Checking In On… the SECPosted by Gerald Smith on December 6th, 2011
Gerald Smith is the RTC correspondent for the Southeastern Conference.
The Week That Was
- Big East Beatdown:The SEC left this past weekend’s Big East/SEC Challenge battered and bruised. Despite a tight road win for Mississippi at DePaul, the SEC only won four of the twelve games of the Challenge. Several of the high-profile swing games were close but did not turn in the SEC’s favor: Florida‘s three-point barrage wasn’t enough to lift it over Syracuse’s offensive rebounding and free-throw rate; Alabama could not slow down Georgetown’s offense enough to catch up; and Vanderbilt folded late in regulation and offered no counter to Louisville’s defense in overtime. The eight SEC teams that lost in the Challenge games scored an average of just 59.8 points, which includes Florida’s respectable 68 points and South Carolina’s surprising 67 points. Those eight losing teams also were out-rebounded by an average of 4.6 rebounds per game, with five teams out-rebounded by at least six rebounds. Those are some big talking points for coaches as they take their teams into the the final warm-ups for conference play.
- And All I Gave You Was Goodbye: Vanderbilt’s problems are almost too numerous to count. Everybody notices the absence of injured center Festus Ezeli; others have picked up on its underwhelming point-guard play. A recent disturbing trend is Jeffery Taylor‘s ineffectiveness late in Vandy’s last two games. Most of the senior’s stats this year (14.9 PPG, 47.3% FG, 6.3 RPG, 2.9 APG) are career bests… except for free-throw shooting (57.5%, down from 71.9% last season). Against Xavier, Taylor didn’t score after the 8:17 mark in the 2nd half. Against Louisville, Taylor didn’t score after the 17:25 mark in the second half, and gave up five turnovers from that time until the end of overtime. We hope he and his coaching staff can figures out what’s happening to him late in games and fix yet another problem dragging down his team.
- Yeah, Click-Clack: The Head Ball Coach is mostly done with Bruce Ellington, and not a moment too soon for coach Darrin Horn. The Gamecocks lost four of their first six games before Ellington hit the floor last Thursday in a 76-67 loss to Providence. On Sunday, the sophomore guard and his teammates beat their in-state rival Clemson 58-55 in part to Ellington’s nine points which included 4-4 FT. With Ellington back in the fold — and without any significant injuries from his time playing football — the Gamecocks can finally get their offense moving again.
- Kentucky (8-0) — Senior forward Eloy Vargas is settling into his role as the beef of the Kentucky bench. He is averaging 1.9 PPG and 3.6 RPG in just roughly eight minutes on the court. Although John Calipari used Vargas for six minutes against North Carolina, Vargas played most of his time in the 1st half as a sub for Anthony Davis. Vargas’ first half stats (two rebounds, one block) came at the expense of the Wildcats’ scoring ability inside. Vargas was a bit overwhelmed with the Tar Heels’ frontcourt talent but will be more effective with much weaker forwards and centers.
- Mississippi State (8-1) — Forward Arnett Moultrie (16.7 PPG, 52.8% FG, 88.4% FT, 11.1 RPG) has rightfully been getting all the attention, but the Bulldogs are rolling mainly due to the improved play of Dee Bost. Although the senior guard is averaging less assists per game (4.1) than last season (6.2), he is also averaging fewer turnovers per game (2.4) than last year too (3.5). Dramatically increasing from last season: steals (2.8 per game), rebounding (4.6) and his free-throw rate (50.0%, which means half of his overall shot attempts are at the free throw line).
- Alabama (7-1) — Against Georgetown, the Crimson Tide was battling yet another opponent: the three-point line. Georgetown compacted its defense and dared Alabama to shoot from beyond the arc. The Tide was suckered into 3-16 three-point shooting in the first half and a dismal 0-9 in the second half. Freshman guard Trevor Lacey was predicted to provide ‘Bama with outside shooting but so far he has made just six of 22 three-pointers (27.3%).
- Florida (5-2) — Two top-ten nationally-ranked opponents, two close losses. Mike Rosario, the junior who transferred in from Rutgers, was supposed to provide extra firepower from the bench. Looking at his averages (10.6 PPG with 45.9% 3FG in 18 minutes per game), one might conclude he is a super sub. Instead Rosario’s stats are padded by his frequent scoring outbursts against inferior opponents. In 19 minutes against Ohio State, Rosario had just five points on 2-4 shooting (1-2 3FG); against Syracuse, the guard had just six minutes of action with just two points scored. Coach Billy Donovan is holding Rosario back due to his lack of defensive ability.
- Mississippi (7-1) — Ole Miss hasn’t played the toughest schedule in the land. But they’ve kept winning close games against decent mid-majors (5-3 Drake, 6-2 TCU) and BCS schools (6-3 Penn State, 5-2 Miami (FL) and, sigh, DePaul.) There-and-back-again transfer junior Murphy Holloway (11.4 PPG, 10.5 RPG) is giving the Rebels frontcourt talent and experience needed to gut out those close games.
- Arkansas (5-2) — A fluke loss to a hot-shooting Houston team is the only thing keeping first-year coach Mike Anderson’s squad from being 6-1. The Razorbacks are still struggling to replace Marshawn Powell, who tore a ligament in his knee and will be out the rest of the season. Against inferior opponents, the Razorbacks’ relentless press and up-tempo offense is enough. Against bigger and more-talented teams — like UConn last Saturday — Arkansas must rely on more half-court offense and slows its offensive output to a crawl.
- Vanderbilt (5-3) — When Festus Ezeli returns, he will make a big difference in what Vanderbilt can do offensively and defensively. Senior forward Steve Tchiengang has done his best playing the center position, but he lacks the defensive footwork and thickness to defend post-up defenders. Ezeli’s return won’t solve all of Vandy’s problems, such as Vandy’s woeful bench production this season.
- LSU (5-3) — When freshman center Johnny O’Bryant, III, can average more than 19 minutes per game, the Tigers will be much more threatening than they are now. Until then, LSU seems to be rebuilding for the third consecutive year under coach Trent Johnson.
- Georgia (4-4) — If Mark Fox could get anybody else other than freshman guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (13.9 PPG, 5.25 RPG) and senior guard Gerald Robinson (11.6 PPG, 40.0% 3FG, 80.6% FT, 3.0 RPG) to contribute, the Bulldogs would be much better off. Instead Georgia has been averaging just 59 PPG as a team.
- Tennessee (3-4) — Cuonzo Martin and his Vols nearly beat a spastic Memphis team in overtime in Maui. Including games played up to this week, Martin has four players averaging more than 11 points per game. Three of those four players average better than 42% three-point shooting: Trae Golden, Cameron Tatum and Jordan McRae. Tennessee will get hot and upset a few teams this season thanks to the longball.
- South Carolina (3-5) — While waiting on Ellington, the Gamecocks have been getting incredible production from Anthony Gill. The freshman has amazing athleticism and an unstoppable motor. Well, that’s not true; his motor gets stopped when he picks up dumb freshmen fouls. Having started all eight games for the Gamecocks, the forward is averaging 8.4 PPG on 56.8% FG and 5.0 RPG. He also has decent range on his shot; in South Carolina’s win over Clemson, Gill made two of three three-point attempts.
- Auburn (4-1) — The one decent foe they’ve faced (Seton Hall in the Big East/SEC Challenge game) beat the Tigers pretty handily. Otherwise all of Auburn’s gaudy stats — five players averaging double-figures in points per game, senior forward Kenny Gabriel averaging 7.2 RPG — must be taken with a grain of salt.
SEC Monster of the Week
Kentucky’s Michael Kidd-Gilchrist used his superior athleticism to exploit North Carolina’s defensive matchups on Saturday. The freshman limited his jump shot attempts and drove to the paint at will, collecting fouls and free throw attempts (seven total). The young forward had 17 points — nine points during the second half — and 11 rebounds in the big victory.