2013 SEC Tournament Preview

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It hasn’t always been easy to watch the SEC this season. Florida has been the conference’s best team, but after that we see little differentiation and a whole bunch of bad losses by teams in the middle of the conference. So what does that mean for the SEC tournament in Nashville? It could mean a tournament full of upsets, or it could mean a tournament full of far-less-than-perfect high-major basketball.

We will have a good share of quality players and coaches, including the young cast from Kentucky, the always-entertaining personality of Marshall Henderson, the pure point guard skills of Phil Pressey, and the quotable postgame press conferences of South Carolina coach Frank Martin. But how will it all play out? Check out the preview below:

(CLICK HERE to browse through all of our conference tournament previews)

The Bracket

Where: Nashville, Tenn. (Bridgestone Arena)

When: March 13 – March 17

Final: March 17, 1 p.m. (ABC)

Favorite: Florida

The biggest concern for Florida in the SEC tournament and on into the NCAA tournament will be whether or not the Gators can close out close games and who, if anyone, can step up in crunch time and hit a big shot. Florida does not have a go-to guy like Michigan has or Ohio State has or Georgetown has. The Gators win with defense and shooting the three-point ball and it has gotten them this far. But as losses to Missouri and Kentucky on the road in SEC play point out, they need to have someone or a collection of reliable guys to go to offensively down the stretch. In the loss to Kentucky in the regular season finale, Florida didn’t score a point in the final 7:36 of that game, blowing a seven-point lead. Regardless of how well they play defensively, offensive droughts like that can spell an early exit.

And if they lose?: Missouri

Missouri has needed to come together this season after welcoming so many new players into key roles to start the season. There has been a good deal of progress in that regard, but the stakes are higher now it’s single elimination from here on out which pushes cohesiveness to the forefront. Missouri has more offensive firepower than nearly any team in the country, with six players averaging double figures in scoring. Having Laurence Bowers back and healthy puts Missouri on the right track, but big man Alex Oriakhi is equally as important on the interior. A beneficiary of many Pressey assists, Oriakhi is both a scoring and rebounding threat inside. If Missouri wants to make a run in this tournament, though, Pressey will need to limit turnovers and make better decisions down the stretch in close games.

Other contenders: After Florida and Missouri, the waters of the SEC get murky. Heck, Missouri could even be considered part of the murky middle of the conference. There is a lot of mediocrity in the SEC. Kentucky, Alabama, and Ole Miss have all had their runs this season and we’ll have to see which version of that teams shows up in the SEC tournament to know what we are dealing with. Kentucky is a different team without Nerlens Noel, but fellow freshman Willie Cauley-Stein has begun to step up on the defensive end and fill the hole left by Noel in his absence. Alabama is ranked 250th in the country or worse in points, rebounds, and assists per game this season, but still had a chance to take a share of the SEC lead late in the season before collapsing against Florida. Ole Miss was the talk of the country early in the SEC slate before bad losses to South Carolina and Mississippi State.

Sleeper: Tennessee

Jordan McRae was in the running for the SEC Player of the Year and for good reason. The Volunteers have won eight of their last nine games down the stretch in SEC play and his production has been central to that success. He has scored at least 14 points in eight of those nine games, and that includes a 34-point outburst in a win over LSU. The Volunteers are in a good position in the bracket, too. They will draw either South Carolina or Mississippi State in the second round, then advance to play Alabama in the quarterfinals if they win. The Volunteers played two close games against Alabama earlier in the season, one win and one loss in games that were decided by a total of four points.

Deeper sleeper: Arkansas

Yes, it is true. Arkansas can’t win basketball games on a consistent basis away from home. The Razorbacks were undefeated at home this conference season and were 1-8 on the road with that one win coming over cellar dweller Auburn. But how will they fare on a neutral floor? A high-energy, high-octane transition offense could speed some teams up unexpectedly and that’s when the game comes down to adjustments. If Arkansas catches a team off guard and sets the pace early, will the opponent be able to adjust and come back? It could end up being a wildcard factor in this tournament. But there is a downside. If that doesn’t work, the Razorbacks could lose their first game to Vanderbilt.

Studs:

– Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Georgia

Caldwell-Pope was voted the SEC Player of the Year with his 18.0 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. Some will discount his performance because the Bulldogs finished in the bottom half of the SEC, but there is another side to that coin. On a team with no other real weapons and the chance for defenses to key in on him, he still put up the numbers that he did. Credit granted where credit is due.

– Marshall Henderson, Ole Miss

Perhaps Henderson’s personality has overshadowed his play, but he has continued his double-digit scoring production throughout the season (regardless of how many shots he had to take to get there). It typically follows that when Henderson struggles, Ole Miss struggles, partly because of the number of shots Henderson still takes when those shots are not falling. He was 4-of-19 in a loss to Mississippi State, 4-of-17 in a loss to South Carolina, and 4-of-15 in a loss to Missouri.

– Elston Turner, Texas A&M

Turner is questionable for the SEC tournament, but would be a huge boost to the Aggies if he is able to play after breaking a bone in his finger March 6 against LSU. He is likely remembered most for the 40 points he dropped on Kentucky at Rupp Arena on Jan. 12, but his production has continued even with A&M finishing toward the bottom of the league. He had 37 points in a win over Ole Miss on Feb. 13 and 38 in a four-overtime loss to Tennessee.

CBT Prediction: With Will Yeguete now fully assimilated back into the rotation and providing more depth on the front line, this is Florida’s tournament to win.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

POSTERIZED: Texas guard Kerwin Roach throws down Dunk of the Year candidate on Duke (VIDEO)

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Kerwin Roach is one of the best dunkers in college basketball, and he was at it again on Saturday afternoon in the PK80, as he went soaring in to throw down a dunk in the face of Duke forward Javin DeLaurier:

Luke Maye’s career-high 28 paces No. 9 North Carolina past Arkansas

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In hindsight, maybe we were a little too concerned about Luke Maye’s ability to anchor North Carolina’s front court.

In the toughest test that the Tar Heels have faced to date this season, Maye turned out the game of his life. He finished with career-highs of 28 points and 16 boards while tying a career-high with five assists and knocking down four threes as the No. 9 Tar Heels took care of Arkansas, 87-68, in the semifinals of the PK80.

The Tar Heels will advance to face the winner of this evening’s No. 4 Michigan State-UConn game.

But the story here is Maye, who became the first North Carolina player since Antawn Jamison to post 100 points and 50 boards in a season’s first five games. On the season, he’s averaging 20.8 points, 10.8 boards and 2.8 assists. He’s shooting better than 50 percent from three and nearly 60 percent from the floor. On a team that features a potential first-team all-american and the reigning Final Four Most Outstanding Player in Joel Berry II, it’s been Maye who has been the star of UNC’s season to date.

And there’s no reason to believe that this is a fluke, either.

Maye had 26 points and 10 boards in a win over a Northern Iowa team that just beat SMU and N.C. State. He had 20 points, nine boards and four assists against a good Bucknell team. He had 12 points, nine boards and five assists in a win at Stanford. And, of course, there was Friday afternoon’s performance.

What makes Maye’s development so important is the reliance of big men in Roy Williams’ system. He is one of the only high-major coaches that still builds his team around two big men. He values rebounding above all else. He runs his offense through post touches. The crux of his transition offense is the ability of his big men to beat their defenders down the floor.

Maye not only can do all of that, but his ability to make threes helps to space the floor.

After the year that he had last season, it’s not all that surprising that Maye was able to step in and have success this year.

But if you’re going to tell me that you thought Luke Maye would be doing this, I’m going to need to see the receipts.

No. 25 Alabama tops BYU in Barclays Center Classic

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NEW YORK (AP) — John Petty scored 16 points to spark No. 25 Alabama to a 71-59 win over BYU in the second game of the Barclays Center Classic on Friday.

Dazon Ingram added 15 for Alabama, which improved to 5-0, the best start for the Crimson Tide since 2012-13, when they began 6-0. Donta Hall had 12, and Collin Sexton finished with 10.

BYU fell to 3-2 with its second loss in its last three games. Yoeli Childs led the Cougars with 21 points.

In his third season, coach Avery Johnson is attempting to build Alabama into a program that can compete on a national level. And the matchup against BYU displayed why the Crimson Tide could be an intriguing team this season.

Alabama was able to build a 15-point lead in the second half following Riley Norris’ layup layup with 10:43 left. Part of that was because of the Crimson Tide’s ability to pressure BYU defensively. Alabama recorded six blocked shots and forced 11 turnovers.

But program building does mean growing pains. And the Crimson Tide’s youth also revealed itself in the second half. Following Petty’s 3 with 7:35 left, which gave Alabama a 61-47 lead, BYU outscored the Crimson Tide 8-2 in a span of 1:21 to cut the deficit to 63-55. Dalton Nixon made two free throws and Zac Seljaas made consecutive 3s for the Cougars in that stretch.

BYU got back into the game in part because of questionable shot selection in the second half from the Crimson Tide, who made 18 of 30 shots from the field before halftime.

Eight points was as close as BYU would get. Ingram knocked down two free throws, and Hall’s tip-in in the final two minutes gave the Crimson Tide the margin of victory.

BIG PICTURE

Alabama: Size matters. At least it does to the Crimson Tide. Alabama has 11 players 6-foot-5 or taller. That size and length allowed Alabama to create turnovers and contest shots, leading to fast breaks.

BYU: It may not be fair to say as Elijah Bryant goes, so does BYU. But Bryant, who entered the game averaging 21.5 points, was limited to three points in the first half and five for the game.

NOTES

The Crimson Tide entered the game having won their first four by an average of 18 points per game. Moreover, Alabama was holding opponents to .411 shooting from the field and .338 shooting from 3-point range, while blocking 6.8 shots and forcing 7.3 steals in those games. … The Cougars fell to 0-2 all-time against the Crimson Tide. In the only other meeting, BYU dropped a 77-74 decision on Dec. 30, 1957.

UP NEXT:

Alabama: Will play No. 14 Minnesota Saturday in the Barclays Center Classic.

BYU: Will play Massachusetts Saturday in Brooklyn.

Washington State knocks off No. 21 Saint Mary’s 84-79

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FULLERTON, Calif. (AP) — In less than 24 hours, Washington State went from playing another game of catch-up to dictating down the stretch against a ranked team.

Malachi Flynn scored 26 points and the Cougars held off No. 21 Saint Mary’s 84-79 to reach the title game of the Wooden Legacy on Friday.

In the opening round, Flynn hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with 5 seconds remaining to seal a 75-71 win against Saint Joseph’s after the Cougars rallied from 20 points down.

This time, the Cougars were the ones putting the Gaels (5-1) in a 16-point hole in the second half, and they stayed cool when Saint Mary’s got within three on a 3-pointer by Jordan Ford with 47 seconds left.

Robert Franks and Jeff Pollard made layups to preserve the win for the Cougars (5-0), who shot 62 percent in the second half.

“It was a 10:30 a.m. game, not too many people in the crowd, and we had to come out first and hit them with a lot of energy,” Flynn said.

Cougars coach Ernie Kent added, “On an off-day, college students usually sleep until 2.”

Washington State led 42-40 at halftime, just its second lead at the break this season. They outscored Saint Mary’s 42-39 in the second half just as they’ve done in every game so far.

“We continue to grow up a little bit with each challenge,” Kent said. “We’re already better than when we got on the plane to come here. The bigger the challenge, the bigger the stage, the more they rise up.”

Saint Mary’s opened the second half on a 10-4 spurt before Flynn’s basket tied it at 50-all. He followed with a 3-pointer that gave the Cougars the lead for good. He came up one point short of tying his career high.

The Gaels got to 65-61 on a basket by Jock Landale before the Cougars went on a 13-1 run. Kwinton Hinson had five points and Flynn added eight to extend Washington State’s lead to 78-62.

Saint Mary’s rallied on back-to-back 3-pointers by Calvin Hermanson that cut its deficit to 10. Evan Fitzner’s layup got the Gaels within six, leaving them to foul in the final minute.

“It’s probably one of our worst games of the year defensively,” Hermanson said. “We just got to be tougher and not let guys beat us.”

Emmett Naar scored 17 points for Saint Mary’s, which will play in the third-place game on Sunday. Fellow Aussie Landale added 14 points and nine rebounds while playing with three fouls. Ford finished with a career-high 15 points and Hermanson had 14.

“It’s simple, we didn’t guard anywhere close to well enough to beat a team like Washington State,” Gaels coach Randy Bennett said. “That’s been our Achilles’ heel thus far.”

STREAK BUSTED

Saint Mary shot 52 percent but its 64-game winning streak when shooting at least 50 percent from the floor ended. On the defensive side, the Gaels allowed Washington State to shoot 59 percent from the floor, just the seventh time since the start of the 2015-16 season that an opponent has topped 50 percent against them.

REPPIN’ THE PAC-12

For the fifth time, a Pac-12 team will play for the title. The league is 4-0 in the event. Washington State will try to join previous conference winners Southern California, California, Washington and UCLA.

BIG PICTURE

Saint Mary’s never led by more than six and had three players in foul trouble as the Gaels’ five-game winning streak ended.

Washington State has been living on the edge, digging itself big holes in the first half of games only to rally in the second half. But the Cougars grew up in less than 24 hours. They led Saint Mary’s by 2 at halftime and played with poise down the stretch.

UP NEXT

Saint Mary’s: Advances to the third-place game Sunday.

Washington State: Moves on to the championship game Sunday.

Villanova’s Battle 4 Atlantis title could end up hurting their NCAA tournament profile

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When Villanova made the decision to play in the 2017 Battle 4 Atlantis, they expected that the event would give them a shot at landing at least two quality wins, if not three.

Instead, the Wildcats will be leaving paradise with a title that came with victories over Western Kentucky, Tennessee and Northern Iowa, after Friday’s 64-50 triumph.

It’s hard to say that winning three games in three days in a resort’s ballroom on a tropical island is a bad thing, but this certainly was not a best-case scenario for Jay Wright’s club. Instead of playing – and, in theory, beating – No. 19 Purdue in the semifinals and No. 3 Arizona in the title games, upsets took those matchups out of play.

Great!

That means that Villanova brings themselves home a trophy and a couple more strands of net.

But that’s not exactly the reason that teams play in these events. The experience of playing a neutral site game after a crazy amount of travel on back-to-back nights certainly does good for the team as a whole, but that’s not quite as important as strengthening non-conference schedules and adding the kind of quality wins that could bump them up a seed line or two.

Think about it like this: The only two quality non-conference opponents that Villanova has left on their schedule are No. 17 Gonzaga, UConn and Temple. Maybe Tennessee will do them a favor and get good enough to be looked at as a quality win, and there’s always a chance that Northern Iowa will end up being one of the nation’s best mid-major programs, but this is still a major blow to Villanova’s non-conference profile.

So when Bracketology season starts and Villanova finds themselves getting mentioned as a No. 2 or No. 3 seed because they don’t have the kind of quality wins that other contenders for the top seed line do, remember this week.

Villanova may be good enough that it does not matter.

But it would be foolish to pretend like those upsets don’t have some kind of effect.