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.

Wichita State’s McDuffie testing the NBA draft waters

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Wichita State forward Markis McDuffie entered his name into the NBA draft without signing with an agent, sources told NBC Sports on Tuesday.

It was initially believed that McDuffie would return to Wichita State for his senior season. As a sophomore, McDuffie, a former top 100 recruit, averaged 11.5 points and 5.7 boards, but he played fewer than 20 minutes a night as a junior after missing the first half of the season with a broken foot.

He will be a late-second round pick at best, but is likely to go undrafted if he opts to sign with an agent. He’s expected to return.

The Shockers are already staring down the barrel of a rebuilding season. Two players, including starter Austin Reaves, are transferring out of the program while all-american guard Landry Shamet has already made the decision to enter the draft and sign with an agent. As it currently stands, assuming McDuffie returns, just four scholarship players from this year’s team will play for Wichita State next season: McDuffie, Samajae Haynes-Jones, Asbjorn Midtgaard and Rod Brown.

Jeff Capel lands first commitment as the head coach at Pitt

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Jeff Capel is on the board with his first commitment as the head coach of Pittsburgh.

Trey McGowens, a top 100 prospect in the Class of 2019, announced on his twitter page that he will be enrolling at Pitt as a member of the Class of 2018.

A 6-foot-3 combo-guard, McGowens picked the Panthers over a handful of other high-major programs.

This is not exactly a program changing kind of commitment for Capel. Players that are late-spring commitments are almost always more celebrated because they end up in higher demand when there are fewer players left to fill the holes on rosters around the country. I’m not sure McGowens is all that different, but what’s significant about his commitment is that it’s proof that Capel is, at the very least, going to make some noise on the recruiting trail.

Capel has a long rebuild in front of him, but landing four-star prospects that will help spend a few years in the program are the kind of pieces that he needs at this point, and the kind of pieces that his predecessor was not able to land.

Felder no longer part of South Carolina basketball program

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina point guard Rakym Felder is no longer part of the Gamecocks basketball team.

Felder, a key freshman reserve for South Carolina’s Final Four team two years ago, was dismissed from the program by coach Frank Martin on Monday.

The 5-foot-10 Felder, from Brooklyn, New York, was suspended last summer after his second arrest in less than a year. Felder was not enrolled last fall. He was allowed to return in the spring semester although he did not play.

Martin said there were guidelines Felder had to follow upon coming back “and unfortunately, he has not met those expectations.”

Martin has not detailed those guidelines for Felder’s return to the court.

Felder had 15 points in South Carolina’s NCAA Tournament win over Duke in 2017

Washington’s Thybulle returning for senior season

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Matisse Thybulle will return to Washington for his senior season after contemplating declaring for the NBA draft following a junior campaign in which he was named the Pac-12 defensive player of the year.

“The NBA is really enticing and it was definitely something that I seriously considered when the season was over,” Thybulle told the Seattle Times. “I talked it over with my family and we came to the conclusion that it would be in my best interest to stay and get my degree (in communications) and grow as a basketball player and take this last year to mature and fine tune everything so I can be fully prepared to take that next step when it’s time.”

The 6-foot-5 guard averaged 11.2 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 3.0 steals per game last season. He shot 44.5 percent from the field and 36.5 percent from 3-point range.

“I talked to coach (Mike Hopkins) and he gave me some good advice that was honestly something that helped in the grand scheme of things,” Thybulle said. “He told me that if I do it (enter the draft), then I should be all in because that’s what I’m going to be up against is a whole bunch of guys fighting for their lives. He thought it would be a better idea for me to stay in school until I’m at that point.”

Washington is awaiting the decision of Noah Dickerson, who declared for the draft but has not hired an agent. The 6-foot-8 averaged 15.5 points and 8.4 rebounds last season.

Koby McEwen transferring to Marquette

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Steve Wojciechowski added a significant piece to his 2019-20 team over the weekend.

Koby McEwen announced his intention to transfer to Marquette from Utah State late Sunday evening.

“I would like to thank God, my family, inner circle and all the schools/coaches that recruited me during this process!” McEwen tweeted. “With that being said, I’m proud to announce that I’ll be furthering my college career at Marquette University.”

McEwen picked the Golden Eagles over fellow finalists Creighton and Grand Canyon after he decided to transfer when the Aggies announced South Dakota coach Craig Smith was taking over the program last month. The 6-foot-4 guard averaged 15.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game while shooting 40 percent from the field and 30 percent from 3-point range as a sophomore.

After sitting out the upcoming season, McEwen will have to years of eligibility remaining. Marquette went 21-14 last season, but missed the NCAA tournament for the third time in Wojciechowski’s four years in Milwaukee.