SEC Week That Was: Volume VI

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 5th, 2016

Conference play is off and running in the SEC as some teams finished up their non-conference schedules and several others opened league play. Here’s what happened in the final week before it’s all SEC, all the time.

Team of the WeekLSU has caught a lot of flak on this microsite with good reason. Despite boasting arguably the best player in the country, the Tigers have spent most of the season trending in the wrong direction. Still, Johnny Jones‘ team deserves accolades when things go well, and the Tigers’ surprise win over Vanderbilt in Memorial Gym on Saturday merits such a mention. Jones’ club still has a steep hill to climb if it is to enter NCAA Tournament discussion, but consider the following: Ben Simmons (36 points, 14 rebounds, four assists) seems comfortable playing the two-man game with Keith Hornsby (23 points) and Craig Victor (11 points). That pair was not around for the majority of the team’s losses this season, so there is now some reason to believe that the Tigers can surge with a complete roster. There’s also equal reason to believe that they’ll continue to underwhelm. Only time will tell in Baton Rouge.

LSU out-muscled Vanderbilt for a big win in Nashville (lsureveille.com).

LSU outmuscled Vanderbilt for a big win in Nashville. (lsureveille.com)

Player of the Week. Ben Simmons may have aleady numbed the college basketball world to his gaudy statistics, but we need to continue to take notice. The line he put up against Vanderbilt isn’t his best of the season, but it still needs to be appreciated. He also notched a double-double in last Tuesday’s loss to Wake Forest (21 points, 12 rebounds), giving him an SEC-leading 10 such games for the season. It also hasn’t taken the freshman long to exploit the heavy attention he is receiving, as he attempted 35 free throws over the past two games. Compare that with 36 attempts over his first six games and a total of 72 prior to last week. Opponents will keep putting him in a position to draw fouls, and since he’s making his free throws at a respectable 74.8 percent, this represents a great source of offense on a team that has struggled to shoot the ball. Honorable mention goes to Florida freshman guard KeVaughn Allen, who scored 32 points in a loss to Florida State (the highest total for a Gators’ freshman since 2002) and followed it up with 18 in a win over Georgia. Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

SEC Week That Was: Volume V

Posted by Greg Mitchell on December 30th, 2015

There were relatively slim pickings in terms of games over the holiday week, but there was still plenty of SEC action to digest. Let’s break down what went down in some of the final non-conference games of the season as we look ahead to the start of league play this weekend.

Tyler Ulis had it all going in Kentucky's win over Louisville (aseaofblue.com).

Tyler Ulis had it all going in Kentucky’s win over Louisville. (USA TODAY Sports)

Team of the WeekKentucky stole the show on the lightest college basketball weekend of the year with its narrow win in the Battle of the Bluegrass. The Wildcats lost Isaiah Briscoe to a turned ankle in pregame warm-ups and got very little from Skal Labissiere (for the entire game) or Jamal Murray (for most of the game). Yet they were still able to beat a top-25 team without any freshmen playing a starring role. It took a superb effort from Tyler Ulis (21 points, 8 assists/1 turnover) and good games from Alex PoythressMarcus Lee and Dominique Hawkins. Who knew a Kentucky win led by a sophomore, two juniors and a senior was possible in the Calipari era? That the Wildcats have that kind of depth and experience is why despite ups and downs from the freshmen class, this team will not go the way the team did during Poythress’ freshman year.

Player of the Week. Ulis was the marquee player in the win over the Cardinals, and it wasn’t close. He’s becoming about as complete a player as a college point guard can be, and displayed it all against Louisville. He was masterful breaking the Cardinals’ press and controlled the game offensively, especially by delivering a number of passes to Poythress that put him in position to score near the basket. He also played a big role scoring the ball himself and seems to have shrugged off the elbow injury that had been clearly limiting him since the UCLA loss. The sophomore was an efficient 4-of-7 from distance and scored around the rim as well. Kentucky needed its star point guard to step up against Louisville, and he did just that. Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

SEC Week That Was: Volume IV

Posted by Greg Mitchell on December 21st, 2015

The week before Christmas provided stocking stuffers for fans of SEC teams, as the league picked up a number of wins against power conference competition. But there was some coal too, highlighted by Kentucky‘s buzzed-about loss to an underwhelming-to-this-point Ohio State team. Here’s the rundown of the SEC’s penultimate non-conference week of action.

J.J. Frazier dropped 35 points over Georgia Tech in a big win for the Bulldogs (onlineathens.com).

J.J. Frazier dropped 35 points over Georgia Tech in a big win for the Bulldogs. (OnlineAthens)

Team of the Week Texas A&M has had a good time playing old Big 12 foes this year. The Aggies had wins against Texas (doesn’t that look better now?) and Kansas State under their belt, and then went and handled a good Baylor team at home this past week. Texas A&M did what Vanderbilt couldn’t a few weeks ago and controlled Taurean Prince, holding the versatile senior to just eight points on 2-of-8 shooting. In all, Texas A&M continued defending at the level it has all season, keeping an efficient Bears offense to 0.90 points per possession. On an individual level, this was a nice game for Danuel House. He helped the Aggies build an early lead and drilled a couple of three’s in the process. He’s a far better shooter than his numbers this year suggest (32.5 percent from three), but a lot of that is due to a dreadful 3-of-15 three-point shooting night against Arizona State. We’re talking about a potential future NBA wing, so confidence shouldn’t be an issue, but Billy Kennedy has to be pleased seeing House trend back up from distance. Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

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 »

Share this story

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

“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 »

Share this story

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 »

Share this story