The League: SEC gets defensive


Florida guard Scottie Wilbekin, right, tries to get hold of the basketball as Georgia's Kentavious Caldwell-Pope also tries for possession during their game in Gainesville on Jan. 9. Defense has played a significant role in the Gators' 7-0 SEC start. (Photo by The Associated Press)

Published: Friday, February 1, 2013 at 8:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, February 1, 2013 at 12:21 a.m.

Where have the baskets gone?

Through the first three weeks of Southeastern Conference games, it's been clear that defense reigns, while offense is an afterthought. In conference games, only three SEC teams are averaging more than 70 points per game (Florida, Ole Miss and Kentucky), while four are averaging less than 60 points (Vanderbilt, Georgia, Texas A&M and Mississippi State).

In seven SEC games last weekend, eight teams failed to score 60 points while only two teams (Florida 82 and Missouri 81) scored more than 80 points. In two of the seven games, both teams failed to score 60 points. Georgia beat Texas A&M 59-52, while Tennessee beat Alabama 54-53 on a questionable no-call late when Tennessee forward Jarnell Stokes appeared to make contact with Alabama guard Trevor Lacey on the final shot of the game.

ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas has been outspoken about officiating that has favored clutching and grabbing on defense and cracked down on offensive screens. But most Southeastern Conference coaches view the scoring drop due to different factors, including style of play and scouting.

“Some people want to shorten the game, take less shots, shorten it because of possessions,” LSU coach Johnny Jones said. “Others, you take a look at Florida, they are going to get it up the floor and create some early shot opportunities and it's fared well for them. But I just think it's preference of coaching style really more than anything.”

Jones is trying to implement a run-and-gun style at LSU, but it hasn't been easy for the first-year coach due to lack of depth. LSU is averaging 63.9 points per game in conference play.

“It depends on personnel as well as the type of players you have on your team,” Jones said.

Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said advances in scouting and more familiarity teams have led to better defensive play over the last 20 years. So have the quality of players.

“You have kids that are a lot bigger, faster, stronger, doing a lot more things from a defensive standpoint,” Anderson said. “So that means the scoring is going to tend to go down.”

Florida coach Billy Donovan said with more games on television, there's more of a chance to break down film and devise schemes to shut down opponents. The Gators not only lead the SEC in scoring in conference games (74.7), but rank first in the league in scoring defense as well. Florida ranks second nationally in scoring defense, allowing just 50.4 points per game. In SEC games, the Gators have allowed just 46.4 points per game.

Donovan felt film study by both coaches played a role in a recent low-scoring first half when the Gators played at Georgia.

“Georgia is as good a team at executing what they do as any team we'll play this year,” Donovan said. “I also think when you're playing defense, if you can force a team to go deep into the clock, it means you've done a pretty good job with your half-court defense. And I think the same thing can be said about Georgia. They made us go into some deep possessions in the half. That's why the score was 27-24. It was a low-scoring game.”

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