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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Welcome to the Show: Breakout Freshmen in the Former SEC East

Posted by Christian D'Andrea on November 12th, 2014

Playing in the SEC means facing off against some of the most talented freshmen in the country, week in and week out. While Kentucky rightfully gets most of the credit for bringing in a cache of five-star prospects every season, the rest of the conference has produced plenty of gems of their own. Last season, players like Vanderbilt’s Damian Jones, South Carolina’s Sindarius Thornwell and LSU’s Jordan Mickey all broke on to the scene and made themselves potential first round NBA Draft picks. So who will be next?

Today, we’ll break down the first-year players who are primed to have the biggest impact for their teams in 2014-15. We’ll start with the side of the conference formerly known as the SEC East.

Georgia: Yante Maten. Maten, a 6’8″, 240-lb power forward, impressed in Georgia’s closer-than-expected exhibition win over Georgia Southwestern last week. He posted a 12/10/4 pts/reb/ast line and added a pair of blocks while playing the most minutes of anyone on the roster. He’s strong in the paint and has shown capable of passing from the low blocks when called upon, but he’s not the kind of shooter that will stretch the floor or pull defenders away from the basket. If Nemanja Djurisic stays at power forward all season (rather than sliding over to the three), he seems destined for a primary role off the bench this winter. Even in that capacity, he’ll have plenty of time to prep himself for a potential starting role in 2015-16.

Yante Maten

Yante Maten Was Impressive in Georgia’s Exhibition Game Last Week

Florida: Devin Robinson. Robinson had a disappointing unofficial start to his Gators tenure in the team’s exhibition win over Barry last week. The five-star freshman made just two of his 10 shots and picked up four fouls in 17 minutes of action. Even so, big things are expected from the small forward from Virginia. Robinson has the speed and athleticism to guard three positions and the shooting range to create match-up nightmares for opposing wings. He’ll have to prove that the Barry performance was just a case of the nerves catching up to him, but he’ll have several opportunities to find playing time on a team that must replace four seniors from last year’s squad.

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Assessing the Tennessee Basketball Head Coaching Curse

Posted by Christian D'Andrea on November 6th, 2014

The locals must call Knoxville, Tennessee “KnoxVegas” because, like its desert-bound brother, it’s a beacon of bad decision-making and snap judgments. How else could you explain the recent curse that has settled over the Tennessee Volunteers’ men’s basketball head coaching position?

New head coach Donnie Tyndall now faces an NCAA investigation into whether athletes under his watch at Southern Mississippi were given impermissible benefits. A Bleacher Report story by Jason King cited an anonymous source that alleges that basketball players were given scholarships and had certain living expenses despite not yet qualified as eligible players. The first-year coach did not address the report on this today, but he did suggest that he would cooperate fully with any NCAA investigation that follows.

Donnie Tyndall

Donnie Tyndall Could Be in Some Hot Water Soon

The aftermath of that investigation could mean another drastically shortened Volunteers career on the sidelines at Thompson-Boling Arena. Any tangible proof that Tyndall knowingly violated NCAA rules would add another headstone to the creamsicle-colored graveyard in East Tennessee. But Tyndall won’t be the only qualified head coach to fall victim to the KnoxVegas curse. A look at Tennessee’s recent history suggests that this team cycles through coaches as though they were leasing Acuras instead of running one of the SEC’s powerhouse programs.

Before Tyndall, there was Cuonzo Martin – now head coach of the California Golden Bears. Martin took over a team that was under investigation by the NCAA and reeling from the early departures of Tobias Harris and Scotty Hopson to finish 19-15 in 2012; the same record as the embattled, departed Bruce Pearl before him. Despite facing the recruiting handicaps that followed Pearl’s ouster, Martin built the Vols back into an NCAA Tournament team by 2014 and showed the Knoxville faithful that a little patience can go a long way in college basketball.

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Eminently Watchable: Assessing Year Three of the Frank Martin Experience

Posted by Christian D'Andrea on October 31st, 2014

Under Frank Martin, South Carolina has quietly become one of the most interesting teams in the SEC. Not flashy, not high-scoring, maybe not even specifically “good”… but interesting? Absolutely. Martin’s blueprint for a turnaround in Columbia isn’t written in ink; it’s been sculpted in malleable clay. The veteran coach has been tasked with taking the under-appreciated spoils of the disastrous Darrin Horn regime and fusing them with the flashier products of taking a Big 12 Coach of the Year title on the recruiting trail. Those pieces are slowly coming together, cobbling the foundation for a return to big time basketball in the Palmetto State.

Frank Martin (USA Today)

Frank Martin Feels Like He’s Turning the Corner at South Carolina (USA Today)

Martin’s team can be divided into two camps. The most prominent one is filled with the high-flyers that Martin brought to South Carolina despite his team’s underwhelming recent history. Top 100 recruits Sindarius Thornwell and Demetrius Henry chose Columbia a year ago thanks to their coach’s reputation rather than the program’s results. Four-star guard Tyrone Williams took his talent south after one year in Villanova’s rotation. Similarly rated point guard Marcus Stroman joined the team for his first NCAA season this fall. Suddenly, the Gamecocks have the personnel to throw elite athletes at their opponents at nearly every position. The key to the program’s success, however, may lie in the guys from the other camp – the overlooked players who pledged to a first-year coach. The guys who committed to a veteran leader whose primary duty was to put out the dumpster fire that had been left in front of him. That includes Lithuanian bangers Laimonas Chatkevicius and Mindaugas Kacinas. It also includes the linchpin that holds this team together – Michael Carrera.

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SEC Non-Conference Schedule Round-Up: Part III

Posted by Christian D'Andrea on January 8th, 2014

Christian D’Andrea is the manager of Anchor of Gold and an SEC Microsite writer. He can be found @TrainIsland on Twitter. 

As of Tuesday night, the SEC season is here, and we’ve been celebrating the start of conference play by running down the best and worst of the league’s early-season slate. On Friday and Saturday last week, we covered the first 70 percent of the league’s teams. Today, we’ll finish up our rundown of the SEC’s non-conference performances with the league’s alphabetical basement.

SEC

SEC Basketball Is Back

South Carolina

  • Record: 7-6
  • Best Win: Either a seven-point neutral-site victory over 10-3 St. Mary’s, or their rare, back-to-back wins over Akron in a three-day span.
  • Lowest Point: Losing to in-state “rival” USC-Upstate after leading 33-16 late in the first half.

The Gamecocks’ continual rebuilding efforts have continued in 2013-14, but sloppy play has defined this team early on. Only three USC players are scoring in double-figures, and none of them shoot better than 41.1 percent from the field. USC’s offense will improve, as it always does, now that Bruce Ellington’s quest for Capital One Bowl glory is complete. However, his explosive scoring out of the backcourt may not be enough to keep the ‘Cocks over .500 this winter.

Tennessee 

  • Record: 10-4 (1-0)
  • Best Win: A 15-point neutral-site victory over 10-3 Xavier.
  • Lowest Point: Allowing UTEP coach Tim Floyd to work out his USC-related frustrations over them in the Battle 4 Atlantis opening round.

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SEC Non-Conference Schedule Round-Up: Part II

Posted by Christian D'Andrea on January 4th, 2014

Christian D’Andrea is the manager of Anchor of Gold and an SEC Microsite writer. He can be found @TrainIsland on Twitter. 

Conference play is just around the corner in the SEC, and that means it’s time to judge the league’s 14 teams based on their early-season schedules. SEC teams loaded up on cupcakes and quality opponents alike, but the real test for these programs will start when the ouroboros of league play begins. The conference boasts plenty of teams with winning records, but not all victories are built to last – and the drop under .500 could be a precipitous one in a league of “haves” and “have-nots.”

SEC Hoops Tips Off on Saturday With a Full Slate

SEC Hoops Tips Off on Saturday With a Full Slate

Today, we’ll look at five more SEC teams that will be jockeying for a spot in the NCAA Tournament behind big performances this winter. You can find the first part of the non-conference review that was published on Friday here. We’ll have part three, with the final four teams in the league, ready to go in the coming days.

Kentucky

  • Record: 10-3
  • Best Win: A seven-point home win over #6 Louisville.
  • Lowest Point: A 1-3 record against ranked teams. Kentucky’s only win over a ranked opponent came at home, while two of those losses came on neutral(-ish) courts.

At this point in the season, Kentucky has lost to more ranked teams than it’s beaten, but John Calipari’s young team appears to be rounding into shape with SEC play on the horizon. The Wildcats have 11 days to reflect on their season-defining win over #6 Louisville before jumping into conference play against rebuilding Mississippi State and Vanderbilt teams. That should give John Calipari plenty of time to build some momentum behind his young, talented roster.

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SEC Non-Conference Schedule Round-Up: Part I

Posted by Christian D'Andrea on January 3rd, 2014

Christian D’Andrea is the manager of Anchor of Gold and an SEC Microsite writer. He can be found @TrainIsland on Twitter. 

New Year’s Eve has come and gone, and the only resolution that we’ll get in college basketball is the clarity that comes when cupcake schedules are abandoned and league rivalries begin. The replacing of the calendar means that conference play is just around the corner, and the teams of the Southeastern Conference are ready to tear each other up after a disappointing 2012-13 season. Currently, three SEC programs are ranked inside the Top 25, while five other programs have three losses or fewer with league play on the horizon.

SEC Hoops Tips Off on Saturday With a Full Slate

SEC Hoops Tips Off on Saturday With a Full Slate

To prep for the upcoming SEC season, let’s take a look back at how each team fared in their non-conference slate. We’ll break the programs down alphabetically, with five schools getting called up in the first installment of this three-part series. While Florida and Arkansas have made their case for the league this season, teams like Alabama and Georgia are proving that depth isn’t necessarily a priority in this football-first conference.

Alabama

  • Record: 5-7
  • Best Win: A 12-point home win over 7-5 Texas Tech.
  • Lowest Point: Losing 64-66 to give South Florida its only non-conference win over a power conference opponent.

The Crimson Tide are better than their 5-7 record indicates, but not by much. Their seven losses have all come against either ranked teams or power conference opponents, with the exception of a three-overtime loss to 8-4 Drexel in the Preseason NIT. If you’re in to silver linings, Alabama made things respectable in a 10-point loss to Duke, cutting the Blue Devils’ lead to six points with under three minutes to play. They also pushed #11 Wichita State into deep waters before falling in the final minute of a five-point home loss.

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When is the Right Time to Tell Your Children About Marshall Henderson?

Posted by Christian D'Andrea on November 14th, 2013

Look, we can’t shelter our kids forever. It’s bound to happen. One day this spring, you’ll be sitting at the table, maybe drinking a cold Schlitz or preparing your tax return, and you’ll see it out the corner of your eye. A child speeds by, fingers fluttering from a palm stuck to their forehead, tongue darting out of their mouth. Multiple syllables, each half-forming a swear word before transforming into something else altogether streaming from his or her lungs. They create some kind of hybrid curse that the Roman Catholic Church will soon hold meetings to discuss. In the background, the scorched remains of what used to be the net of your backyard basketball hoop begin to float away in the wind. “Landsharking,” they’ll call it. Just something they picked up on the playground, they will say. From friends, or maybe an older brother. But you know better. You know exactly where it came from.

Here Comes America’s Most Famous Landshark

The issue  is no laughing matter. Landsharking ruins lives. Kevin Bright, the unfortunate forward in the background of the above picture, transferred back to Europe when not even his stoic German demeanor could conceal the pain of dealing with landsharking last year. La Salle adopted the move in last year’s NCAA Tournament, and after dispatching his Rebels, they promptly lost to Wichita State by 14 points. The only NCAA player man enough to wield the shark, it seems, is none other than Marshall Henderson himself.

That’s what makes him so dangerous for the most vulnerable Americans out there – the 9 to 13 year-olds who have devoted their lives to Ole Miss – or Utah, or Texas Tech, or South Plains College – basketball. These are the children who understand that a silky-smooth shooting form is best complemented by an unhinged glare and an attitude that counts every defensive move as a personal affront. Landsharking, when handled by a responsible adult, can be a powerful tool. For a child who doesn’t know how to use it properly, however, it can be a dangerous gateway into hardcourt clownship.

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Welcome to the Show: Identifying the Impact Freshman for Each Team in the SEC “West”

Posted by Christian D'Andrea (@TrainIsland) on October 29th, 2013

Christian D’Andrea is an SEC microsite contributor and Managing Editor of Vanderbilt’s SB Nation site Anchor of Gold.

After suffering through one of the worst overall seasons in conference history, the Southeastern Conference is ready to rebound behind a strong group of freshman newcomers. SEC teams constituted six of ESPN’s Top 25 recruiting classes for 2013, and that includes Arkansas and LSU, two “West” programs that are looking to regain past glory after a disappointing start to this decade. Four and five-star big men like Jarrell Martin, Bobby Portis, Jordan Mickey and Moses Kingsley will join a league that seems to be shifting away from the small-ball lineups that dominated most of the conference’s rosters in 2012-13.

Mike Anderson now has an intriguing young duo to work with. (AP)

Mike Anderson now has an intriguing young duo to work with. (AP)

Last week, we took a look at the incoming players who could lift their squads to new heights in the former SEC “East.” Today, we’ll take a look at the new guys who will be cutting their teeth on the other side of the conference. Here are the true freshmen – one per team – who are slated to have a major impact for their new teams this winter.

Alabama: Jimmie Taylor. Anthony Grant had very little to rely on up front in 2012-13, but he still guided the Crimson Tide to the NIT with an unorthodox four-guard lineup last winter. Now, raw center Moussa Gueye has transferred to Valparaiso, giving 6’10” forward/center Taylor the chance to play a major role for Alabama from the outset. The in-state recruit is a long, lean player who has great instincts for shot-blocking and solid athleticism for a big man. He should provide a consistent presence in the paint and on the boards for a team that was hurting for rebounds in conference play.

Arkansas: Bobby Portis. Mike Anderson’s 2013 haul was small, but potent. The Razorbacks added two big men who combined to receive nine stars between them from both ESPN and Rivals last spring. That’s a huge boost for a team whose best rebounder was 6’7″ combo forward Marshawn Powell, pulling down fewer than six rebounds per game in 2012-13. Portis, a five-star power forward, will give the Hogs some much-needed bulk up front, and 6’10” center Moses Kingsley will provide an imposing presence next to him. Anderson was forced to play plenty of small-ball last season, but the addition of two impact players who can thrive in the paint will give Arkansas some much needed flexibility. While the team will still feel the sting of losing Powell and B.J. Young to NBA Draft declarations, the future is bright in Fayetteville.

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Welcome to the Show: Identifying the Freshmen Primed to Make an Impact in the SEC “East”

Posted by Christian D'Andrea on October 23rd, 2013

Fall isn’t just for football in the Southeastern Conference – it also means the start of hardwood action for some of college basketball’s most powerful programs in the South. The SEC suffered through a rough patch in 2012-13. The league sent only three teams to the NCAA Tournament, and one of those – Ole Miss – happened to be a bubble team that blasted its way into the field thanks to a Marshall Henderson-led victory in the conference tournament. This year will be different. A talented group of recruits is ready to help guide the league back to national prominence. Eleven of the nation’s top 25 high school seniors chose conference schools last spring, and they’ll take the court looking to make an impact for their teams as non-conference play begins in November. Today, we’ll look at those difference-making newcomers, starting with the teams of the SEC “East.” We’ll run through each program, along with the one true freshman who is most likely to have a significant impact for his team in 2013-14.

John Calipari once again has plenty of talent to work with. (Getty)

John Calipari once again has plenty of talent to work with. (Getty)

  • KentuckyAndrew Harrison. With six five-star recruits to choose from, Harrison’s spot at the top of the list for Kentucky is a tenuous one. However, the return of players like Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein, along with John Calipari’s history of developing high-level guards, gives Harrison the edge for now. The Texan will step into Coach Cal’s long line of top-flight point guards with the Wildcats this season, joining luminaries such as Derrick Rose, John Wall, Brandon Knight, Marquis Teague, and Eric Bledsoe. The departure of guards Archie Goodwin, Ryan Harrow, and Julius Mays should open up plenty of room in the UK backcourt for the nation’s top point guard recruit. Harrison has the size and athleticism to defend both guard positions and the basketball IQ to command an offense at the next level. He was especially proficient at running the fast break in high school, and he’ll look to push the tempo for the Cats this winter. He’ll have to improve his shooting to become a complete player, but he should have a successful freshman year with Kentucky. Read the rest of this entry »
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SEC Grades: Recapping the SEC “East” Season That Was

Posted by Christian D'Andrea on April 22nd, 2013

Christian D’Andrea is a microsite contributor and an editor at Anchor of Gold. You can find him on Twitter @TrainIsland.

The 2012-13 NCAA basketball slate is firmly in our rear view, and with that comes some valuable perspective. The SEC struggled through one of its worst overall seasons in recent memory, but ultimately the year will be remembered more for Marshall Henderson’s theatrics and another Elite Eight appearance for Billy Donovan than it will be for Mississippi State’s rebuilding or Vanderbilt’s 50-33 loss to Marist. The league may have sputtered in its first season with Texas A&M and Missouri on board, but a slew of promising performances across the south suggests that 2013-14 will bring a return to high-major basketball for the conference.

The SEC Turned Out to be Open to Others This Year

The SEC Turned Out to be Open to Others This Year

With that in mind, let’s look back at how each team in the “East” finished out its season, and what hope may lie ahead for these seven programs. Several of the East’s programs have young cores that will return with valuable experience in 2013-14, and at least five of the division’s teams look like they’ll improve on lackluster seasons. For reference, our mid-season look at the East can be found here.

Vanderbilt

  • Season Summary: The Commodores got what they needed in 2013 – growth – even if it took a long and winding road to get there. Early in the season, Kevin Stallings’ team had been held to just 33 points on two separate occasions and was getting little from veterans Rod Odom and Kyle Fuller. Only Kedren Johnson displayed the proficiency to carry this team through stretches, and the bulk of his sophomore season was played under the stress of a nagging shoulder injury. In the season’s final weeks, things began to fall into place. Odom proved that he could be a key player on a winning team, while Fuller developed into a change-of-pace scorer off the bench. Freshmen Kevin Bright and Sheldon Jeter put together solid performances that showed that Stallings’ 2012 recruiting class may have been overlooked. In all, the ‘Dores finished light years from where they started, and that was the best fans in Nashville could have hoped for after losing their top six players from 2012.
  • Grade: C
  • Reason to be hopeful in 2013-14: Vanderbilt doesn’t lose anyone from its 16-17 squad, and will add four-star big man Damian Jones and former Tulsa guard Eric McClellan to the roster this fall. The Commodores are primed for a return to postseason play.

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Breaking Down the Game: Can Ole Miss Ride Its Hot Streak to a Win Over Wisconsin?

Posted by Christian D'Andrea on March 20th, 2013

Christian D’Andrea is a SEC Microsite contributor and an editor at Anchor of Gold and Nashville Sports Hub. You can reach him on Twitter @TrainIsland.

The #5-#12 match-up has traditionally been the most exciting place to be on the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. When red-hot SEC champion Ole Miss squares off with a stout and unpredictable Wisconsin team, it may be the best game of the Second and Third rounds.

Mississippi enters the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2002 after winning the SEC title. The boisterous play of shooting guard Marshall Henderson has made the Rebels a front-page attraction despite their #12 seed, but it’s the steady presence of rock-solid players like Murphy Holloway and Reginald Buckner who have been the fuel behind Ole Miss’ comeback. Henderson, the senior guard in his first year as a Rebel, deserves his share of the praise. Ole Miss needed every victory in its recent five-game winning streak to make it to the Big Dance. Over that stretch, the veteran shooter has averaged 23.4 points per game and made at least three three-pointers in each of those contests. When he turns his swagger on, the rest of Andy Kennedy’s Mississippi team flows with him, often leading to feast-or-famine runs that can lead this team to monster wins and shocking losses.

The confidence that Marshall Henderson and Ole Miss are exhibiting might be enough to get by rugged Wisconsin. (AP)

The confidence that Marshall Henderson and Ole Miss are exhibiting might be enough to get by rugged Wisconsin. (AP)

The Badgers won’t let Henderson and company get too hot, though. Head coach Bo Ryan’s teams are built on a bedrock of slow play and deliberate work on the defensive end. The Badgers’ grind-em-down style of play sucks high-energy guards into their game plan and feeds on frustration. The end result has been a resume filled with key upsets in 2013 and a laundry list of high-scoring guards that were temporarily turned into low-efficiency gunners. Let’s look at how some of the Big Ten’s best shooters have fared against Bo Ryan’s defensive schemes this season. Read the rest of this entry »

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