Friday, January 15, 2010

SEC player check, let the Kentucky man-crush continue

There are not many transfers into the Big 12 this year. Even suspended Tennessee guard Melvin Goins was technically a Junior College player last season, although I include him so you can see how inefficient he was at Ball St. two years ago. The only thing to mention is that Vernon Macklin likes the freedom to run at Florida relative to the methodical Georgetown system and his efficiency is up 20 points.

As for the Freshmen, here’s a case where the numbers don’t tell the whole story. Kentucky’s John Wall’s efficiency rate is a solid but not spectacular 114.7. But his play has been spectacular. Obviously the turnovers are dragging him down for now. But turnovers haven’t hurt Wall as much as freshman teammate Eric Bledsoe. Bledsoe has posted a 32.7% turnover rate as of this last weekend.

Finishing up Kentucky, I won’t listen to any of this garbage about how DeMarcus Cousins needs to shoot less and let Patterson shoot more because Patterson is off-the-charts efficient. Cousins is a force of nature making 54% of his shots while shooting at a Luke Harangody like rate. Cousins will be in the NBA next year so we need to see him shoot while we can. Oh and did you notice that Cousins is 2nd in the nation in offensive rebounding rate and 3rd in defensive rebounding rate. Wow.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. I like Kentucky to win the national title this year. I know this means I have to surrender my tempo-free stats appreciation card. (Sorry, the registration fee was too high anyhow.) And I’m nervous that this puts me in the camp of NBA talent fanatics. But guess what? Calipari knows how to coach defense. Memphis has been in the top 11 in defense the last 4 years. I think Kentucky will get there by the end of the year. That’s right, I’m a stats guy, and I’m saying the numbers to date are garbage. Throw them out. Kentucky is still getting better. And it isn’t that I don’t like Kansas. I think the article this week claiming the Kansas players don’t know their roles is silly. Players aren’t supposed to know their roles at this point in the season. Big 12 players are just establishing their set rotations after evaluating the teams in the non-conference. Kansas will be the favorite, and there are plenty of other teams that can do it. But Cousins’ nation leading rebounding tells me what my eyes tell me. Cousins is a man among boys on a team with a lot more physical talent than anyone in the country.

But enough about Kentucky. I don’t hear much chatter about Vanderbilt Freshman John Jenkins yet. (Well you know, except here.) But his 37 made threes are off the charts for a bench player. Also under the radar is Alabama’s Tony Mitchell who seems to have some great stats: virtually no turnovers, a ton of steals, a ton of blocks, and his efficiency is a product of 63% shooting. Taking awareness of the small sample size, Mitchell is the ultimate sixth man so far.

Florida’s Kenny Boynton may not have the same elite ORtg, but Florida will take his minutes and made shots with Nick Calathes gone. And don’t sleep on Lakeem Jackson of South Carolina. His offensive numbers aren’t great but he’s been a lock down defender. I guess that’s the point I should be emphasizing in these tables, and what I failed to emphasize in the Big 12 table. Minutes are critical. And if someone like Lakeem Jackson is getting major minutes and not posting elite efficiency numbers, there is probably a reason:

1) The team has no depth.
2) The kid has a load of potential, but is still raw.
3) The coach is an idiot.
4) There’s something that the efficiency numbers aren’t telling you.

Some people immediately jump to #3, but I don’t think that’s fair. Coaches are heavily invested in winning. (They need to do it to keep their jobs.) So the idiots don’t last long. I’m big on #4.

As for the Junior College additions, only Arkansas’ Jemal Farmer is getting major minutes. But his biggest skill so far has simply been his ability to get fouled. Hey, a lot of teams can use a guy who takes the ball to the basket.

Scroll down to see all newcomers to the SEC. As I failed to note last week, all numbers are from

Welcome Back

So what’s changed in the SEC so far this year, remembering all the caveats in the Big 12 column about opponent quality?

Earning More Minutes

A lot of players get injured, miss a year, and never come back and play well. That hasn’t been the case with Vanderbilt’s Andre Walker. He may have missed last season, but he’s come back with a vengeance hitting 65% of his shots and being a key defensive force.

Auburn Senior (and former JC transfer) Brendon Knox has been unstoppable this year making 74% of his shots. There’s nothing more glass half full, half empty then a player that develops this late. On the one hand, Auburn fans have to be cursing the fact that Knox will be gone next year, and he should have earned a chance earlier. On the other hand, you have to love the success story of someone who played JC ball, waited his turn, and has finally become a solid SEC post player.

Alabama’s Anthony Brock has incredible splits. He shoots 3’s well, but can’t make a 2 pointer to save his life. (His splits are less surprising when you note that he’s 5’9” tall.) This year he’s taking less 2’s and less shots overall, and his efficiency has received a noticeable bump upward.

Georgia’s Trey Tompkins and Travis (greatest dunk of 2010) Leslie, have been given the green light to shoot even more under new coach Mark Fox, and both have responded to the increased shots with increased efficiency. Give Mark Fox credit for inducing the “sophomore year efficiency leap” in these two, but let’s see if it lasts in SEC play.

More impressively, LSU sophomore Storm Warren has dramatically increased his minutes, increased his number of shots, and increased his efficiency, all at the same time.

What an odd career for South Carolina’s Brandis Raley-Ross. In 2007 he started for South Carolina, but made only 31% of his threes. In 2008, he came off the bench and made 51% of his threes. Back in the strating lineup in 2009, he shot only 31% from down town. And now in 2010, he’s back at 45% made threes. I guess he likes even years.

LSU’s Bo Spencer is going the other way. After an impressive 60 made threes on 40% three point shooting last year, he’s now shooting under 30% and his efficiency has gone in the tank. Meanwhile Florida’s Erving Walker has gotten minutes at the point guard role with Nick Calathes out, but he hasn’t responded well in the role. The former 42% three point shooter with 70 made threes last year can’t seem to buy a basket when someone isn’t setting him up.

Losing Minutes

Ole Miss has gotten a couple players back from injury last year, and the overall depth has improved efficiency across the board. I’m not sure Zach Graham and Terrance Henry are really better this year, but they’ve played well when they’ve been on the floor.

On the other hand, former South Carolina three point gunner Evan Baniulis can’t make a shot and now the senior can’t stay on the floor. And for all of us convinced that there is a sophomore leap in production, there’s always a player like Vanderbilt sophomore Brad Tinsley to ruin that prediction. Tinsley isn’t just missing shots this year, he’s turning the ball over at a high rate.

And you aren’t sure whether to feel good or bad for Kentucky’s Perry Stevenson. On the one hand, he’s going to be part of a pretty special Kentucky team this year. On the other hand, his minutes have fallen by 47%, he doesn’t get to shoot, and somehow he’s been turning the ball over when he does get it in his hands.

Still a Large Role

Meanwhile Kentucky’s Darius Miller has stayed in the rotation, and has simply benefited from all the stars around him. Miller is now shooting 43% on threes, but let’s just say he’s been wide open more than last year. And Arkansas’ Rotnei Clark has definitely taken the sophomore leap in terms of both possessions used and conversions.

Mississippi St. brought back its top eight players in terms of minutes from last year, and no one has benefited more from the continuity than forward Ravern Johnson who has upped his shooting percentage inside and outside the arc and is currently one of the most efficient players in the SEC.

Finally, Florida’s Dan Werner and Alex Tyus are another pair of players missing Calathes. Both are struggling relative to last season.