Welcome to the Show, Part II: Breakout Newcomers in the Former SEC West

Posted by Christian D'Andrea on November 18th, 2014

Last week, we sorted through Kentucky’s latest five-star recruiting haul and delved into Frank Martin’s latest freshman class to determine who the SEC East’s breakout newcomers would be in 2014-15. Today, we’ll take a closer look at the first-year players who are ready to make a splash in the division once known as the SEC West. A number of high-profile junior college pickups will help teams like Arkansas, Auburn, LSU, and Mississippi replace departing talent and reload en route to a potential NCAA Tournament bid.

Alabama: Justin Coleman. Coleman was a big pick-up for Anthony Grant, and the embattled Alabama coach may need his four-star freshman to come through in a big way if he’s going to keep his job. Coleman started the Crimson Tide’s sole exhibition game and had six assists (and four turnovers) in 31 minutes as the team’s floor general. He’ll cede minutes to Ricky Tarrant – an explosive scorer from the same spot – but it looks like Coleman will have every opportunity to remain his team’s primary option at the position. He’s a diminutive player at just 160 pounds, but he has the passing instincts and shooting range to make an impact against SEC opponents as a true freshman.

Justin Coleman Can Fly (Al.com)

Justin Coleman Can Fly (Al.com)

Arkansas: Anton Beard. Beard is one of two solid point guard prospects in Fayetteville. He’s currently locked in battle with junior college transfer Jabril Durham for a role behind or alongside Rashad Madden, who can handle either guard spot. As a result, this prediction could change as the season wears on. Beard grew two inches in his senior year of high school to bolster his solid man-up defense and develop into a high-major recruit. However, he struggled to find his shot in exhibition play (25% FG). Durham had similar issues, but his JuCo experience and stronger passing from the point carried him to a start in the Hogs’ season opener last weekend. The two newcomers will see their roles expands and contract based on Mike Anderson’s offensive and defensive strategies and Madden’s availability this winter.

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Assessing Some Positives Amid an SEC Meltdown

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on November 17th, 2014

Hard as it may be to believe, SEC teams did do some good things on opening night (try not to fall out of your chair). Here are several positives that might have fallen through the cracks amid the conference’s Friday night meltdown.

Kentucky Bigs Own the Glass. The rebounding numbers that the Wildcats put on Grand Canyon Friday night were absurd. John Calipari’s gaggle of ultra-talented bigs grabbed 64.7 percent of the teams’ missed shots, which was good for 22 offensive rebounds. The Antelopes only had 20 total rebounds on their side, finishing the game -27 on the glass. Every Kentucky forward who played grabbed at least four boards, and while there are some open questions about the Wildcats’ outside shooting, that doesn’t really matter when they absolutely dominate on the glass. Opening night was a perfect example of this: Kentucky was just 3-of-14 from three-point land but still won the game by 40 points because Grand Canyon couldn’t take advantage of those misses.

Dakari Johnson led Kentucky's rebounding feast against Grand Canyon with 13 boards (bigstory.ap.com).

Dakari Johnson led Kentucky’s rebounding feast against Grand Canyon with 13 boards (bigstory.ap.com).

The Aggies Offense. Texas A&M burned up the nets in Reed Arena on Friday night against Northwestern State, averaging a whopping 1.30 points per possession in their 109-68 win against the Demons by shooting 57 percent from the field and 47 percent from three. Seven Aggies scored in double figures, led by Antwan Space and Jalen Jones with 16 apiece. Tavario Miller was the biggest opening night surprise for Billy Kennedy, as the sophomore who averaged just 1.8 points per game last season went a perfect 6-of-6 from the field and scored 15 points. Texas A&M’s offense is a hot topic because it brings back a good defensive team from a year ago. Northwestern State wasn’t an ideal litmus test (#206 in KenPom’s rankings), but the offensive clinic the Aggies put on against them was still a very good way to start the season.

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Assessing a Disastrous Opening Night for the SEC

Posted by David Changas on November 15th, 2014

We hear the term “SEC Bias” thrown around a lot in the context of college football, and with good reason — the league has won seven of the sport’s last eight national championships, and dominates the headlines on a weekly basis. Based upon how the conference fared on opening night of the 2014-15 college basketball season, however, there is no reason to worry that concept will bleed over into the world of hoops anytime soon. As Jeff Eisenberg of Yahoo! Sports points out, the league lost more non-conference games in basketball Friday than it has lost non-conference football games through the first 11 weeks of the season. We set out to examine what happened.

VCU 85, Tennessee 69

Tennessee Fought Hard But Never Put Together a Run Against VCU (USA Today)

Tennessee Fought Hard But Never Put Together a Run Against VCU (USA Today)

This was the least surprising of Friday’s results. The Volunteers have eight new scholarship players and were facing a top-15 Rams squad in Annapolis at the Veterans Classic. While Donnie Tyndall‘s team showed heart by not throwing in the towel after falling behind by 18 at the half, it was apparent that this team has not been playing together for long. Although Tennessee appears to have some athletes, and got an encouraging 17 points from freshman find Detrick Mostella, the Volunteers were outrebounded and a woeful 4-for-17 from three-point range. They also turned the ball over 19 times, and clearly have a long way to go on the offensive end. Their lack of a true point guard – Josh Richardson, who is a natural wing, handled those duties before fouling out late – will be a problem for Tyndall’s squad all season, and the Volunteers will have trouble putting points on the board as a result.

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SEC Opening Weekend: What to Watch For

Posted by Greg Mitchell on November 14th, 2014

With college basketball tipping off around the country tonight, let’s take a look what to watch for involving SEC teams this weekend.

Who are they playing? There’s no better way for the league to boost its dwindling reputation than by winning non-conference games against quality opponents. It’s only one weekend, but it doesn’t look like the SEC has much opportunity to start changing minds right out of the gate. Overall the league has, to put it lightly, an uninspiring slate of games on tap. There’s nothing wrong with that — you don’t necessarily want to schedule opening games with the Kansases and Dukes of the world right off the bat. This just means that the onus is on the league to not drop an embarrassing game this weekend, especially for teams with NCAA aspirations like Arkansas and LSU. Tennessee and Georgia have tricky games as well, but other than those (vs. VCU and Georgia Tech, respectively), you would expect the league to get to Monday unscathed. One note: Kentucky and Missouri are doubling up and face considerably tougher competition on Sunday, at least according to KenPom. The Wildcats shouldn’t have a problem, of course, but Valparaiso might be a sneaky upset pick against Kim Anderson’s young team. The full list of games involving SEC teams is below.

Team Opponent KenPom Rank
Tennessee VCU (neutral) 17
Georgia Georgia Tech (road) 96
Kentucky (Sunday) Buffalo 141
Missouri (Sunday) Valparaiso 160
Florida William & Mary 161
Auburn Milwaukee 189
Ole Miss Charleston Southern 193
Texas A&M Northwestern State 196
Alabama Towson 203
LSU Gardner-Webb 242
South Carolina North Florida 247
Missouri (Friday) UMKC 251
Kentucky (Friday) Grand Canyon 269
Mississippi State Western Carolina 270
Arkansas Alabama State 291
Vanderbilt Trevecca Nazarene n/a

It’s all about platoons. Of course this piece contains a few words on the platoon system, and how could it not? There are so many questions about the system John Calipari plans to run this season: how will the minutes work out on a team of future pros? Will Coach Cal stick to it throughout an entire game? A month? An entire season? Will everyone stay happy? Kentucky has a quick turnaround with a game tonight against Grand Canyon and another on Sunday against Buffalo, which should allow the platoon system to pay immediate dividends. The most interesting question will be what happens when future games get tight and the Wildcats need to close out better opponents. Unfortunately, we’ll probably need to wait until Tuesday against Kansas for a better answer to that question. Read the rest of this entry »

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SEC Basketball Twitter Must-Follow List

Posted by David Changas on November 14th, 2014

The 2014-15 college hoops season is here, and we all know that Twitter is a must for keeping up with all that is happening.  Here is a list of SEC basketball must-follows:

If You Follow These SEC-Related Accounts, You'll Be Covered

If You Follow These SEC-Related Accounts, You’ll Be Covered

Start with all of your favorite Rush the Court SEC Microsite writers:

Alabama

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SEC Season Preview: Florida Gators

Posted by David Changas on November 14th, 2014

The SEC microsite will preview each of the league teams over the next week, concluding today with Florida.

Florida Gators

Strengths. Florida lost four starters from last season’s Final Four team that ran through the SEC with 21 consecutive wins. Still, as long as Billy Donovan is roaming the sidelines in Gainesville, his teams will compete at a high level. And even though the Gators watched as seniors Scottie Wilbekin, Patric Young, Casey Prather and Will Yeguete departed the premises, there is anything but a dearth of talent on the roster. The Gators are led by their only returning starter, guard Michael Frazier II, the team’s third-leading scorer who made 44.7 percent of his three-point attempts last season. They also return Dorian Finney-Smith and Kasey Hill, who were both solid contributors. But the biggest X-factor for Donovan’s team is forward Chris Walker, the enigmatic sophomore who missed 19 games last season with NCAA issues. Walker’s return was a boon for Florida, but he will need to make a massive leap if the Gators look to make another deep run in March.

Billy Donovan will need to be patient with his young team. (secsportsinsider.com)

Billy Donovan will need to be patient with his young team. (secsportsinsider.com)

Weaknesses. As with many college basketball teams in this era, there are a lot of unknowns with this group. The Gators’ roster is heavy on transfers, and thus there is very little returning experience. Alex Murphy is a Duke castoff, and Jon Horford, whose brother Al starred on the back-to-back national championship teams of the last decade, should start, along with former Rutgers transfer Eli Carter, who saw limited action early last season. If Walker does not develop as quickly as hoped, and the defense, which is a big preseason concern for Donovan, does not improve as the season progresses, the Gators could be in for a bit of a rough ride. And with the strong leadership of those seniors all graduated, someone else will need to step up and take charge on the floor.

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SEC Preview: Kentucky Wildcats

Posted by Brian Joyce on November 14th, 2014

The SEC microsite is wrapping up previews on each team this week, and with the start of the season approaching we begin wrapping up with the league favorite, Kentucky.

Kentucky Wildcats

Strengths. Kentucky has size, depth, athleticism, and nine McDonalds All-Americans at its disposal. The Wildcats welcome back a number of veterans, with 59 percent of last season’s scoring returning to Lexington. They welcome in another highly-ranked recruiting class, of which we have become accustomed to see at least one or two destined to succeed and proceed to the NBA. John Calipari roams the sidelines with a 2012 National Championship and five Final Four appearances under his belt. Someone might bring up vacated appearances, but it doesn’t take away the fact that Calipari was there, and the point here is that he has the necessary experience to guide Kentucky to the promised land once again. Another Final Four run, an SEC championship, and title number nine all seem well within the grasps of the eager paws of a more than capable platoon.

John Calipari's team has Final Four experience, and like it or not, so does he.

John Calipari’s team has Final Four experience, and like it or not, so does he.

Weaknesses. Kentucky’s laundry list of strengths does not imply that this team is without a weakness. One of the areas of most concern is at the three position. Alex Poythress and Trey Lyles will both play out of position at the three, causing match-up nightmares for the opposition but also presenting a challenge in a couple of ways. First, both are still developing the ball-handling skills that Calipari is accustomed to having on the wing. Second, a potentially more difficult challenge to address will be defense. Poythress and Lyles will be forced to guard smaller, quicker wing players. Poythress is fairly quick and a good shot-blocker — and there are always several good defenders waiting underneath on Kentucky’s front line — but a true small forward with excellent quickness could give these bigger defenders some trouble. We’d also be remiss for failing to mention the possibility that someone becomes unhappy with his playing time this season. Dissatisfaction can occur on any team within any program, so we have to acknowledge the possibility of unmet expectations here. However, it seems that Kentucky is very well-situated with its depth to deal with a disgruntled player. If someone lets up in practice or games, he knows that somebody else is more than ready to fill his spot. In such a case, Calipari has the luxury of looking down a long bench to find a replacement.

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SEC M5: Opening Day Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on November 14th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. The SEC, in its infinite wisdom, released a nine-person preseason coaches All-SEC first team and an eight-person second team on Thursday. Imagine the platoon possibilities. The only point of contention I can see here, though — besides the size of the list — is Karl-Anthony Towns landing on the second team. Towns may be the most talented player in the entire country, and it’s confusing to me he didn’t land on the first team considering how Julius Randle was received before last season began. That said, it’s nice to see some less-heralded SEC players like Jarvis Summers and Charles Mann get their recognition as well.
  2. Sports on Earth’s Alexander Goot calls John Calipari the “last honest NCAA coach,” writing a good piece on the way he’s built the Kentucky program along with his ever-present tension with the NCAA. Goot writes, “college basketball has become big business, and John Calipari is the ultimate tycoon. But at least he’s living in reality, and not the absurd amateurist fantasy that the NCAA so desperately clings to.” It’s true that Coach Cal seems to be as transparent as anybody in his position can be in college basketball, and we’d be well-served with more national appreciation for that approach. At the end of the day, every fan base that despises him would gladly watch his players in their school’s colors even if just for a year.
  3. The SI.com’s expert picks article is loaded with SEC thoughts, primarily about Kentucky. Luke Winn and Seth Davis select Kentucky as their national champion, and Davis even goes on record saying, gasp, that the Wildcats could go undefeated. Big Blue Nation is loaded, but haven’t we learned our lesson on that over the last two years? We heard the same chatter before last season, and the Nerlens Noel-led team in 2012-13 wasn’t lacking for hype either. It’s silly, sensationalist talk that creates unrealistic noise around the team. The Wildcats will not go undefeated, but they have as good a chance as any team to cut down the nets at the end of the year.
  4. Not all the SEC thoughts were positive in the SI.com preview piece. Davis, Pete Thamel and Brian Hamilton all chose Florida as the team on which they are not “buying the hype.” Each feels that the Gators are overrated at #7 due to their inexperience outside of Michael Frazier, and how unproven Chris Walker is. Billy Donovan has essentially been saying the same things, if anyone is listening, and it’s likely that the Gators will struggle against a non-conference lineup that features Kansas, Miami (FL), Florida State and Connecticut. But this team has more pure talent than last year’s undefeated SEC squad, and could have a higher upside in March.
  5. The injury problems that plagued Auburn’s Matthew Atewe throughout last season and into the offseason will unfortunately keep the sophomore forward off the floor for an indefinite amount of time. It’s a tough loss for a team with an already-thin frontcourt, but should mean that freshman Jack Purchase and junior Jordon Granger will see more minutes, a good thing in the long run. Auburn’s competitive window truly opens next season when Pearl’s star-studded recruiting class arrives in town. Giving players experience who will (in all likelihood) be a part of that team can’t be a bad thing.
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SEC Preview Post: Vanderbilt Commodores

Posted by David Changas on November 13th, 2014

The SEC microsite will preview each of the league teams over the next week, continuing today with Vanderbilt.

Vanderbilt Commodores

Strengths. In a league full of teams facing a lot of uncertainty, Vanderbilt is no exception. The return of sophomore forward Damian Jones, a preseason first-team all-SEC selection by the coaches, is something Kevin Stallings should be happy about. As a freshman, Jones averaged 11.3 points per game and led the team in rebounding, pulling down 5.7 caroms per contest. With a year of experience under his belt, Jones should blossom to fulfill the expectations that have been placed on him. While the backcourt is exceptionally young following last season’s dismissals of Kedren Johnson and Dai-Jon Parker, as well as the graduation of Kyle Fuller, Stallings is excited about freshman Shelton Mitchell, who looks to have the starting point guard spot locked down. Mitchell originally signed with Wake Forest but decided to re-open his recruitment when coach Jeff Bzdelik was fired. The Commodores are the beneficiaries, and the Oak Hill Academy product has impressed so far.

Kevin Stallings will need a big season from Damian Jones for Vanderbilt to be successful. (AP/Mark Zaleski)

Kevin Stallings will need a big season from Damian Jones for Vanderbilt to have success. (AP/Mark Zaleski)

Weaknesses. While Mitchell appears to be a real find and there is good young talent in the backcourt, there is also virtually no returning experience. Only walk-on Carter Josephs saw action last year, and Stallings would prefer that he does not have to do so again. Wade BaldwinMatthew Fisher-Davis and Riley LaChance were all Rivals 150 recruits, and all will have to contribute immediately. Up front, Vanderbilt returns senior center Josh Henderson, who was injured early last season with a torn ACL, as well as forwards James SiakamLuke Kornet and Shelby Moats, all of whom are limited and will struggle against the better frontcourts.

Toughest Non-Conference Test. The Commodores’ non-conference schedule is not terribly challenging this season. Stallings, knowing he would have a very young team certainly planned that. Vanderbilt does, however, face, Baylor in Nashville on December 4 as part of the Big 12/SEC Challenge. Road trips later in the month to Georgia Tech and St. Louis should also be good early tests for Stallings’ squad.

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SEC Season Preview: Tennessee Volunteers

Posted by David Changas on November 13th, 2014

The SEC microsite will preview each of the league teams over the next week, continuing today with Tennessee.

Tennessee Volunteers

Strengths. This is a team that returns four players and only one starter from last year’s Sweet Sixteen run. That roster upheaval was created when head coach Cuonzo Martin left in mid-April for California. He was replaced by Southern Mississippi head coach Donnie Tyndall, and before Tyndall coaches his first game in Knoxville, he has already landed on the hot seat for alleged improprieties that occurred at his former school. The Volunteers will need to set those issues aside and focus on what they can control this season. Their clear leader is Josh Richardson, a senior forward who came on strong during the NCAA Tournament run, averaging 19.3 PPG in four games after averaging just under 10 PPG in the regular season. Richardson had always been a defensive specialist, so his surprising offensive output encourages the team that the trend could carry over into this season. The senior is surrounded by good athletes, but the group has spent so little time playing together that it will take time for the team to develop any real chemistry.

Josh Richardson gives Tennessee a glimmer of hope. (Nooga.com/Billy Weeks)

Josh Richardson’s return gives Tennessee a glimmer of hope. (Nooga.com/Billy Weeks)

Weaknesses. There are many potential downfalls with these Volunteers, but the biggest may be at the point guard position. This is evidenced by Tyndall’s decision to play Richardson there. Ian Chiles, a senior transfer from IUPUI, was thought to be the solution when he joined the team, but he appears to be struggling to adapt. Kevin Punter, a talented junior college transfer who should provide some scoring punch, does not appear to be well-suited for the position either. Tyndall will need Richardson to capably handle the quarterbacking duties, and his team will need to force turnovers from the press to overcome this deficiency. In addition to the glaring issue at the point, the Volunteers appear to be very thin, both literally and figuratively, on the inside. Memphis transfer Dominic Woodson is eligible to play immediately, but even though he was a big disappointment with the Tigers, he provides some much-needed bulk in the paint. Still, despite the fact that he appears to have responded well to Tyndall’s coaching, he does not appear ready to play big minutes, and freshmen Willie Carmichael, who originally signed with Southern Miss, and Tariq Owens, who was set to go to Ohio, will need to overachieve.

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SEC Season Preview: LSU Tigers

Posted by David Changas on November 12th, 2014

The SEC microsite will preview each of the league teams over the next week, continuing today with LSU.

LSU Tigers

Strengths. In many other conferences Johnny Jones would have the best frontcourt in the entire league. Alas, this is the conference that Kentucky’s parade of McDonald’s All-American bigs call home. Nonetheless, LSU is loaded up front and hoping Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin can key a breakthrough season in Baton Rouge. Mickey raked in the hardware last season, landing on the All-SEC Second Team, All-Freshman Team and All-Defensive Team. After flirting with the NBA Draft last spring, he returns as one of the best rebounders (7.9 RPG) and shot-blockers (3.1 BPG) in the conference. Martin is an athletic forward who can play on the perimeter, and he got better as the season went along. His statistics across the board were better in conference play than they were in non-conference play, including an offensive rating that jumped from a nice 108.6 to a better 113.9. Massive freshman center Elbert Robinson III may only play in short spurts, but at 7’0’’ and 300 pounds, he’ll be a challenge for any defense. Fellow freshman forward Aaron Epps has drawn praise from Jones for his defensive rebounding and also figures to enter the frontcourt rotation.

Jordan Mickey will look to improve on his All-SEC Second Team freshman season (comojuega.com).

Jordan Mickey will look to improve on his All-SEC Second Team freshman season. (comojuega.com)

Weaknesses. Leadership. I’m always hesitant to write about something intangible that I can’t possibly understand or measure from my seat on the couch, but LSU is an undeniably young team. Their leaders, at least by performance, figure to be Mickey (a sophomore), Martin (a sophomore), Gray (first year in the program) and Hornsby (a transfer). The only senior on the roster is John Odo, who averaged 5.2 minutes per game last year. In an alternate universe the Tigers would have two seniors playing big minutes, but Johnny O’Bryant entered the NBA Draft and Anthony Hickey transferred to Oklahoma State. You don’t need to look further than Kentucky’s run to the National Championship game last year to see that youth and inexperience don’t preclude success. But in a season filled with high hopes, someone on LSU will need to fill the leadership role in the locker room and on the floor. Read the rest of this entry »

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SEC Season Preview: Texas A&M Aggies

Posted by David Changas on November 12th, 2014

The SEC microsite will preview each of the league teams over the next few weeks, continuing today with Texas A&M.

Texas A&M Aggies

Strengths. The Aggies feature junior point guard and Cousy Award semifinalist Alex Caruso, as well as three of the team’s four leading scorers from last season. Texas A&M also landed SMU transfer Jalen Jones, who left the Mustangs last fall and will be eligible immediately. In the team’s exhibition opener, a win against Texas A&M-Commerce, Jones led the team in scoring and rebounding, something he figures to do frequently this year. He averaged 14.0 PPG and 7.7 RPG two seasons ago for SMU, a program he left because of a dispute with head coach Larry Brown over playing time. So while the junior forward may arrive with some baggage, he will make up for the much needed scoring and rebounding that was lost when Jamal Jones and J-Mychal Reese left the program. The Aggies also return forwards Kourtney Roberson and Davonte Fitzgerald, who averaged 9.8 and 7.3 points per game last season, respectively. In addition, they added a top-100 recruit in guard Alex Robinson, who is likely to start. Texas A&M was a solid defensive club last season, and even though leading scorer Jones left the program under inauspicious circumstances, there is some talent on this roster.

Alex Caruso led the SEC in assists last season. (d1nation.com)

Alex Caruso led the SEC in assists last season. (d1nation.com)

Weaknesses. According to Kenpom.com, Texas A&M ranked 267th in the country in offensive efficiency last season, and the Aggies were 308th in points per game. With the departure of the team’s most prolific perimeter shooter, the burden will fall on Jalen Jones to pick up the slack. Robinson appears to be a solid incoming three-point shooter, but Billy Kennedy’s club likely will struggle to put the ball in the basket once again. Caruso was the SEC’s assist leader last season, but he is a mediocre shooter from distance (33%) and Kennedy does not appear to have many options beyond that. The Aggies are picked to finish ninth in the 14-team SEC, and without more output on the offensive end, there is no reason to think they can outperform that prediction.

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