Bucknell v Missouri

Conference Catchups: A three-bid SEC this season?

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Conference play is right around the corner, so to help you get out of that post-holiday haze, we’ll be catching you up on all the happenings in the country’s top 12 conferences. Here’s our ACC Conference Catchup:

Favorite: Missouri

The Tigers have their issues, but given how weak the SEC is as a whole, there really isn’t much of an argument to make here. Phil Pressey has turned into one of the nation’s most dangerous playmakers at the point at the same time that Laurence Bowers has gone from a defensive presence into a terrific all-around player with a killer perimeter jumper.

There are three things that are going to determine whether or not the Tigers end up being something special this season:

  • Defensive playmaking. The Tigers don’t force turnovers and don’t block shots. That’s why their defense is mediocre.
  • Can Phil Pressey develop better shot selection? As good of a passer as he is, there are times where he gets into takeover mode. He’s not a good enough scorer to go into takeover mode as often as he does.
  • Can Missouri consistently hit threes? That’s where the loss of Mike Dixon hurts the most. Can Jabari Brown, Earnest Ross and Keion Bell consistently spread the floor?
  • Alex Oriakhi and Bowers got beat up by Mike Muscala on Saturday. What happens when they go up against Jarnell Stokes or Kentucky’s big men or Patric Young?

Contenders: Florida is the biggest threat to Missouri in the SEC thanks to their tough, versatile defense. And when Kenny Boynton is shooting well, they’re a potential Final Four team. That’s no guarantee, either. Through his first five games, Boynton was 13-29 from deep. The five after that? 4-32. In his last two games? 11-17. Go figure.

It would also be foolish to write off Kentucky. That’s a young team, but that’s a team with a ton of talent that looks better every game. Ryan Harrow appears to be filling the void at the point guard spot quite nicely, which was the biggest key. John Calipari’s new task? Getting Alex Poythress to consistently dominate and developing some kind of offensive game for Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein.

Biggest Surprise: How bad the league has been

Texas A&M is third in the SEC in the RPI. They lost to Southern at home. Their last four wins — against Stephen F. Austin, Texas A&M-CC, Army and Houston Baptist — came by an average of 8.5 points. Ole Miss and LSU currently have the second and fourth best record in the conference, respectively. The best win between the two: Seton Hall? Hawaii? Missouri and Florida can play with anyone in the country. Kentucky will get there. Beyond that, there may not be another NCAA tournament team amongst them.

Biggest Disappointment: Alabama

The Crimson Tide looked very promising early in the season, as they beat South Dakota State, Villanova and Oregon State early in the season. Since then? They had a buzzer-beating loss at Cincinnati, which wasn’t a problem. They lost at home to Dayton, which was iffy but acceptable. The Tide then got embarrassed by VCU, nearly lost at Texas Tech and then dropped home games to Mercer and Tulane. They’ll visit Missouri on Tuesday. That could be ugly.

(I avoided listing Tennessee here because so much of their struggles can be pinpointed on the balky knees of Jeronne Maymon.)

Player of the Year: Phil Pressey and Laurence Bowers, Missouri

Both have been terrific for the Tigers this season, as Pressey’s playmaking has provided a dynamic piece offensively while Bowers has been the only consistent perimeter shooter Frank Haith has had at his disposal.

Best Freshman: Nerlens Noel, Kentucky

The problem with John Calipari landing dominant freshman is that it makes Noel’s 10.3 points, 9.2 boards, 3.5 blocks and 2.6 steals seem disappointing. While he’s not exactly putting up all-american numbers, Noel has been terrific on the defensive end and getting to the offensive glass. He’s lanky, athletic and very active.

Three Predictions

Kentucky enters the tournament as a six or seven seed and makes the Elite 8. They haven’t beaten anyone this season, save for a Maryland team that has an even less impressive collection of wins. They aren’t going to jack up their computer numbers by landing a handful of quality wins in league play, either. But as this team continues to gel and develop as the season goes along, they are only going to get better. Playing them in the Round of 32 will not be pleasant.

The SEC gets three teams into the tournament: Outside of the top three, there hasn’t been much about the SEC that’s impressive. That lack of quality non-conference wins means that conference play won’t generate a wealth of good wins for bubble teams.

LSU surprises people: I actually like the Tigers this season. I think they’ll do very well in conference play. I just don’t see them having a strong enough resume to make a legitimate case for an at-large bid.

Power Rankings (* = tourney team):

1. Missouri*
2. Florida*
3. Kentucky*
4. LSU
5. Ole Miss
6. Tennessee
7. Arkansas
8. Alabama
9. Texas A&M
10. Vanderbilt
11. Auburn
12. South Carolina
13. Georgia
14. Mississippi State

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Ellis, Lucas lead No. 6 Kansas past No. 10 West Virginia

Kansas forward Landen Lucas (33) blocks a shot by West Virginia guard Tarik Phillip (12) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Lawrence, Kan., Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
AP Photo/Orlin Wagner
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In the first meeting between No. 10 West Virginia and No. 6 Kansas, the Mountaineers dominated in their 74-63 win in Morgantown. Bob Huggins’ “Press Virginia” attack forced 22 Kansas turnovers, with the Jayhawks playing far too fast and loose with the basketball while also getting out-toughed by the Mountaineers. In the rematch Kansas (20-4, 8-3 Big 12) looked far better equipped to deal with West Virginia in both of those areas, winning by the final score of 75-65.

Kansas committed 15 turnovers, with Devonte’ Graham responsible for five of them, but they did not allow West Virginia (19-4, 8-3) to use those chances to kickstart their offense. The Mountaineers scored 13 points (one fewer than Kansas, which took advantage of ten WVU miscues) off of those turnovers and did not register a single fast break points. Having to play in the half-court more than they would have liked, West Virginia could not execute at the level they did in beating Baylor Saturday.

As a result Bob Huggins’ team shot 37.3 percent from the field and 5-for-20 from beyond the arc. The Mountaineers have shown signs of being able to win games in which they don’t force a high turnover count, but that wasn’t the case at Allen Fieldhouse.

If not for West Virginia grabbing better than 34 percent of their misses and scoring 14 second-chance points, the margin is likely even greater than the ten-point outcome due to the contract in offensive execution. Kansas pushed the ball early, getting out to an 8-0 lead, and as the game wore on the Jayhawks were much better in finding quality shot opportunities. Bill Self’s team shot 56.1 percent from the field with Perry Ellis scoring 21 points to lead five Jayhawks in double figures.

The tandem of Ellis and Landen Lucas, who grabbed a game-high 16 rebounds, won the battle against a WVU front court missing the suspended Jonathan Holton. Devin Williams, who went for 17 and 12 in the first meeting, finished the rematch with a respectable 14-point, nine-rebound effort but he didn’t get much help in the post from the likes of Elijah Macon and Nathan Adrian.

After having Self question their toughness in a home win over Kansas State six days ago, the Jayhawks have responded with wins over TCU and West Virginia. Obviously it’s tough to read too much into beating the Horned Frogs, because even with that game being in Fort Worth it’s one Kansas was expected to handle with ease. The Mountaineers posed a different, and far more rigorous test, and Kansas got the job done.

As a result the Jayhawks have brought West Virginia back to the pack in the Big 12 title race, making Saturday’s game at No. 3 Oklahoma even bigger than it already was.

VIDEO: North Carolina head coach Roy Williams collapses on sideline

Roy Williams
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North Carolina head coach Roy Williams collapsed during the second half of No. 2 North Carolina’s visit to Boston College on Tuesday night:

Roy Williams has dealt with vertigo in the past; it’s not abnormal for him to collapse on the sideline during games, and given that his team is currently losing to Boston College, it’s understandable that he may have screamed himself dizzy.

He had to be helped off the floor:

It does appear that this isn’t something serious, according to a North Carolina release, that said Williams is “doing OK”.