the Year rankings. By his logic, the junior should be the front-runner for the SEC POY award, but is he? My gut tells me that Arkansas’ Bobby Portis or LSU’s Jordan Mickey will get the honor based on their gaudier stats, but it probably should go to Cauley-Stein. As a team, Kentucky is on the verge of accomplishing something quite historic. Even if the Wildcats don’t run the table, their dominance has been the story of this year’s SEC and no one player captures that better than Cauley-Stein.
  2. As a point guard, Andrew Harrison is playing his best basketball of the season. The sophomore has averaged 4.4 assists and just 1.6 turnovers per game in his last eight outings, punctuated with nine assists and a single turnover on Saturday against Auburn. This uptick in production has coincided with a visit from his father, who also spent time with his brother Aaron last year before he caught fire in the NCAA Tournament. As good as Tyler Ulis has played this season, it must be reassuring to John Calipari that Andrew is playing so well too as the calendar nears March. He led the Wildcats to the championship game last year, and that kind of postseason experience is invaluable for a point guard.
  3. Stories about Memorial Gymnasium’s quirkiness at Vanderbilt are inevitable every year. But next year, those yarns will have a fresh angle. Vanderbilt is extending the coaching box up the sideline for the 2015-16 season, meaning that coaches won’t just be confined to the baseline as they have been in the past. Only head coaches will be allowed in the expanded box, so the solitary figure strolling up and down the sidelines above the first few rows of fans will be another unique part of the games at Vanderbilt. There will probably be some changes on the court for the Commodores next year too, at least from a win-loss perspective. There is a drastic disparity between the team’s KenPom (#47) and RPI (#117) ratings this season –eight of the Commodores’ 12 losses have come by four points or fewer, and Kevin Stallings’ group should be a much bigger threat next season if Damian Jones returns.
  4. The Macon Telegraph’s Seth Emerson has some interesting tidbits on Georgia’s NCAA Tournament resume as we enter the stretch run. We’ve also officially reached the point in the season when it’s not too early to talk about SEC Tournament seeding. Georgia stands at 8-6, nipping on the heels of 10-5 Texas A&M and 10-4 Ole Miss. Making up that difference in the standings to earn a double-bye will be difficult, but the Bulldogs have one thing going for them. They’ve already beaten Texas A&M and could sweep the Rebels with a win this evening, which would give Georgia the tiebreaker over both if it comes to that. That makes tonight’s game at the Tad Pad all the more important for a team looking to get back on the right track.
  5. One phrase is noticeably absent in SEC conversations right now: hot seat. Unless something strange occurs down the stretch, it doesn’t look like there will be a new SEC coach coming on board in 2015-16. Reviewing the hot seat scenario David Changas painted back in October, the two most at-risk coaches were Alabama’s Anthony Grant and Mississippi State’s Rick Ray, and both appear to be safe. Alabama has been somewhat disappointing given how well the Tide’s non-conference schedule went, but at 17-11 overall and 7-8 in the SEC it isn’t likely that Grant will lose his job. The same can be said for Ray, as Mississippi State has clearly improved during the season and will have a senior-laden team (Craig Sword, Fred Thomas, Gavin Ware) ready to roll next year. The hottest seat right now might actually belong to Kim Anderson, with Missouri trudging through a miserable season and current athletic director Mike Alden set to depart in August. But it’s ridiculous to think that the new administration would part ways with a native son after a clear rebuilding year.
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