The SEC is trying to improve their basketball, and that’s a good thing

Leave a comment

The SEC was awful last season.

Three NCAA bids from a 14-team power conference is, frankly, unacceptable. Some of that isn’t necessarily the league’s issue, as Kentucky, the one blueblood program among the SEC ranks, had a a down year, getting knocked out in the first round of the NIT by Robert Morris.

The league also had a number of programs — Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama — that found themselves on the wrongside of the bubble.

And there was a simple, easily fixable cause: the SEC’s RPI was horrible, largely due to the fact that the conference, as a whole, apparently does not understand how to put together a non-conference schedule.

To fix that problem, the SEC has brought in a consultant to try and help these teams put together schedules that are worthwhile: Greg Shaheen, who more or less ran the NCAA tournament until he was fired last April. There aren’t many who know more about the RPI and how to rig a schedule to improve it than Shaheen. From Pat Forde:

“One of the things that was eye-opening to coaches was how much every team’s schedule impacts the other teams,” said Florida coach Billy Donovan.

“They’re inextricably linked,” Shaheen said.

[…]

“It’s not only who you play,” Shaheen said, “it’s where you play them. They need to be serious about this from the first game to the last. If they don’t go on the road and don’t play quality competition, it will be reflected at the end of the year.”

It’s a good thing that the SEC is finally making a move to try and strength their RPI numbers, which were atrocious last season. Five schools in the conference had non-conference schedule strengths outside the top 200. South Carolina and Mississippi State were outside the top 300. Some of that I can understand, as Frank Martin Rick Ray, respectively, were taking over massive rebuilding jobs and, in all likelihood, were less concerned about their RPi than they were destroying their team’s confidence before SEC play even began.

But the issue is that having one or two teams with terrible RPI numbers can destroy the RPI of an entire league. Mississippi State has to play 18 SEC games, and every time they play one, it hurts their opponent’s RPI even if the Bulldogs lose by 50 points. The RPI doesn’t factor in margin of victory; it simply registers that Florida beat a crappy team.

There are ways to game the RPI, as outlined here and here. The basics? Play teams that are going to win a lot of games in a mid-major league and play away from home early in the season even if that means pulling a Kansas and schedule “neutral court” games in Kansas City.

We can laugh at the SEC for needing to hire outside help for this kind of rudimentary expertise, but at the end of the day, this is a good thing. Because it’s going to make the SEC more competitive and it’s a sign that the conference actually cares about things other than football.

College basketball will be better overall if Kentucky and Florida have more competition on a nightly basis.

The fanbases in the SEC are passionate, and while their first love may be the gridiron, there are still people down there who will support their school’s athletics regardless of sport.

Giving them a reason to care about hoops is a good thing.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Old Dominion lands former four-star center

Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Elbert Robinson came out of high school in 2014 as a borderline top-50 recruit with offers from the likes of Florida, Kansas and Louisville before he ultimately chose to attend LSU.

The 7-foot-1 center, though, never even averaged 10 minutes a game in Baton Rouge and now will be finishing his career as a graduate transfer at Old Dominion, according to multiple reports.

“Old Dominion was perfect for him,” Lawrence Johns, Robinson’s grassroots coach, told the Virginian-Pilot. “I know for a fact that nobody in (Conference USA) is over 7 feet.

“I told him to go there and show people why he was the No. 1 center the year he came out.”

Robinson, who sat out last year for medical reasons, could step right into a major role with the Monarchs, who lost their starting frontcourt this offseason. He averaged 2.1 points and 1.4 rebounds in 6.4 minutes per game last year for the Tigers.

VIDEO: Mixtape for North Carolina-bound Nassir Little

1 Comment

Nassir Little is one of the most improved players in the high school basketball ranks, going from being a guy that was a borderline five-star prospect to being a potential No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.

At 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot-1 wingspan and athleticism to burn, he has all the makings of being one of the switchable wing defenders that are en vogue in the modern era of the NBA.

Former UNC star Phil Ford has surgery for prostate cancer

Allen Dean Steele /Allsport
1 Comment

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina says former point guard Phil Ford has had surgery for prostate cancer.

Team spokesman Steve Kirschner said Wednesday that Ford underwent the procedure Tuesday after he was diagnosed during his annual physical. Dr. Eric Wallen, the UNC physician who is treating Ford, says the cancer was caught early because Ford “has been proactive regarding his health.”

Ford played for Dean Smith in the 1970s and scored 2,290 points, a mark that stood as the school record until Tyler Hansbrough broke it in 2008. Ford also spent 12 seasons as an assistant to Smith after a seven-year NBA career in which he was the rookie of the year in 1979.

Bruce Pearl: ‘Good chance’ Auburn returns four players testing the waters

Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Bruce Pearl told reporters on Monday that there is a “good chance” that his Auburn program will return all four of the players that are currently testing the waters of the NBA draft.

“I think there’s a good chance they’re all going to consider coming back,” Pearl said. “There’s a chance they’re all going to come back, but that’s been the case since the beginning.”

“I just feel as we get closer to the deadline and they gather more and more information, I think that chance improves. It would not surprise me, still, to see a couple of them stay in.”

Those four players are Mustapha Heron, Austin Wiley, Bryce Brown and Jared Harper. Brown was the leading scorer for the Tigers last season, while Heron was arguably their best player and Harper a steady floor general that is the piece that holds everything together. Wiley did not play after he was ruled ineligible as a result of the FBI’s investigation into college basketball. If he returns he will be eligible to play the 2018-19 season.

Heron will be the most interesting decision of the four. A former McDonald’s All-American, when he declared for the draft last month, he announced that he intended to sign with an agent. But he has told reporters in the last week that he never actually signed and is still “50-50” on whether or not he will return. He was not invited to the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago last week. Wiley was, but he did not make enough of an impression to earn himself a first round guarantee. Brown and Harper are very unlikely to be drafted, but both juniors will get feedback from NBA teams on what they might need to do to play their way into the league.

Auburn is coming off of a year where they shared the SEC regular season title with Tennessee, but they struggled down the stretch of the season after Anfernee McLemore suffered a gruesome ankle injury. As it stands, under the assumption that Heron and Wiley are gone, we currently have the Tigers ranked as a top 15 team in the country in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25.

With Heron and Wiley back, however, Auburn will have the pieces to make a case as one of college basketball’s five best teams next season.

Forward Lance Thomas transferring from Louisville

Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Leave a comment

With Anas Mahmoud out of eligibility and Ray Spalding having made the decision to enter the 2018 NBA Draft, new Louisville head coach Chris Mack had some holes to fill in the front court ahead of his first season at the helm. There’s now another departure to account for, as it was announced Tuesday afternoon that 6-foot-8 forward Lance Thomas has decided to transfer.

Thomas, who will have three seasons of eligibility remaining at his next school, appeared in 12 games for the Cardinals last season and averaged 2.2 points and 1.3 rebounds in 4.2 minutes per game.

Losing Thomas may not appear to be a big deal based upon his production as a freshman. But, given the combination of player departures and misses on the recruiting trail this spring it can also be argued that Louisville is not in a position where it can afford any more personnel losses.

Louisville is now down to four scholarship players in the front court, wings V.J. King and Jordan Nwora and forwards Malik Williams and Steven Enoch, with Enoch eligible after sitting out last season after transferring in from UConn.

Williams made 12 starts as a freshman, averaging 3.8 points and 2.4 rebounds in 10.6 minutes per game, with King averaging 8.6 points per game and Nwora 5.7 points per game. Enoch played in 29 games at UConn during the 2016-17 season, averaging 3.4 points and 2.3 rebounds in 12.1 minutes per appearance.