SEC M5: 04.04.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on April 4th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. Freshman forward Alex Poythress announced his decision to return for his sophomore year at Kentucky on Tuesday. Poythress’ decision comes on the heels of freshman Willie Cauley-Stein and sophomore Kyle Wiltjer announcing their decisions to return to Lexington as well. Poythress isn’t returning just to improve his NBA Draft stock, but says that the team has unfinished business. ”This year didn’t end like we wanted it to,” Poythress said. ”I want to come back and do what we said we wanted to do and that’s win a national title. I want to develop more as a player and the competition coming in next year should help me do that.” Poythress, Cauley-Stein, and Wiltjer add a “veteran” presence for a UK team loaded in talent, similar to the dynamic created by Darius Miller, Terrence Jones, and Doron Lamb in the national championship year of 2011-12.
  2. Poythress admits he wasn’t prepared for the grind in college basketball, and says he is ready to put the work in to becoming a better player. “It starts in the weight room. We are going to be in there every day in the offseason,” he said. “We have to work on getting stronger and getting our bodies better. We did a great job last summer, but we have to pick it up and go harder. We can’t let this happen again. We have to focus on having a great season next year and if we feel like giving up (in the weight room) we just have to think about what happened this season and push through.” Wildcats coach John Calipari needed a leader in the locker room this season, and perhaps with another year of growth and maturity, Poythress can be that leader with a young team in 2013-14.
  3. Kentucky freshman guard Archie Goodwin has ended his college eligibility with the Wildcats by signing autographs for pay with a local sports company, Lexington Sports Cards. The company is pre-selling $15 tickets to receive an autograph from Goodwin, meaning he is no longer an amateur athlete. Goodwin lashed out at some of his fans on Twitter by saying, “If you can’t respect my decision then that’s your own problem. I’m still living life and blessed.” The backlash from UK fans is odd considering most in Lexington couldn’t wait to see Goodwin go. With as deep as Kentucky is next year, it’s possible Goodwin would not have gotten as much playing time or as many shots as he saw this season, making his decision a no-brainer so long as he remains a first rounder.
  4. Missouri freshman guards Negus Webster-Chan and Dominique Bull have announced they are transferring according to a team spokesman on Tuesday afternoon. Wesbter-Chan averaged 2.5 points and 2.0 rebounds per game including two double digit point performances. However, the 6’7″ guard could have difficulty finding additional playing time next season with the returns of guards Jabari Brown and Earnest Ross and the addition of eligible Tulsa transfer Jordan Clarkson. Bull saw very little action last season, playing in just eight games and only 1.8 minutes per game.
  5. We’re a little late on this, but The Tennessean spent time with Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings and asked the head coach 20 questions following the end of the Commodores season. Stallings was excited about what the future, particularly the progress of one of his freshman. “I would say Sheldon Jeter was the guy that improved the most, because he was a guy that when we were in our early practice sessions that really did not… his performance in practice did not warrant being in the rotation. But he improved so much that he became a real factor on our team. I think he’s got a great future here.” Jeter started seven games for the Commodores, a team that should have a lot more experience next season. Vandy, void of any seniors on this year’s roster, won’t lose a single player to graduation.
Share this story

SEC M5: 04.03.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on April 3rd, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. After three straight seasons of being ousted in the Elite Eight round of the NCAA Tournament, some are wondering if the Gators are capable of making the leap to the Final Four. Marketing of the Final Four has made that level of the Big Dance the standard of success as opposed to a previous round as the ultimate measure (the Sweet Sixteen or even making the Tournament for that matter). “People deem this NCAA Tournament journey of different pinnacles,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “Getting out of the first round, getting to the Sweet Sixteen, getting to the Final Four. At the end of the day for the people that are involved in it and coaching it, there’s no easy exit out of the NCAA Tournament.” The Gators will look completely different next season, losing at least three starters, but the talent level next season could take Donovan back to the Final Four that fans in Gainesville crave.
  2. Regardless of your emotions regarding the Gators failing to make another Final Four in 2013, the Gainesville Sun points out that there is a different way to look at this year. “Florida overachieved this season. This was hardly Billy Donovan’s most talented team, but the Gators found a way to win 29 games.” That they did. And they won another regular season SEC championship, just UF’s fourth in school history. Three straight Elite Eight appearances are nothing to scoff at considering there is no other SEC team that has even made three straight NCAA appearances in the same span. While Florida came very close to a Final Four this year, as previously mentioned, it could be right back in the mix next season. With as much talent as Florida will suit up in 2013-14, there will be no way the Gators can overachieve next season.
  3. Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin will coach the East squad in the 2013 Reese’s Division I College All-Star Game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta on Friday. The game doesn’t have any SEC players participating, but plenty of other talented players will be showcasing their skills. D.J. Cooper (Ohio), Larry Drew II (UCLA), and Rodney McGruder (Kansas State) headline the East team, while Pierre Jackson (Baylor), Mike Muscala (Bucknell) and Kwamain Mitchell (St. Louis) lead the West squad which will be coached by Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg.
  4. Incoming Kentucky center Dakari Johnson found inspiration from an SEC villain to deal with the hatred he might see on the road while playing away from Lexington. “I’m looking forward to it. I want to embrace it,” he said. “I know a lot of people hate Marshall Henderson, but he just embraces it. He lives in the moment and he just does what he does. And we’re going to do what we do.” UK’s next point guard, Andrew Harrison, is already accustomed to playing in difficult environments with his twin brother Aaron. “In Houston, they hate on us no matter who we play or where we are,” Andrew said. “We take that and we turn it around as motivation. It helps us play harder, actually.” Winning, of course, is the ultimate cure when it comes to quieting down a rowdy away crowd.
  5. The SEC will be on full display in the McDonald’s All American game, but LSU commitment Jarell Martin rested for the dunk contest, otherwise known as the Powerade Jam Fest. He is nursing a knee injury that has been bothering him. He will, however, play in the prime time game on Wednesday with several other future SEC foes including six Kentucky players, two Florida signees, and a future Arkansas Razorback. Martin is the 14th ranked prospect in the country according to Scout.com, a site that also has him as the fifth best power forward in the 2013 class.
Share this story

SEC M5: 04.02.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on April 2nd, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. The big news over the weekend from the SEC was the departure of the last remaining conference team from the NCAA Tournament, the Florida Gators. One of the notable struggles for the Gators in its 79-59 loss to Michigan was the interior play of Patric Young, who was outplayed and outmuscled by Michigan freshman Mitch McGary. Young has a decision to make this summer as he has long been considered a potential second round NBA Draft pick. However, many are disappointed with his lack of progress this season. Young, a junior, averaged 10.1 points and 6.3 rebounds per game which are almost identical to his output from his sophomore year (10.2 PPG; 6.4 RPG). In addition, his free throw shooting declined from 59.5 percent last season to 48.9 percent this year. It seems more and more likely that Young could end up back in Gainesville again next season to work on his game with a flux of incoming talent on its way.
  2. Kentucky guard Ryan Harrow won’t be in Lexington next season as he has made a decision to transfer to Georgia State. Harrow was the starting point guard for the Wildcats, but after a s0-so year in 2012-13, he would have sat on the bench behind talented incoming guards Aaron and Andrew Harrison. Kentucky coach John Calipari says that Harrow is transferring to move closer to his ill father. “Given the health of his dad, we fully support Ryan’s decision to transfer to Georgia State to be closer to his family in Atlanta,” Calipari said. “Ryan was a vital part of this year’s team and an important player in practice during our 2011-12 national championship run.” One has to wonder if he stayed at UK how much playing time would be available for the junior-to-be. Probably not much.
  3. Two other Kentucky players have announced they will return, while one freshman is heading pro. Willie Cauley-Stein, who played additional minutes in Nerlens Noel’s absence after injury, and Kyle Wiltjer will return to play with a loaded recruiting class in 2013-14. “I’m excited that Willie and Kyle have decided to return for next season,” Calipari said. “When we talk about a players-first program, our goal is for each player to reach his dreams. Willie and Kyle believe it is in their best interest to return to Kentucky next season to achieve those dreams, and I fully support their decisions.” However, freshman guard Archie Goodwin is putting his name into the NBA Draft. “Although I really wanted Archie to return for his sophomore season, I fully support him choosing to pursue his dreams. He has the drive and desire to be great and I will continue to do everything I can to make sure he succeeds in life both on and off the court.” Kentucky now awaits decisions from Alex Poythress and Nerlens Noel, but they have until April 16 to make a final choice.
  4. You probably don’t need anybody to tell you this, but the 2012-13 version of the Kentucky Wildcats were, statistically speaking, John Calipari’s worst team since arriving at UK. Both the offensive and defensive units were the worst of Cal’s four UK teams in offensive and defensive efficiency. They were also the lowest ranked of Calipari’s four teams in scoring, three point field goals made, three point percentage defense, free throw percentage, steals per game, turnover margin, and assist to turnover margin. These end of year statistics only justify what Kentucky fans witnessed on the court all season. One has to assume that with the incoming class of freshman on next year’s roster, Calipari’s program won’t be missing another NCAA Tournament in 2013-14.
  5. Tennessee appears to be over the limit on scholarships next season after a commitment from Murfreesboro High School senior Darius Thompson. With the addition of Thompson it appears that the Vols and coach Cuonzo Martin now have 14 players for next season, but that likely means that one of its potential early draft entrants will go pro. Both Jordan McRae and Jarnell Stokes are exploring their options'; if both return, Martin will have a decision to make to determine how to get back down to the 13 allowed scholarships for next year.
Share this story

Florida’s Reliance on Outside Shooting Could be a Problem

Posted by Brian Joyce on March 29th, 2013

Brian Joyce is a writer for the SEC microsite and regular contributor for Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about SEC basketball at bjoyce_hoops.

Advanced metrics gurus are a special breed. They log into KenPom daily, memorize obscure stats, create new algorithms to break down play-by-play data, and probably a whole host of other geeky stat guy nuances that we don’t even know about, but above all they utilize and fully believe in advanced metrics. And if you put faith in tempo free efficiency models to justify and explain what you see on the court, chances are you’re slightly higher than the rest of the basketball world on the Florida Gators.

The effectiveness of Mike Rosario and his backcourt partners could be the key to how far Florida advances. (Brendan Maloney/USA TODAY Sports)

The effectiveness of Mike Rosario and his backcourt partners could be the key to how far Florida advances. (Brendan Maloney/USA TODAY Sports)

There are a lot of reasons to like Florida. According to KenPom, UF is the number one ranked team with the third ranked adjusted defensive efficiency unit and the fourth ranked adjusted offensive efficiency unit. Florida holds opponents to just a 42.8% effective field goal rate. We could go on, but you already know there are even more reasons to dislike the Gators’ chances of advancing. They haven’t won a game decided by single digits all year, they’ve blown several close leads, and they lack a go-to player to finish in the clutch. But when examining Florida’s play, there’s an area we can all agree on; the Gators take a lot of threes. You also don’t need advanced metrics to tell you that Billy Donovan’s squad makes a high percentage of those shots as well, making the Gators a curious case study once again for blending the observed reality with an analysis of advanced metrics.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Considering Florida: Is NBA Talent Necessary to Advance in the NCAA Tournament?

Posted by Brian Joyce on March 20th, 2013

Brian Joyce is a writer for the SEC microsite and regular contributor for Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about SEC basketball at bjoyce_hoops.

Florida is one of the most debatable teams in the NCAA Tournament. UF should have walked away with the SEC crown on Sunday, but the Gators lost a double-digit lead to the Ole Miss Rebels. And again, UF was on the wrong side of another endgame situation with two crucial missed free throws by guard Scottie Wilbekin. Some believe the Gators have the talent and efficiency to make it to the Final Four, but others think they could find themselves in another close battle where the lack of a go-to guy leaves Billy Donovan’s squad looking for an answer. As Americans fill out their brackets, the debate over Florida begins.

Erik Murphy is an efficient college player, but that success probably won't translate to the pro game.  (US Presswire)

Erik Murphy is an efficient college player, but that success probably won’t translate to the pro game. (US Presswire)

During the SEC podblast last week (a fun 30 minutes of SEC Tournament debate if you haven’t checked it out yet), podblast co-host Randy gave us his gut feeling that Florida will experience an early NCAA Tournament exit (his prediction was that the Gators would leave prior to the Sweet Sixteen). In his commentary, he mentioned the lack of an NBA player in the Gators’ regular rotation, begging the question, have Final Four teams in the last five years had a presence of future NBA talent on the roster? Could some teams experience a situation where the sum is greater than the parts or is NBA level talent ultimately necessary to make it to the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament?

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

What Does Florida Need to Do to Become Great?

Posted by Brian Joyce on March 12th, 2013

Brian Joyce is a writer for the SEC microsite and regular contributor for Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about SEC basketball at bjoyce_hoops.

Less than a month ago, Florida seemed destined for a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament. Now, with three straight road losses and having lost four of its last five away contests, Florida is heading into the SEC Tournament needing to win it all just to be in the running for a two seed. More importantly, Billy Donovan’s Florida Gators seem to have lost all the momentum it had heading into the final stages of the season.

Donovan

What Can Donovan Do to Make His Very Good Team Great?

Florida’s ability to win in close game situations has to be of concern. The Gators’ most recent loss came at the hands of Kentucky in a 61-57 thriller in Rupp Arena. “We’re going to get into a close situation again,” Donovan said. “There’s no doubt about it. How will we respond? I don’t know.” So far this season, Donovan’s Gators haven’t responded well. In games decided by single digits, Florida is 0-5. Even more relevant than the score has been the way in which his team lost. Against the Wildcats, the Gators held a 57-50 lead with over seven and a half minutes remaining on the clock. Florida didn’t score a point for the remainder of the game, missing 11 shots and committing five turnovers as it watched Kentucky go on an 11-0 run. Have the Gators lost their mojo at the worst time possible?

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

SEC M5: 03.08.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on March 8th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. Tempers flared on Tuesday night when Arkansas squared off against Missouri, but the real showdown was between coaches. Razorbacks coach Mike Anderson returned to Columbia for the first time since leaving the Tigers, and current Missouri coach Frank Haith apparently hasn’t taken too kindly to some of the credit Anderson has placed upon himself for Haith’s recent success. Anderson made no secret that he felt he left the program in great shape for Haith two seasons ago. “That was a team that probably could have contended for a Final Four. I really thought that. … So you ask me what kind of shape it was in? … It was in great shape. Most guys don’t inherit a team like that.” Did Haith take that statement personally? Perhaps he did take offense, based on the altercation during one of the timeouts of Missouri’s thumping of Arkansas.  So  it just might make you giddy to know that there is still a possibility that Missouri and Arkansas could face off once more in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament, if a couple of things go the right way for both teams this weekend.
  2. There has been a lot of bubble chatter on this site, nationally, and among anyone who follows college basketball even moderately. The stakes were clear for both Ole Miss and Alabama, two teams widely considered among the first four out or close thereafter,  going into Tuesday’s game. Win, and live to see another day. Lose, and the bubble would burst. But according to at least one opinion, all of the excitement over the bubble was for naught because ultimately, “this Alabama team is not an NCAA Tournament team. Over and out.” Alabama has wins over Villanova, Tennessee, and Kentucky, but none of those are victories are likely to impress the committee too much. With three losses in their last four games, it is probably time for the Tide to focus their efforts on the postseason, but perhaps the NIT is a more appropriate goal at this point.
  3. Auburn senior guard Frankie Sullivan finally broke out of a severe slump on Wednesday night against the Tennessee Volunteers. He scored 24 points, his largest contribution since a 26 point effort against Arkansas on January 16. Following that double overtime loss in Bud Walton Arena, Sullivan was averaging almost 18 points per game, but from that point on, he managed just 9.7 points per game on 31 percent shooting from the field. Head coach Tony Barbee thinks it’s all in Sullivan’s head. “This stretch right here is as mind-boggling as anything I’ve seen,” Barbee said. “Those are shots that are as automatic as automatic can be for a guy. He’s just struggling mentally right now.” Unfortunately, Sullivan’s resurgence against the Vols is too late for the Tigers to make an impact in the league after losing fourteen of their last fifteen games.
  4. Florida is still experiencing some gaps during stretches on offense, but the Gators continue to rely on defense to win games. “Defense got it done for us tonight,” UF forward Erik Murphy said. “We weren’t clicking on offense early and it allowed us to overcome some things before we got into a rhythm.” Coach Billy Donovan said the Gators’ level of defensive efficiency against Vanderbilt is the way it should always be. “We need to do that to all the teams we play,” Donovan said. “They were a team that, scouting them, definitely was playing better and making shots from the 3-point line. We really collectively, I thought, did a good job there and didn’t give them too many easy layups.” Florida held Vandy to just 40 points on 26.9 percent shooting from the field. If UF continues to be inconsistent on offense, its defense will be forced to lead the way.
  5. Nerlens Noel is filling up his free time by dropping rhymes for his new rap, and it was actually pretty good. The real kicker came towards the end when Noel teases Kentucky fans with the line,  “I might come back — but I don’t know yet.” Check out the video for yourself. Enjoy on this Friday morning:

Share this story

SEC M5: 03.07.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on March 7th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. Arkansas coach Mike Anderson made a return to Missouri on Tuesday night, but it certainly wasn’t the homecoming he had in mind. Missouri thumped Anderson’s Razorbacks by 30 points, and it certainly seemed personal. Anderson maintains that he left the Tigers in good shape after building the program into a contender in the Big 12. “When I got here it was empty,” Anderson said. “It was like, ‘Man, they’ve got a program over there?’ All of a sudden now it’s changed. I think that’s good. So the time has to be right to talk about it. That’s good.” The loss did more than sting Anderson’s ego, but severely dismantled Arkansas’ NCAA hopes. The Razorbacks needed to plead their case to the selection committee with a strong road victory, but the 30-point loss probably all but determined that Anderson will be watching his former team in the Big Dance while his new one heads to the NIT.
  2. Missing the NCAA Tournament could have serious financial implications for Kentucky coach John Calipari. Last year, the coach made an additional $800,000 in bonuses and incentives, of which $700,000 were directly tied to success in the NCAA Tournament. Calipari’s deep Tournament runs have become expected in Lexington, and he has been handsomely rewarded as a result. His Wildcats have advanced to at least the Elite Eight in every year he has been there, including two Final Four runs and a national championship team last season. However, it is not as though the head coach will struggle to make ends meet without a performance-driven incentive. He makes $3.8 million dollars in base pay, and he just signed on for an extension to take him through the 2018-19 season. The only problem here is that it doesn’t seem that it is the head coach that needs the incentive to succeed in this particular equation.
  3. Florida senior guard Mike Rosario sat on the bench for the final 12 minutes of the Gators’ victory over Alabama on Saturday. And being the mature player he is, Rosario says he understands. “I wasn’t playing the way my team needed me to play,” Rosario said. “I wasn’t playing what coach would say is the right way. Sometimes you’ve got to look at it as it not being about an individual. It’s about the team. That game, I wasn’t playing the right way, so I had to give our team what we needed.”Regardless of maturity level, every player wants to be out on the court. The 27 minutes he played on Saturday was the first time he’s played under 30 minutes in a game since a February 9 blowout of Mississippi State. Expect Rosario to be on the court when it matters, though, and his mature handling of this situation demonstrates why this team needs his leadership when the going gets tough.
  4. Florida coach Billy Donovan downplayed the significance that a No. 1 seed has on the outcome of the NCAA Tournament, and he uses his Gators from last season as a perfect example. “Does it make a difference? I don’t know,” Donovan said.  “I mean, you could look at the numbers and say the better seeding you have, the more likelihood there is to advance. But, I mean, we’re a No. 7 seed last year with an opportunity to go to the Final Four. We’ve got to go out and play regardless of what the number is next to our name.” The Gators are in the hunt for a No. 1 seed, but there isn’t a single NCAA Tournament venue site within 700 miles of Gainesville (that is, until the Final Four in Atlanta). In terms of a geographic advantage for Florida, there isn’t really one available. Even as a top seed, UF could be paired with a No. 2 seed that is closer to the venue site, removing any real advantage they would have in advancing.
  5. After losing to Georgia on Saturday, Tennessee understands it is in a position where it must win its remaining two regular season games for a chance to hear its name on Selection Sunday. “We’re in the exact same spot as last year so we know what we need to do,” Tennessee’s leading scorer Jordan McRae said. “We don’t like to label games must-wins, but these next two games, we’ve got to win.” The coach agrees. “Just get Ws and keep moving forward,” coach Cuonzo Martin said. UT has won six of its last seven games, but at this point another loss would be difficult to explain.
Share this story

SEC M5: 03.06.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on March 6th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. Several SEC bubble teams on Saturday made it extremely difficult to make a case for their inclusion into the NCAA Tournament. Ole Miss, Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky, all bubble teams desperate for a win, couldn’t pull through when another victory would have really helped their resumes. The Rebels lost to Mississippi State, a team with just eight wins all year. Alabama had a golden opportunity for a quality win against Florida, but came up short in the last 10 minutes. Tennessee’s loss at Georgia stopped a six-game winning streak that had worked the Volunteers into the bubble conversation as one of the hottest teams in the nation. And Kentucky looked lost against the pressure of the Arkansas Razorbacks. Now, the SEC Tournament is becoming more and more important for teams on the bubble that are not feeling completely confident in their standing for an NCAA berth.
  2. Is Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy back on the hot seat after a loss to Mississippi State on Saturday? The defeat at the hands of the Rebels’ bitter rival has put Kennedy’s team in a situation where they need to win out in the SEC Tournament to feel comfortable with their standing on Selection Sunday. It also put Kennedy in a position where he could be watching the Big Dance from home, a spot he has been in for the previous seven seasons in Oxford. Kennedy admits he understands the frustration, but deferred any conversation about his job status to another point in time. “I understand the frustration of fans. I feel that same frustration. You’re talking about a guy who has blood, sweat and tears in this for seven years. I’ve been dancing on this fence for a long time. All I do, I control what I can control. All of those questions, all of that speculation, should be answered by the person that has the ability to make those decisions. Not by me.” It is clear that Kennedy’s seat is warming up after a loss to the Bulldogs.
  3. Billy Donovan praised the play of junior forward Casey Prather in the Gators’ comeback win over Alabama on Saturday. “He was the only guy that had a level of energy,” the head coach said of Prather. “If he didn’t play well, we probably would have had a hard time winning the game. I thought Alabama outplayed us. They were more prepared than us.” The Gators have struggled on the road of late, losing three of their last four away games. Donovan’s club has just one road game remaining, a Saturday showdown with rival Kentucky in Rupp Arena. Florida hasn’t won in Lexington since February 10, 2008, so rest assured that the Gators will see an opportunity to capitalize on a down year for the Wildcats.
  4. John Calipari is still troubled by the inconsistency of his young Wildcats. “I wake up every day and don’t know how the team will play,” said Calipari. “I hoped that (we were past this) but…” Kentucky had beaten Vanderbilt, Missouri, and Mississippi State in succession at home, but went on the road and showed very little fight in a loss to Arkansas. Calipari attributes some of the behavior he has noticed on his team’s youth. “We’ve got a couple of guys who are overwhelmed by stuff, and that’s typical freshmen,” Calipari said. “When you get overwhelmed, you get anxiety and you back up.” But with inconsistency, there are ups and downs, and Cal’s Cats may turn it on with two important games left in the regular season. Or they might not. We will have to wait and see.
  5. Kentucky assistant John Robic stressed the importance of finishing out the season on a positive note for Kentucky’s chances at an NCAA Tournament bid, considering UK is without freshman center Nerlens Noel. “We’ve been without Nerlens (Noel) for five games now. We took some lumps there without him and then played well with him,” Robic said. “I think there’s still a lot of teams out there that are still being evaluated. You look back at the Arkansas game and there’s only one team that’s gone in there and won this year, and that was Syracuse. There have been a lot of good teams that have not won on the road. We have won four league games on the road. I think it will come down to the remaining games on our schedule. I know the committee takes a lot of things into factor when they make decisions.” Noel’s absence will certainly be taken into account, and the Cats are 3-2 since losing him in a loss at Florida. Finishing the season on a strong note is crucial at this point to prove to the committee that UK can be successful without the super freshman in the middle.
Share this story

SEC M5: 03.05.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on March 5th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. College basketball conversation in March is typically dominated by who’s in and who’s out, and this season is certainly no exception. This year, however, the SEC is central to the bubble conversation. Missouri and Florida appear by all accounts to be in. After that, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas and Ole Miss all appear to be heading into the final week of the season and the SEC Tournament holding their collective breath. The latest bracket projections over with our friends at College Basketball Talk on NBC Sports have the SEC on the wrong side of the bubble. Tennessee, despite a road loss to Georgia, is among the last five teams in. Kentucky, Alabama, and Arkansas are listed as among the last five teams out. And moving further and further away at this point is Ole Miss. The Rebels are now listed among the next five teams out, a spot typically reserved for at-large teams needing to win their conference tournament to work their way back into the conversation. The SEC bubble crew needs a quality win this week, or else.
  2. While the SEC may be downtrodden this year, Florida’s claim to the regular season SEC championship is still quite an accomplishment, according to the Gainesville Sun.  Prior to coach Billy Donovan’s arrival in Gainesville, Florida had won a single SEC regular season title. Under Donovan’s 17-year reign as head coach, the Gators have now won or shared five SEC regular season championships. That is an impressive feat, and as the Sun points out, “I’m not sure there has been a more impressive SEC title than this one because of all the injuries the Gators have endured.” The Gators haven’t been at full strength in quite some time, and it will be interesting to see how the committee seeds UF taking that fact into account. Is a number one seed in the cards for Florida?
  3. Yahoo Sports takes into account Florida‘s injuries throughout the year, and makes the case that the Gators lack the quality road wins needed to make their resume worthy of a number one seed. “Florida has only lost five games all season but all five of its losses have come when the Gators have gone on the road to face a quality opponent, or in the case of Arkansas, a so-so opponent. The Gators lost at Arizona and Kansas State back in December and have lost three times this month on the road in SEC to Arkansas, Missouri and Tennessee.” Florida has one remaining road game on its schedule, and beating Kentucky could give the Gators the last and necessary piece of the puzzle for a top seed.
  4. We talked yesterday about the potential for Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy to be on the hot seat after what could be another year of not making the NCAA Tournament. Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork remains supportive despite an ugly recent loss to Mississippi State. “My position hasn’t changed despite how painful it was (Saturday) night,” Bjork said after watching the short-handed Bulldogs defeat his Rebels. Then again, what athletic director expresses disgust in his head coach two games before the end of the regular season? These matters are generally best left for the offseason. Replacing the head coach in Oxford seems drastic considering the positive direction in which the Rebels have moved over the past several years. Kennedy is now the all-time winningest coach in Ole Miss history, and it is not as though he took over a program that was accustomed to annual trips to the Big Dance. The Rebels haven’t tasted the NCAA Tourney since a 22-point loss to UCLA in 2002. Replacing him now only seems to stall the progress that has been made.
  5. Two weeks ago, the SEC microsite published a piece examining the likelihood of Kentucky freshman Nerlens Noel winning the SEC freshman of the year award. The answer was a resounding yes at the time, and now Noel has been named a finalist for the Wayman Tisdale Award honoring the nation’s best freshman. Before his injury, Noel turned in one of the all-time best single season performances for a Kentucky freshman, but he also has the numbers to be competitive for the national award. As WKYT in Lexington points out, “Noel led the nation in blocks per game, while also ranking among the top-30 nationally in rebounds and steals per game. He was the only player standing 6’5″ or taller who ranked in the top-30 for steals.” Despite playing in just 24 games, his defense certainly puts him in the conversation, and it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone if he takes home the hardware.
Share this story

SEC M5: 03.04.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on March 4th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. Free throws haven’t been a source of pride for the Florida Gators of late, but success at the charity stripe sealed the win for Billy Donovan’s squad against Alabama on Saturday. Alabama coach Anthony Grant admitted Florida’s newfound confidence at the line made the game plan difficult to execute. “We weren’t able to take away the free-throw line today,” said Grant. “In the second half, their whole thing was to drive the ball and to attack the rim, and they had success with it. Twenty-two points at the free-throw line at home is going to be awfully hard to overcome.” The Gators shot just 68.2 percent from the line coming into the game, but were 22 of 26 (84.6 percent) on Saturday afternoon.
  2. Senior guard Kenny Boynton has 1,927 points in a Florida uniform, but he has had to work very hard for every point lately. “Guys project how a guy is playing or not playing based on whether or not the ball is going in the basket and certainly here the last few games he hasn’t made the number of shots that he has made,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “He had a stretch there to start the year where he really wasn’t shooting the ball, and then he went on a tear for a little bit and maybe here lately, he’s not.” In the month of February, Boynton averaged under 10 points per game and shot just 24 percent from three-point range. Boynton hasn’t scored 20 points or more since a January 12 game against LSU. If Florida is going to make a deep run into March, it will need its senior guard to return to form.
  3. One thing a coach never wants to admit is that his team got out-hustled, but that is exactly what Kentucky coach John Calipari said after Saturday’s loss to Arkansas. “We weren’t as tough as them, we didn’t play as hard as them and they wanted the game more than us, and that team usually wins,” Calipari said. A huge key to the game was turnovers. The Wildcats turned the ball over 19 times because of the Razorbacks’ press and general hectic pressure.  “We tried to make the game as chaotic as we could,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. “That was the difference in the game.” Not that a loss is ever acceptable or needed, but this was exceptionally bad timing for Kentucky as the Cats are in hot pursuit of an NCAA Tournament bid. A less than impressive showing did some damage to the Kentucky’s case, but there’s still time with a game at Georgia on Thursday and a home date with Florida on Saturday.
  4. Saturday was a big win for the Razorbacks. They are guaranteed a .500 record in SEC play for the first time since 2008. They beat Kentucky for the first time since 2011 in a hard fought overtime win. But Saturday was big for Arkansas because Kentucky is still a rivalry game, and one in which Razorback fans circle on the calendar with a strong desire to walk out victorious. As Doc Harper of Arkansas Expats writes, “there’s a part of me that always wants to beat Kentucky because of the wars of the early/mid 90s, so today was incredibly sweet.” This type of history and animosity makes the SEC better, and one can only hope that Kentucky takes a potential rematch in Nashville in a couple of weeks a little personal.
  5. Sometimes teams don’t necessarily need to excel to win, but they might just need to make fewer mistakes than their opponents. That’s exactly what the Commodores did in their win over the Auburn Tigers on Saturday. “We’re very happy to get a very ugly road win,” Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. “I don’t know if both teams had really bad offense, and I certainly don’t want to speak for their side, but it didn’t feel like either side played very well tonight for me.”  In the SEC, victories no the road are very hard to come by. Prior to their win on Saturday, the Commodores had just two road victories in the SEC. Neither of the wins were against top-tier SEC competition as they had beaten cellar-dwellers South Carolina and Mississippi State. Overall, Vanderbilt is turning the corner at the right time with four victories in its last five games.
Share this story

SEC Depth Bolsters Tennessee’s NCAA Tournament Case

Posted by Brian Joyce on March 1st, 2013

Brian Joyce is a writer for the SEC microsite and regular contributor for Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about SEC basketball at bjoyce_hoops.

At the beginning of the year, the SEC was considered a top-heavy league with four competitors battling it out for supremacy. As the season progressed, the league looked more and more like that original assessment was plain wrong. There weren’t four competitors for the SEC crown;  it appeared there may be just one. The league became Florida and 13 sources of an endless supply of jokes. But nobody is laughing anymore. In fact, some are arguing that the SEC is deeper and better than anyone could have imagined this season.

Frank Martin says the SEC deserves way more credit than it has received.

Frank Martin says the SEC deserves way more credit than it has received.

Nine of the SEC’s 14 teams rank in the top 100 of the RPI (all RPI rankings are taken from RealTimeRPI.com). Florida (#5), Missouri (#43), Kentucky (#49), Tennessee (#53), Mississippi (#55), Alabama (#62), Texas A&M (#87), Arkansas (#89) and LSU (#92) certainly give the SEC one of the deeper leagues in the country. However, will overall conference depth translate into additional NCAA Tournament bids? That subject remains up in the air, but an improved perception of the league’s strength should help on Selection Sunday, particularly for those Tennessee Volunteers.

Just two weeks ago, the SEC looked like a one-bid league. Now, there are as many as seven teams that could be in the conversation for a berth. And just like last year, Tennessee is leading the rise. The Vols finished SEC play winning eight of its final nine games last season, and they are on another tear at the end of this year. Tennessee beat a shell-shocked Kentucky team by 30 points and is coming off a win against Florida on Tuesday to quickly work its way into the NCAA bubble conversation.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story