2013 Conference Catchups

American Conference Catchup: Louisville and Memphis reign

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College basketball is now almost two months old. League play will be kicking off in the next week. Let’s get you caught up on all you need to know with some of the country’s best conferences. 

To read through the rest of our Conference Catchups, click here.

Midseason Player of the Year: Shabazz Napier, UConn

This decision really isn’t all that hard. Napier has led the Huskies to an 11-1 record this season. Included in those 11 wins are one possession victories over Boston College, Indiana, Florida and Maryland, three of which Napier’s heroics are directly responsible for. His numbers (15.5 points, 6.3 boards and 5.9 assists) would look a lot better if he didn’t play as passive as he does in games that UConn has control over.

All-Atlantic 10 First Team:

  • Shabazz Napier, UConn
  • Joe Jackson, Memphis
  • Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati
  • Russ Smith, Louisville
  • Tashawn Thomas, Houston

Midseason Coach of the Year: Kevin Ollie, UConn

By the end of the year, I think that Josh Pastner will end up being the Coach of the Year in the American, but this far into the season, it’s Ollie’s honor. We’ll get into it more in a bit, but this UConn team is not as good as their record or ranking would indicate. And while much of that credit goes to Napier, Ollie’s been terrific this year in his own right.

Favorite: Louisville Cardinals

You can go ahead and write off Louisville with Chane Behanan’s suspension if you want, but I’m not going to. The biggest issue plaguing this team wasn’t something that Behanan provided. They needed more production from the supporting cast. They needed to have to rely less on Russ Smith and Chris Jones for production. Can this team win the national title? Maybe. I wouldn’t call them a favorite anymore. But I certainly wouldn’t think that they’re anything less than the best team in the AAC.

And three more contenders: 

  • The knock of Memphis during Josh Pastner’s tenure has been their inability to win the big one. They finally got a top 25 win against Oklahoma State this year and impressed in a loss to Florida in the Garden.
  • The bad news for UConn is that they have a front line that leaves much to be desired in terms of strength and rebounding. The good news? Neither Memphis or Louisville has an overpowering front line.
  • Are we overlooking Cincinnati? They have some scoring issues, but this group can defend and they have Sean Kilpatrick. And they are playing in a conference that it wide open after the top two. Things could be much worse for Mick Cronin’s club.

Most Surprising Team: Memphis Tigers

source: Getty ImagesOk, so it shouldn’t actually be a surprise that the Tigers are winning games. They are one of the most talented teams in the conference and were a preseason top 15 team. That said, this is a Memphis team that seemingly perennially disappointed in big games. Well, after getting mollywhopped by Oklahoma State on the road in their second game of the season, the Tigers bounced back to beat Marcus Smart and company in Florida and followed that up by putting together an arguably-more impressive performance in a loss to Florida in New York.

Most Disappointing Team: Temple Owls

We knew Temple was going to have a down year in 2014. They graduated quite a bit of talent, namely Khalif Wyatt, in a year that they made a move to a new, bigger conference. Having said that, this is still Temple and they are still coached by Fran Dunphy. Seeing them lose to the likes of Texas Southern at home will never not be a shock.

Most Important Player (in league play): Luke Hancock, Louisville

The thing that Louisville missed the most this season was a secondary scorer and perimeter shooting. Enter Luke Hancock. That’s what he does. Do you need me to queue up a video of the Final Four? Losing Chane Behanan won’t help matters, but the Cardinals are going to be just fine if they can get Hancock healthy and playing well.

Who will slide?: UConn Huskies

I love Shabazz Napier as much as anyone possibly can, but there is only so long that UConn can survive on his heroics. Look at what happened when Napier had an off-night against Stanford. Look at what happened when Napier had an slow half at Houston. The bottom-line is that this is a team with a young front line that relies on two unreliable players — Ryan Boatright and Deandre Daniels — as secondary scorers.

Who is the sleeper?: Houston Cougars

It’s not really a surprise that Houston is good this season. They have a bunch of talent, headlined by athletic big man Tashawn Thomas. What’s surprising is that the Cougars knocked off then-No. 17 UConn despite playing without L.J. Rose and Danuel House. If this team can get healthy, they have the pieces to make some noise in league play.

New Power Rankings

1. Louisville
2. Memphis
3. UConn
4. Cincinnati
5. SMU
6. Houston
7. UCF
8. Temple
9. South Florida
10. Rutgers

Atlantic 10 Conference Catchup: Can UMass outlast VCU and Saint Louis?

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College basketball is now almost two months old. League play will be kicking off in the next week. Let’s get you caught up on all you need to know with some of the country’s best conferences. 

To read through the rest of our Conference Catchups, click here.

Midseason Player of the Year: Chaz Williams, UMass

UMass runs one of the nation’s most high-powered, fast-paced offenses and Williams is the engine that makes it run. The 5-foot-9 dynamo is averaging 15.3 points and 7.5 assists this season while shooting 41.4% from the floor. He’s been in a bit of a slump in the last four games, which just so happens to coincide with the Minutemen hitting a bit of a slump. He’s the most valuable player in the conference and the reason that UMass is currently sitting in the top 25.

All-Atlantic 10 First Team:

  • Chaz Williams, UMass
  • Treveon Graham, VCU
  • Maurice Creek, George Washington
  • Dwayne Evans, Saint Louis
  • Ronald Roberts, St. Joseph’s

Midseason Coach of the Year: Mike Lonergan

source:  The most impressive part of George Washington’s start to this season isn’t that Mike Lonergan has led a team that was picked to finish in the bottom half of the conference to an 11-1 record and wins over Creighton and Maryland. It’s not that he’s turned Maurice Creek into a star again or managed to develop Kethan Savage and Joe McDonald into one of the league’s better all-around back courts, or that he’s developed a bench on a team that was knocked for their lack of depth. It’s that he’s done all of it while dealing with a bad finger injury to Patricio Garino, their starting small forward.

Favorite: UMass

The Atlantic 10 is one of the more wide-open leagues in the country, but that this point, I think that UMass is probably the team to beat. They have a ton of length and athleticism up and down their roster, they love to get up and down the floor, and they have a floor general in Chaz Williams that can control the game from the point guard spot. As long as they continue to get big contributions from the likes of Cady Lalanne, Raphiael Putney and Derrick Gordon, this team has a chance to make a lot of noise.

And three more contenders: 

  • VCU has not been quite as impressive as we expected heading into the season, but the Rams are still one of the best teams in the conference. It takes a lot for any team to be able to handle Shaka Smart’s Havoc system
  • VCU isn’t he only team known for their defense in the A-10. Saint Louis plays a much different style, but they are just as tough on that end of the floor as VCU is. Leading scorer Dwayne Evans gives them someone to run offense through as well.
  • The Colonials have been terrific this season. They still have some questions regarding depth, but the wins over Maryland and Creighton speak for themselves.

Most Surprising Team: George Washington

It’s easy to look at GW and point to the addition of Maurice Creek, the Indiana transfer, as the reason that the Colonials have made the jump this season. It would be foolish to deny that fact, as the biggest thing that GW was missing last season was consistent perimeter shooting. But that would not give enough credit to the improvements that Kethan Savage and Joe McDonald have made. The Colonials are a legitimate contender. Who saw that coming.

Most Disappointing Team: La Salle

Coming off of a trip to the Sweet 16 last season, the Explorers returned Tyrone Garland, Tyreek Duren and Jerell Wright and expected to be in the running for the A-10 title. It doesn’t look like that is going to happen. The Explorers have already lost six games this season and just don’t look like a team that can contend.

Most Important Player (in league play): Melvin Johnson

The biggest thing that VCU was missing earlier on this season was a sharpshooter on the perimeter that would spread the floor and help them become more effective scoring in the half court. They needed to replace Troy Daniels. Can Johnson be that guy? He’s shooting 42.4% from three this year and is one game removed from hitting eight in a win over Virginia Tech.

Who will slide?: Dayton Flyers

The Flyers were awesome out in Maui. They beat Gonzaga, they beat Cal, they almost beat Baylor. That shot them up into the top 25. But since then, the Flyers have lost to Illinois State and dropped an overtime decision to USC at home.

Who is the sleeper?: St. Joseph’s Hawks

I’m wary of picking St. Joe’s to do anything after they burned me both of the last two seasons, but the bottom line is that no one is talking about the Hawks and they have quite a bit of talent on their roster. Ronald Roberts, Langson Galloway, Halil Kanicevic and Deandre Bembry are as good as any top four that you’ll find in this league. The question is whether or not they’ll have enough supporting cast step up and if they can defend well enough to beat the best teams in the league.

New Power Rankings

1. UMass
2. VCU
3. Saint Louis
4. George Washington
5. Dayton
6. St. Joseph’s
7. Richmond
8. La Salle
9. George Mason
10. Rhode Island
11. Fordham
12. St. Bonaventure
13. Duquesne

Conference Catchups: Mountain West competitive at the top

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College basketball is now almost two months old. League play will be kicking off in the next week. Let’s get you caught up on all you need to know with some of the country’s best conferences. 

To read through the rest of our Conference Catchups, click here.

Midseason Player of the Year: Cameron Bairstow, New Mexico

When the season began teammates Kendall Williams and Alex Kirk had the look of Lobos most likely to make a run at the league’s Player of the Year award. But at the “halfway” point it’s been the third member of New Mexico’s “big three” who’s stood out. Bairstow is currently ranked in the top ten in both scoring (2nd) and rebounding (9th), and he’s third in the Mountain West with a field goal percentage of 54.7%.

First Team All-Mountain West:

  • Xavier Thames, San Diego State
  • Deonte Burton, Nevada
  • Cameron Bairstow, New Mexico
  • Roscoe Smith, UNLV
  • Alex Kirk, New Mexico

Midseason Coach of the Year: Steve Fisher, San Diego State

Fisher’s Aztecs are off to a 10-1 start, and while the overall strength of schedule has been noted in some circles SDSU does have wins over solid Creighton and Marquette squads thus far. And, their lone defeat came at the hands of an Arizona team that now sits atop the national polls. Xavier Thames and Winston Shepard III have led the way offensively with J.J. O’Brien and Josh Davis contributing in the front court, and as those youngsters mature this will be a tough team in Mountain West play.

Favorite: New Mexico Lobos

Sticking with the preseason favorites despite San Diego State’s start, with their senior trio being one reason why. But of note in New Mexico’s last two games has been the play of freshman Cullen Neal, who averaged 21.0 ppg and shot 13-for-22 from the field in wins over Marquette and Grand Canyon. With Hugh Greenwood due back for the team’s conference opener and Deshawn Delaney playing better basketball of late, New Mexico is well-positioned entering Mountain West play.

And three more contenders: 

  • San Diego State will certainly be a team to be reckoned with, and their ability to defend is a big reason why. According to kenpom.com the Aztecs rank 13th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, and they limit teams to 38.2% shooting inside of the arc.
  • With Anthony Drmic and Derrick Marks leading a roster of capable scorers, Boise State will be a contender in the Mountain West. But if they’re to win the league the Broncos will need to get even stronger on the defensive end, as they rank 9th in the league in field goal percentage defense.
  • It didn’t look good early but UNLV’s taken advantage of its recent schedule and looks to be an improved group heading into conference play. With Khem Birch and Roscoe Smith inside this is a very difficult team to score on, and if they can become more efficient offensively look out.
source: Getty Images
Getty Images

Most Surprising Team: Colorado State

Not sure how many people were ruling out Larry Eustachy’s team before the season began, but the fact of the matter is that the Rams lost a lot of production from last season’s NCAA tournament team. But there they sit at 9-4, with the tandem of J.J. Avila and Daniel Bejarano leading the way. They’ll need to get better defensively in conference play, but all things considered this has been a good start for CSU.

Most Disappointing Team: UNLV

This pick is a product of their early struggles, but to be fair to this group loaded with newcomers you also have to look at who their losses came against. UCSB, for as disappointing as UNLV’s play in that game was, will contend in the Big West, Arizona State and Illinois have both proven to be solid teams and Arizona is…well, Arizona. The issue early for Dave Rice’s team was their lack of cohesion on the offensive end, but in the last five games the Runnin’ Rebels have made strides. Don’t expect them to be in this spot come March.

Most Important Player (in league play): Josh Davis, San Diego State

Davis has been productive on the glass for the Aztecs, as he ranks second in the conference in rebounding (10.2 rpg). But from a scoring standpoint it feels like he’s capable of doing more, especially when considering the fact that he averaged 17.6 points per game at Tulane last season. If he can move towards that level of production on the blocks, San Diego State becomes a tougher team to defend in the half court.

Who will slide?: Colorado State

Larry Eustachy’s Rams are off to a 9-4 start, with the forward tandem of J.J. Avila and Daniel Bejarano doing a lot of the heavy lifting (guard Jon Octeus has also played well). But this is a team that lost an awful lot of production from last year’s NCAA tournament team, and that could be an issue against some of the Mountain West’s premier teams. And they open up league play with San Diego State (home) and New Mexico (road), which makes for a difficult start.

Who is the sleeper?: Utah State

The loss of Jarred Shaw certainly doesn’t help matters, as he was the team’s leading scorer and rebounder prior to his suspension. But in Preston Medlin and Spencer Butterfield the Aggies have two players more than capable of producing offensively, and Kyle Davis has picked up the slack on the boards. Add in head coach Stew Morrill and the fact that he hasn’t failed to win at least 20 games since his first season in Logan and you’ve got your sleeper.

New Power Rankings

1. San Diego State
2. New Mexico
3. Boise State
4. UNLV
5. Utah State
6. Wyoming
7. Fresno State
8. Colorado State
9. Nevada
10. San Jose State
11. Air Force

Conference Catchups: WCC’s lack of marquee wins makes league play even more important

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College basketball is now almost two months old. League play will be kicking off in the next week. Let’s get you caught up on all you need to know with some of the country’s best conferences. 

To read through the rest of our Conference Catchups, click here.

Midseason Player of the Year: Anthony Ireland, Loyola Marymount

Max Good’s Lions are of to a 9-4 start, and the play of his senior point guard is a bid reason why. Entering Monday, Ireland ranks second in the WCC in both scoring (18.8 ppg) and assists (5.5 apg) and is fourth in steals (1.7 spg). He’s only shooting 28.1% from three thus far, but his impact on a team that’s improved (and healthy) after going through a horrendous 2012-13 shouldn’t be ignored.

All-WCC First Team:

  • Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga
  • Anthony Ireland, Loyola Marymount
  • Tyler Haws, BYU
  • Brad Waldow, Saint Mary’s
  • Brendan Lane, Pepperdine

Midseason Coach of the Year: Mark Few, Gonzaga

Yes, Gonzaga’s pretty much doing what was expected of them from the start. But keep in mind that they’re adjusting to life without the productive front court duo of Elias Harris and Kelly Olynyk. The backcourt has led the way, as expected, and Przemek Karnowski has made some strides in the middle. At 11-2, Few’s Bulldogs are off to a good start.

Favorite: Gonzaga Bulldogs

Sam Dower’s lower back issue is something to watch, with the senior missing the Bulldogs’ win over Santa Clara as a result. But given the amount of firepower in Mark Few’s backcourt, Gonzaga is still the favorite to win the WCC. Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell Jr. (Now out with a broken hand) and David Stockton are all experienced pieces, and the addition of Gerard Coleman gives the Bulldogs an athletic wing capable of getting to the rim. And this is a team that leads the WCC in both field goal percentage field goal percentage defense, so it isn’t as if they’re out there trading baskets either. And as center Przemek Karnowski gains even more experience, look for this group to get better.

And three more contenders:

  • The trip to Hawaii wasn’t a good one for Saint Mary’s, as they went 0-3 at the Diamond Head Classic. But with Stephen Holt and Brad Waldow leading a team that has five players averaging at least nine points per game, the Gaels will likely be Gonzaga’s biggest threat.
  • BYU has the scoring firepower to make a run at the WCC title, but do they have the efficiency needed to do so? Four players are scoring in double figures, including Tyler Haws and Matt Carlino, but the Cougars have to do a better job of finding quality looks if they’re to contend.
  • Loyola Marymount’s healthy, and as a result they’ve got a better shot than anticipated to crack the top three. Ireland’s a known commodity at this point and by the end of the season the same will be said of freshman guard Evan Payne, who’s currently averaging 15.1 points points per game.

Most Surprising Team: Pacific Tigers

In the first season of Ron Verlin’s tenure the Tigers have played a solid schedule (109th in strength of schedule), and they currently sit at 9-2 overall prior to their WCC opener against Saint Mary’s. Andrew Bock leads four players in double figures with an average of 11.6 ppg, and rebounding has been a key as well. Pacific currently ranks 4th in the WCC in offensive rebounding percentage and 2nd in defensive rebounding percentage. If they can keep that up, the Tigers are capable of finishing in the top half of the WCC.

source:
AP photo

Most Disappointing Team: BYU Cougars

Will their wins over Stanford and Texas carry enough weight come Selection Sunday? That’s one question that will linger as the season wears on for BYU, but it won’t matter much if Dave Rose’s team doesn’t snap out of its current three-game skid. BYU can certainly score points, but the way in which they do so (efficiency) will have a major impact on the course of their season in conference play. Which leads us to…

Most Important Player (in league play): Matt Carlino, BYU

Yes, Carlino is the pick and here’s why. BYU ranks fourth in the WCC in adjusted offensive efficiency per kenpom.com, and one of the reasons for that lower than expected ranking is Carlino’s efficiency. While he’s factored into 29.5% of BYU’s possessions the guard has an offensive rating of just 94.5. He’s going to take shots, that’s for sure, and BYU is at its best when both Carlino and Tyler Haws are scoring points. But the caliber of shot that Carlino attempts has to improve if the Cougars are to threaten (or even surpass) Gonzaga.

Who will slide?: Pacific

The Tigers are balanced and they’ve been good on the glass, but in a league with a number of talented scorers Pacific has to get better defensively. Pacific ranks seventh in the WCC in field goal percentage defense and dead last in free throw rate, with opponents boasting a rate of 47.5%. That’s too high, and it could get them in trouble in league play.

Who is the sleeper?: Loyola Marymount

Last season was horrific, with a rash of injuries doing major damage to Max Good’s rotation. Now the Lions have health and they have talent, with Ireland, Payne, Gabe Levin and Binghamton transfer Ben Dickinson all being capable scorers. If they can improve defensively (8th in field goal percentage defense), LMU has the ability to sneak into the conversation with the WCC’s “big three.”

New Power Rankings

1. Gonzaga
2. Saint Mary’s
3. Loyola Marymount
4. BYU
5. Pacific
6. San Francisco
7. Pepperdine
8. Portland
9. San Diego
10. Santa Clara

Conference Catchups: Can Ohio State or Wisconsin hold off Michigan State?

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source: Getty Images

College basketball is now almost two months old. League play will be kicking off in the next week. Let’s get you caught up on all you need to know with some of the country’s best conferences. 

To read through the rest of our Conference Catchups, click here.

Midseason Player of the Year: Keith Appling, Michigan State

The Big Ten is the toughest conference to pick a midseason Player of the Year as there are six or seven legitimate candidates for the award as of today. I didn’t even has space to mention Gary Harris or RayVonte Rice (or Aaron Craft or Frank Kaminsky or Roy Devyn Marble) below, and all of those guys can put together a strong enough performance in league play to be deserving of the award.

But for now, I’m going with Keith Appling for a couple of reasons. For starters, I think he’s been the most valuable player on the Michigan State roster this season. He’s finally embracing his role as a point guard, distributing when needed and taking over in crunch time in some of the Spartan’s biggest wins. His numbers (15.9 ppg, 5.0 apg, 1.9 t/o’s, 47.7% 3PT) speak for themselves, but it’s been his presence that has been just as important.

All-Big Ten First Team:

  • Nik Stauskas, Michigan
  • Tim Frazier, Penn State
  • Keith Appling, Michigan State
  • Sam Dekker, Wisconsin
  • Adreian Payne, Michigan State

Midseason Coach of the Year: Bo Ryan, Wisconsin

I think we all expected Wisconsin to be good this season because Wisconsin is good every season. But I don’t know how many people had the Badgers entering Big Ten play as a top five team with one of the nation’s strongest non-conference resumes. Before the season started, I said that it was going to be exciting to watch how Wisconsin plays out this season, and it sure has been. Sam Dekker has become the star we all expected him to be, Frank Kaminsky has become the latest in a long line of sharp-shooting Wisconsin big men, and the three-guard lineup Ryan has used has been a nightmare for opponents to match up with. This may be end up being Ryan’s best coaching job of his career.

Favorite: Michigan State Spartans

Michigan State has not been as dominant as many expected they would be during the non-conference part of the season, but much of that has to do with the fact that they have yet to get fully healthy. Adreian Payne and Keith Appling have dealt with nagging injuries, Gary Harris can’t seem to get his ankle back to full health and Matt Costello is still battling mono. That’s four starters. Once this team gets fully healthy? Does anyone really want to bet against a Tom Izzo-coached team with three guys talented enough to be all-americans and win Big Ten Player of the Year? Because I don’t.

And three more contenders: 

  • Ohio State has the nation’s most efficient defense, and the ever-enigmatic LaQuinton Ross has been playing fantastic the last month. After a slow start, Ross is averaging 17.1 points and shooting 48.5% from three in his last eight games.
  • We’ve already been over Wisconsin. I would not be surprised in the least to see them atop the Big Ten standings come March.
  • I may be in the minority here, but for my money, the fourth-best team in the Big Ten is Iowa. See below.

source:  Most Surprising Team: Iowa Hawkeyes

Surprising may be the wrong word to use here because a lot of people were predicting Iowa to make the jump this season. But I’m not sure how many people saw this team having a shot at finishing in the top four of the conference. The Hawkeyes are talented, they are deep, they have size, they have multiple ball-handlers, they are well-coached, they can score, they’re capable defensively. There is a lot to like about this group. Oh, and it’s worth noting that Aaron White and Roy Devyn Marble are two of the best players in the conference.

Most Disappointing Team: Michigan Wolverines

Calling this team disappointing is a little unfair given the fact that the biggest reasons they’ve struggled early on this season are that Mitch McGary’s back has kept him from being healthy at any point this season and that Derrick Walton is a freshman point guard trying to replace Trey Burke. As good as Nik Stauskas has been and as talented as Glenn Robinson III is, having limitations at the point guard and center positions has been killer. That said, this is a four-loss team with multiple NBA draft picks that was in the preseason top ten. There’s no two-ways around that.

Most Important Player (in league play): Nik Stauskas, Michigan

Derrick Walton is not ready to be the guy that facilitates Michigan’s offense. Mitch McGary will probably never be at 100% this season. But the Wolverines could still end up being a top four team in the Big Ten if they allow Stauskas to be the guy that initiates everything. He’s a lights-out shooter, that we know. But he’s much better off the dribble than you realize and a much-improved creator. Putting the ball in his hands will be the best thing that John Beilein can do.

Coming in a close second? Ohio State’s LaQuinton Ross.

Who will slide?: Illinois Fighting Illini

I’m not quite yet ready to buy Illinois as a contender in the Big Ten. As of now, they are a borderline top 25 team being kept afloat by a pair of scoring guards in Tracy Abrams and Rayvonte Rice. I like Joseph Bertrand, and I think Jon Ekey and Nnanna Egwu are tough for opposing bigs to matchup with, but I’m not convinced this team will be able to hang with the best in the Big Ten.

Who is the sleeper?: Indiana Hoosiers

It seems like everyone is ignoring Tom Crean’s club this season, doesn’t it? That’s what happens when you have a young roster and lose the only three notable games that you play during the non-conference. But the Hoosiers have one of the better point guards in the Big Ten in Yogi Ferrell and a roster that works with the uptempo, defensive-minded style that Crean wants to play. Noah Vonleh’s development as a low-post scorer and the emergence of perimeter shooters will determine just how good Indiana ends up being this year.

New Power Rankings

1. Michigan State
2. Wisconsin
3. Ohio State
4. Iowa
5. Michigan
6. Indiana
7. Illinois
8. Penn State
9. Minnesota
10. Purdue
11. Nebraska
12. Northwestern

Conference Catchups: Three-team race in the SEC?

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source:
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College basketball is now almost two months old. League play will be kicking off in the next week. Let’s get you caught up on all you need to know with some of the country’s best conferences. 

To read through the rest of our Conference Catchups, click here.

Midseason Player of the Year: Jordan Clarkson, Missouri

Much was expected of the Tulsa transfer and thus far Clarkson has delivered, as he leads the SEC in scoring (19.9 ppg) and ranks second in the conference in assists (4.3 apg). And from an efficiency standpoint Clarkson ranks third in the amongst players with a possession percentage of at least 24% when it comes to offensive rating, according to Ken Pomeroy’s numbers. Clarkson’s one of the big reasons why the Tigers are 10-1 heading into their game at N.C. State on Saturday.

All-SEC First Team:

  • Jordan Clarkson, Missouri
  • Jordan McRae, Tennessee
  • Jabari Brown, Missouri
  • Casey Prather, Florida
  • Julius Randle, Kentucky

Midseason Coach of the Year: Billy Donovan, Florida

Despite a roster in flux due to injuries and disciplinary issues the Gators are 9-2 and ranked 13th nationally. That says quite a bit about the coaching job that Donovan’s done to this point in the season, and Florida looks to be rounding into form just ahead of the start of SEC play. And the addition of McDonald’s All American forward Chris Walker will help Florida when it comes to their front court depth.

Favorite: Florida Gators

source:
AP photo

Kentucky was the prohibitive favorite entering the season, and given the amount of talent at John Calipari’s disposal it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Wildcats ended up being that team come March. But the pick here is Florida, a team that’s getting all of its parts in order and is the lone SEC team that ranks in the top 20 nationally in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Point guards Kasey Hill and Scottie Wilbekin are healthy, as is forward Will Yeguete, and in Casey Prather the Gators have one of the most improved players in the country. The addition of Chris Walker will only help matters, and they have enough talent to take things slowly with the freshman.

And three more contenders: 

  • It wouldn’t be wise to rule out Kentucky, with their stable of talented freshmen being supplemented by sophomore center Willie Cauley-Stein. Two keys for the Wildcats moving forward: the emergence of a team leader (or leaders), and the aggression of Alex Poythress. Poythress clearly has skill, but he has to bring the intensity on a consistent basis in order to help this team.
  • The perimeter tandem of Clarkson and Jabari Brown has led the way for Missouri, and for that reason the Tigers should be considered when discussing the top teams in the SEC. They can use another bench contributor or two, especially in the paint, but this is a group that will be a factor.
  • LSU may be the dark horse, with Johnny O’Bryant III leading four players scoring in double figures. Freshman Jordan Mickey has been very productive for the Bayou Bengals, and classmate Jarell Martin has the skill needed to have a greater impact when conference play begins.

Most Surprising Team: Arkansas

Mike Anderson’s Razorbacks have been more balanced and efficient offensively this season, with four players averaging at least 10.4 points per game and two others averaging at least 7.6 ppg. Alandise Harris and Bobby Portis have been good additions inside, and leading scorer Michael Qualls has raised his scoring average by almost ten points per game (14.1 ppg after averaging 4.6 ppg in 2012-13).

Most Disappointing Team: Kentucky

This one’s tough, because young teams need time to mesh and understand roles both on the court and in the locker room. But when you entertain preseason chatter about the possibility of going 40-0, the bar gets raised. The Wildcats have played a difficult schedule to date, so a couple losses were to be expected. The most disappointing thing at this stage in the season is that leaders have yet to emerge. That has to happen if Kentucky is to reach its full potential this season.

Most Important Player (in league play): Andrew Harrison, Kentucky

Kentucky’s lack of a definitive leader at this point means that the starting point guard, Harrison, will be their most important player in conference play. Harrison does rank fifth in the SEC in assists (3.5 apg), but that’s only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to being a team leader. If he can grab the reins and ensure that everyone’s headed in the same (and proper) direction, Kentucky can win the national title.

Who will slide?: Tennessee

The Volunteers’ best attribute thus far has their ability to hit the offensive glass, as they rank third in the country in offensive rebounding percentage (43.0%). That has masked their shooting issues, as Tennessee is shooting just 31.4% from beyond the arc on the season. Jeronne Maymon and Jarnell Stokes can be a load inside, but how will they fare against the more athletic front courts of the SEC? That, along with perimeter shooting, could be a concern come January.

Who is the sleeper?: LSU

Johnny Jones has a team more than capable of getting to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2009, and given the status of the SEC why can’t they make a run? LSU has plenty of talent, and their guards (especially Anthony Hickey) can get after teams on the defensive end of the floor. They’ve been tested in non-conference play as well, with their two losses coming to UMass and Memphis. If there’s any team outside of the Florida/Kentucky/Missouri triumvirate capable of surprising people it’s LSU.

New Power Rankings

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