SEC Stock Watch: 02.27.15 Edition

Posted by David Changas on February 27th, 2015

Each week, we take a look at which teams, players, and coaches are on the rise, which are holding steady, and which are on the decline. This is SEC Stock Watch.

Trending Up

  • Kentucky Running the Table. With each passing week, the chances that the 28-0 Wildcats make it to the Big Dance with an unblemished record get prospectively better. Kentucky will face two tough challenges in the next five days — hosting Arkansas and traveling to Georgia — but if they can handle those , they’ll certainly arrive in Nashville for the SEC Tournament without a loss and be prohibitive favorites to remain so.

    Willie Cauley-Stein and his Wildcats have a tough test against Arkansas Saturday. (USA TODAY Sports)

    Willie Cauley-Stein and his Wildcats have a tough test against Arkansas Saturday. (USA TODAY Sports)

  • Georgia. After the Bulldogs inexplicably dropped a pair of home games against lowly Auburn and South Carolina, they bounced back with wins at Alabama and Ole Miss. Those two wins now put Mark Fox’s team at 10-5 in SEC play and in very good shape for an NCAA Tournament bid.
  • Six Teams to the Big Dance. Right now, it looks like the league is in good shape to receive six bids, as both bracketologists Joe Lunardi and Jerry Palm have Kentucky, Arkansas, Ole Miss, LSU, Georgia and Texas A&M into their fields. There is plenty of basketball left to play, however, and no team other than Kentucky and Arkansas should get too comfortable, but for the SEC to be in this position is a dramatic improvement from a year ago.
  • Arkansas as the League’s Second Best Team.There was some debate a few weeks ago about the second-best team in the SEC, but that is no longer the case. Arkansas is now an impressive 12-3 in SEC play heading into Saturday’s big-time tilt in Lexington. The Razorbacks have separated themselves from the rest of the pack and are now playing for postseason seeding.
  • Vanderbilt’s Future. The Commodores started SEC play 1-7 but have since righted the ship, winning five of seven games. Thursday’s come-from-behind win at Tennessee, in which they hit an astonishing 84 percent of their attempts in the second half, is a great example of the improvement of Kevin Stallings’ team. With two winnable home games left against Alabama and Mississippi State, Vanderbilt will astonishingly have a chance to finish .500 in SEC play with a win at Mississippi to close out the season, something that didn’t seem possible a few short weeks ago.

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SEC M5: 02.27.15 Edition

Posted by David Changas on February 27th, 2015

SEC_morning5

  1. Could the SEC really get six teams into the NCAA Tournament? According to Joe Lunardi’s latest bracket, it looks that way and it doesn’t appear to be all that close. Kentucky and Arkansas are locks and the bracket guru lists Georgia, Texas A&M and Ole Miss as single-digit seeds with LSU as a #10. Given all the flak that the league has received for being weak this season, getting nearly half of its teams into the field of 68 would be quite an accomplishment. Sure, there’s plenty of basketball left to play, and every team other than the Wildcats and Razorbacks would do well to win several more games to ensure their bids. But as each of these teams played tough non-conference schedules, they’ve earned their placements in field.
  2. As the season draws to a close, it is time to start analyzing who will walk away with the various season awards and  all-conference honors. All jokes aside about the number of players who get selected to SEC all-conference squads, it looks like Kentucky’s balanced success could prevent any of its very deserving players from winning the league’s Player of the Year award. Instead, according to Sam Vecenie of CBSSports.com, that honor may end up in the hands of Arkansas’ Bobby Portis. The Razorbacks sit at 23-5 ahead of their huge tilt with undefeated Kentucky in Lexington on Saturday, and it is hard to argue that Portis is somehow undeserving. He is second in the SEC is scoring (17.6 PPG) and fourth in rebounding (8.5 RPG), but most importantly, his team has separated itself as the second-best group in the league in large part because of his leadership.
  3. Playing for a 28-0 basketball team in a state that loves the sport as much or more than any other may seem like it’s all fun and games. And while it mostly is, ESPN.com‘s Dana O’Neil took a look at what it is actually like to suit up for Kentucky. Anyone who follows the sport closely knows that there is no fan base more passionate than the Big Blue Nation, and when you sign up to play for the Wildcats — assuming you’re deemed worthy in the first place — you know that will come with hefty expectations. As O’Neil points out, playing for Kentucky is simply not for everyone, and living up to the lofty standards set by the school’s fans is often difficult. But as she also shows, John Calipari is able to sell players on coming to Lexington because they know it will prepare them for the rigors both on and off the court at the next level better than anywhere else. And in this day and age, that is what matters most.
  4. Florida went to the Elite Eight in each of the last four seasons and swept the SEC on its way to the Final Four a year ago. To say that the Gators have disappointed this season would be to drastically understate the case. Sure, Billy Donovan was right when he said that his team had no business being ranked in the top 10 to start the season. But no one could have foreseen the disaster that this season has become. The 13-15 Gators are currently a long shot to make the NIT, especially with a trip to Kentucky still in the offering. Gainesville Sun columnist Pat Dooley, who has followed the program longer than just about anyone, analyzed what has led to the Gators’ many woes after Tuesday night’s loss to Missouri. Dooley points out that Donovan overscheduled for such an inexperienced group, lost guard Devon Walker before the season even started, and hasn’t been able to win many close games. And while all of the points Dooley raises are accurate, no one could have foreseen such a dropoff coming. We are sure that Donovan will get things turned around in Gainesville, but the precipitous fall of Florida basketball over the past 11 months is nothing short of astonishing.
  5. Billy Kennedy has done a nice job turning things around at Texas A&M one year ahead of schedule, and the Aggies have a monster recruiting class set to enter that includes three top-50 players and a fourth just outside of it. They also have a roster that should return almost everyone of consequence, meaning that expectations will be sky high in College Station next season. However, the current and future on-court success has not translated into success at the turnstiles. Despite playing really well in SEC play and remaining in strong contention for an NCAA Tournament bid, the Aggies are drawing an average of only 7,368 fans per game, down significantly from the Billy Gillispie/Mark Turgeon teams that routinely packed over 13,000 fans into Reed Arena. If A&M can make the Big Dance and return juniors Danuel House and Jalen Jones, the Aggies should enter next season in the Top 25 and the larger crowds should return.
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SEC M5: 02.18.15 Edition

Posted by David Changas on February 18th, 2015

SEC_morning5

  1. Kentucky extended its unbeaten streak to 26 in a row on Tuesday night with a 66-48 win over Tennessee in Knoxville. While the Wildcats struggled to put away the Volunteers for a good portion of the evening, they continued their march toward perfection by setting a school record for consecutive wins to start a season. The previous mark of 25-0 matched Adolph Rupp’s 1953-54 squad (which declined a bid to the NCAA Tournament). It is difficult to imagine that John Calipari’s team won’t continue to extend the school record given what is mostly a soft schedule the rest of the way. Arkansas comes to Rupp Arena in 10 days and the Wildcats then travel to face a floundering Georgia squad four days later. The odds are that the Wildcats will win those two games and will roll into the SEC Tournament in Nashville boasting 31 straight wins.
  2. Despite the success Kentucky has already achieved, the question of whether it will run the table and win the national title with a perfect 40-0 record is college basketball’s hottest topic. The Huffington Post’s sports columnist, Jordan Schultz, recently set forth three reasons why the Wildcats might not cut down the nets in April. Schultz believes that the Wildcats’ guard play, half-court offense, and “youth” may lead to their downfall. With regard to their backcourt, Tyler Ulis and Devin Booker have provided what the Harrison twins have not been able to, so production from the perimeter does not appear to be an issue. The so-called “youth” concern is an overrated factor, too, given the great experience so many players on this roster got last year in the team’s run to the national championship game. The half-court offense, though, continues to be a legitimate area of concern, as the Wildcats don’t always shoot the ball very well and rely so heavily on offensive rebounding that an off night in either area could lead to trouble.
  3. As we continue our Kentucky-themed M5 (and hey, why shouldn’t we go this route?), Karl-Anthony Towns, who was dominant down the stretch of the team’s three-point win over LSU last week, was named the SEC Freshman of the Week on Monday. He averaged 10.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks per game in victories over the Tigers and South Carolina. Unfortunately for Towns, he did not continue his stellar play in last night’s win over Tennessee, as he scored only three points and grabbed four boards in 16 minutes of action. For his part, Arkansas’ potential SEC Player of the Year Bobby Portis was named Player of the Week for his efforts in his team’s two road wins over Auburn and Ole Miss last week. Portis, who leads the league in scoring, averaged 17.0 points and 6.5 rebounds per game.
  4. South Carolina coach Frank Martin suspended two of his players for the remainder of the regular season on Tuesday. Sophomore Demetrius Henry, who has started 19 games and is averaging 6.0 points and 3.6 rebounds per game, and Shamiek Sheppard, a seldom-used freshman, were punished for unidentified violations of team rules although each could be reinstated before the SEC Tournament begins in three weeks. The suspensions certainly did not hurt the Gamecocks on Tuesday night as they upset Georgia by six points in Athens. The win gives South Carolina a season sweep over the Bulldogs.
  5. On the other end of the suspension scale, Missouri will welcome freshman guard Tramaine Isabell back for tonight’s game against Arkansas. Isabell had been suspended in late January for what head coach Kim Anderson called “unacceptable” behavior. On Saturday, they welcomed back Montaque Gill-Caesar and Namon Wright from their own suspensions. The Tigers are 1-11 in SEC play and are without injured leading scorer Wes Clark, but they now have gotten all three players back who had been previously suspended. While having three freshmen available may not translate into more wins for Missouri, it does give Anderson the opportunity to use the team’s final six games to begin building for next year.
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SEC Stock Watch: 02.13.15 Edition

Posted by David Changas on February 13th, 2015

With just over three weeks to go in SEC play, things are starting to take shape. This is SEC Stock Watch, our weekly look at which teams, players, and coaches are moving in the right direction, which are holding steady, and which are trending down. 

Trending Up

  • Karl-Anthony Towns. Towns came to Kentucky as the most highly-acclaimed member of its latest heralded recruiting class, and while his numbers have been solid all year, he is now asserting himself as a dominant force in the post. Towns is averaging 14.5 points and 8.8 rebounds per game over his last four outings, an increase of more than five points and two rebounds per game over his season averages. As if the Wildcats weren’t already scary enough, the rest of college basketball must deal with this emerging beast.
Karl-Anthony Towns has been a beast of late (Mark Zerof/USA Today Sports)

Karl-Anthony Towns has been a beast of late (Mark Zerof/USA Today Sports)

  • Georgia as an NCAA Lock. The Bulldogs got a huge win in College Station on Wednesday night, which should secure their ticket to the Big Dance. They will be favored in all but two of their remaining SEC games — home against Kentucky and at Ole Miss — and are the best bet to take down the Wildcats in SEC play. With a strong RPI ranking of #20, it would take a major meltdown for Mark Fox’s team to not make the NCAA Tournament.
  • Arkansas’ Road Chops. Don’t look now, but the Razorbacks have now won three SEC road games — more than all of last season — and are taking care of business against teams they should beat. They still must go to Ole Miss on Saturday and to Kentucky in two weeks, but Mike Anderson seems to have turned a corner in his fourth year in Fayetteville.
  • Tennessee Against the Spread on the Road. The Volunteers have somehow managed to go 4-2 so far in SEC play on the road, and their two losses (against Arkansas and Georgia, arguably the second- and third-best teams in the SEC) were by a total of seven points. Donnie Tyndall’s squad is 6-0 against the spread away from Thompson-Boling Arena, so it’s too bad that things haven’t gone so smoothly at home where the Vols are 2-3 with LSU and Kentucky coming to town in the next week.

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SEC M5: 02.13.15 Edition

Posted by David Changas on February 13th, 2015

SEC_morning5

  1. There has been ample discussion about what can be done to make college basketball a more enjoyable product, and with good reason. Scoring is down again this year, with way too many games finishing in the 50s and 60s. The most common suggested fix for the scoring issue is to reduce the shot clock to 30 seconds. A recent ESPN poll found that more than 58 percent of the sample of coaches would like to see that happen, although the SEC’s most prominent coach, John Calipari, said that he essentially could not care less whether it does. Given the sheer amount of talent that Calipari brings to Kentucky, it is likely that he will win big regardless of the pace of the game (notably, this is Calipari’s slowest team in his coaching career). Whether the change is actually recommended going forward won’t be known until after the NCAA’s Competition Committee meets in May.
  2. To say this has been a trying first season for Missouri head coach Kim Anderson would be understating things. His team is currently mired in the cellar and on a brutal nine-game losing streak. He lost leading scorer Wes Clark to injury in a Tuesday loss to South Carolina, and he has suspended three more players over the last couple of weeks. Still, all of that turmoil pales in comparison to the experience he went through on Wednesday afternoon when the twin-engine plane he was on for a recruiting trip needed to make an emergency landing in St. Clair, Missouri. Anderson was on his way to Illinois when he heard a “small rumble,” and after the safe landing, he complimented the two pilots for their efforts. Perhaps not surprisingly, Anderson’s return trip to Columbia was by car.
  3. The Wooden Award Late Season Top 20 was released on Wednesday, and the SEC had two representatives on the list: Arkansas’ Bobby Portis, who is averaging a league-leading 17.9 points per game to go along with 8.8 rebounds per contest; and Kentucky’s Willie Cauley-Stein, who is fourth in the SEC in blocks. Portis’ inclusion is no surprise, as the leading candidate for SEC Player of the Year has led Arkansas to its best season in the Mike Anderson era. As for Cauley-Stein, he was considered a National Player of the Year candidate after a strong start in November, but the junior center has been less effective lately. Given the recent emergence of freshman Karl-Anthony Towns, a strong argument could even be made that Cauley-Stein isn’t the best post presence on his own team.
  4. Speaking of the Wildcats, what would an M5 be without some mention of their quest for an undefeated season? Kentucky survived quite a scare in Tuesday’s come-from-behind win at LSU, but with only seven games left in the regular season, the national discussion and laser-hot focus will only become more intense. CBSSports.com’s “Undefeated Watch” takes a look at those seven games and what kind of threat there is for the Big Blue to lose any of them. The chances of any individual team taking down the Wildcats is not very high, but a home game against Arkansas and a trip to Georgia seem to offer the best opportunities. The reality is that it’s likely that Kentucky leaves the SEC Tournament in Nashville with a great chance to become the first undefeated national champion in the last 39 years.
  5. Florida is having a nightmarish season — the Gators’ crushing one-point loss to Ole Miss on Thursday being only the latest example — and the NCAA Tournament is clearly off the table unless it wins the SEC Tournament. But there is some good news for Billy Donovan on the facilities front, as his athletic department has committed to a $60 million renovation to the Stephen C. O’Connell Center as well as an expansion of the weight room in the basketball practice facility. The O-Dome renovations will include new chair-back seats, club seating, and center-hung video boards. The Gators have had one of the game’s preeminent coaches roaming the sidelines for the past two decades, and it will now have a facility worthy of such a fantastic leader.
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Josh Richardson Leading Tennessee to Surprising Season

Posted by David Changas on February 12th, 2015

When Donnie Tyndall took over at Tennessee last April, there was a great deal of turnover. He lost every recruit signed by his predecessor, Cuonzo Martin, and kept only four scholarship players from last year’s Sweet Sixteen team. One of the few players who decided to stick around was senior Josh Richardson, and without the longtime defensive stalwart’s flexibility and talent, it is hard to imagine where the Volunteers would be right now. Tyndall moved Richardson to the point, and for someone who had never played the position, he has done remarkable things. Last Saturday, in Tennessee’s 66-63 loss at Georgia, Richardson scored only two points on 1-for-13 shooting. Observers openly questioned whether all of his minutes this season — he averages a league-high 35.3 minutes per contest — were catching up with him. He answered that concern emphatically on Wednesday, leading the Volunteers to their fourth road win in SEC play, a 76-73 overtime thriller against arch-rival Vanderbilt.

The Volunteers and Richardson Were Smiling at Vandy (USA Today Images)

The Volunteers and Richardson Were Smiling at Vandy (USA Today Images)

Richardson played 42 minutes in the win, scoring 27 points on 10-of-18 shooting including 3-of-8 from three-point range, and turned the ball over only three times. He also grabbed seven rebounds. In the few moments he was not in the game to run the point, Tennessee struggled to get the ball past half court against Vanderbilt’s press. Tyndall wasn’t concerned with Richardson’s struggles against Georgia because he knew his senior leader would bounce back. Josh has had a phenomenal year. The other night he went 1-for-13 so people were being critical. This kid has been a stud all year long. He’s absorbed and embraced a position he’s never played in his life. He’s made big shot after big shot.”

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The Battle for SEC-ond Best: Arkansas, Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Georgia

Posted by David Changas on February 10th, 2015

Given that Kentucky is regarded as the team to beat in all of college basketball, the notion that the Wildcats are the SEC’s best — and with ease — is not up for debate. What is open to question, however, is which SEC squad has a rightful claim as the league’s second-best. At a little past the halfway point of SEC play, four teams can make a legitimate argument for that spot. Let’s take a closer look at each.

  • Arkansas. The Razorbacks are the league’s second-most talented team, and they have shown signs of a group that can make some noise in March. Mike Anderson’s team has a good RPI (#25), is relatively highly-regarded by Ken Pomeroy (#30), and may also have the SEC’s best player in Bobby Portis. The problem is that this club is prone to moments of sleepwalking through games — especially away from Bud Walton Arena — as in the case of perplexing losses at Clemson and Tennessee. On the other hand, the Razorbacks have taken care of business more frequently in SEC play than last season, and may have finally turned a corner on some of those brain freezes. Other than upcoming trips to Ole Miss, which handled them by 14 in Fayetteville last month, and Kentucky, the Razorbacks will be the favorite in each of their remaining eight games. At 18-5 overall and 7-3 in SEC play, Arkansas is not only squarely in the NCAA field, it is now playing for seeding.
Bobby Portis has led Arkansas's resurgence (thesportsseer.com)

Bobby Portis has led Arkansas’s resurgence (thesportsseer.com)

  • Georgia. The Bulldogs are a veteran club that dropped two winnable games versus Arkansas and LSU where they blew big leads and suffered an ugly loss at South Carolina. Their schedule softens over the next couple of weeks, though, which should give Mark Fox’s team an excellent opportunity to cruise to double-figure league wins. Georgia currently owns the league’s second-best RPI (#24), and based upon a very good pre-conference schedule, the Bulldogs are in position to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011. They lost their only game against fellow competitor for the throne of second-best team, Arkansas, but will get a chance to stake a different claim as the SEC’s maid of honor when Kentucky comes to Athens in early March. Georgia has a veteran roster that features all five starters averaging double figures in scoring. If they can position themselves well over the last month of play, the Bulldogs might have the best chance of advancing into March deeper than any team but the Wildcats.

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SEC M5: 02.09.15 Edition

Posted by David Changas on February 9th, 2015

SEC_morning5

  1. After missing two games — both losses at South Carolina and Kentucky — Georgia forward Marcus Thornton returned to action for Saturday’s win over Tennessee. His presence gave the Bulldogs some much-needed stability, as the senior is an experienced leader who has been through a lot during his four years in Athens. There had been some concern that Thornton would be out for longer than the two games given the apparent significance of his concussion, but Thornton played 26 minutes and scored eight points. Georgia needed his leadership on the floor more than it needed his scoring, though, and, most importantly, the Bulldogs got the win.
  2. As we creep closer to March, the storyline that will continue to grow is Kentucky’s quest to become the first college basketball team since 1976 to run the table. The Wildcats passed one of their stiffest remaining tests by winning at Florida Saturday night, but the victory did not come easy. As USA Today‘s Nicole Auerbach writes, these are just the types of tests John Calipari’s team needs. While Kentucky coasted through its pre-conference schedule, the Wildcats have now been challenged three times in SEC play and have won in tough environments where they haven’t had their best. The Wildcats still have tough road tests remaining at LSU (Tuesday) and Georgia, plus Arkansas at home, so the odds continue to grow daily that they will run the regular season table.
  3. The story of Sunday was the passing of legendary North Carolina head coach Dean Smith, and several SEC coaches weighed in to pay their respects. Like so many others, Billy Donovan talked about how Smith’s impact on lives was far more important than the 879 wins he racked up. John Calipari took to Twitter to talk about how much he loved and admired Smith. Tennessee’s Donnie Tyndall, Georgia’s Mark Fox, and South Carolina’s Frank Martin also used social media to express their condolences and offer kind words about the legendary coach. And while he spent his entire coaching career in the ACC, it goes without saying that Smith’s legacy transcends not only the conference he was in or even college basketball as a whole, but all of society.
  4. As if things haven’t been bad enough for Missouri this season, they got worse prior to Saturday’s 83-61 home loss to Texas A&M when two Tigers were suspended as a result of a violation of team rules. Montaque Gill-Caesar and Namon Wright, a pair of freshmen who average 9.6 and 5.5 points per game, respectively, will have their situations re-evaluated at some point down the line. The Tigers are also playing without Tramaine Isabell, a player who missed his third game after Kim Anderson found that his behavior toward teammates was “unacceptable.” Anderson’s first year at his alma mater has been very tough — Missouri sits at 1-9 in SEC play and almost certainly will finish in the league’s basement — but he is doing what is necessary to root out some of the problems that were created by his predecessor in an effort to establish that his program will be run the right way.
  5. Tennessee has struggled lately, losing four of five after starting SEC play at 4-1. Leading scorer Josh Richardson scored only two points in the Volunteers’ three-point loss at Georgia Saturday, with both of those coming in the final minutes. Despite the recent shakiness, Donnie Tyndall is not at all ready to give up on his undermanned club and refuses to believe that his team has hit a wall. Without much of an inside presence to speak of, Tennessee is forced to rely upon its limited good shooting to score enough points to win games. Although the Volunteers never seem to be out of a game, they face a very difficult closing stretch unlikely to present many opportunities for wins. Any postseason berth for this team would be an accomplishment, and anyone who has watched Tyndall operate knows he will get the best out of them.
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SEC Stock Watch: 02.06.15 Edition

Posted by David Changas on February 6th, 2015

We’re at the halfway point of conference play, and things are starting to take shape in the SEC. It’s time for our weekly look at who’s trending up, who’s staying flat, and who’s headed in the wrong direction. This is SEC Stock Watch.

Trending Up

  • Rick Ray’s Job Status. A few weeks ago, we wondered whether Mississippi State could win even a single game in the SEC. At the halfway point of conference play, the Bulldogs are just a game under .500, and are coming off of their first road win of the season. Ray’s club appears to have turned a bit of a corner, and things are looking good for him to earn a fourth year at the school.
Rick Ray is finally giving Mississippi State fans a glimmer of hope (Spruce Derden/USA Today)

Rick Ray is finally giving Mississippi State fans a glimmer of hope. (Spruce Derden/USA Today)

  • Ole Miss’ NCAA Tournament Hopes. The Rebels have quietly recovered from a couple of bad non-conference homecourt losses (to Charleston Southern and Western Kentucky), and have won four in a row in the SEC. They own blowout wins at Arkansas and Missouri, a near miss at Kentucky, and are 6-3 in conference play. Andy Kennedy’s team is squarely in the discussion for one of the league’s NCAA Tournament bids.
  • Andrew Harrison. Perhaps it’s a bit premature to put the Kentucky sophomore on this list, but Harrison had his best game of the season in the Wildcats’ win over Georgia Tuesday, as he scored 23 points, had seven assists, and went 3-of-6 from three-point range. Perhaps all of the talk about  Kentucky’s freshmen guards, Devin Booker and Tyler Ulis, has motivated Harrison, and his performance against the Bulldogs is a good sign for John Calipari.
  • Riley LaChance. The Vanderbilt freshman has been a find for Kevin Stallings, but he went through a rough patch recently and bottomed out when he went scoreless in the Commodores’ loss to Georgia on January 27. He has righted the ship, and led the team with 15 in Tuesday’s win over Florida, which broke Vanderbilt’s seven-game losing streak. For the Commodores to have success in the second half of league play, they’ll need superb play from LaChance.

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SEC M5: 02.04.15 Edition

Posted by David Changas on February 4th, 2015

SEC_morning5

  1. For the fourth consecutive week, Kentucky freshman Devin Booker was named the SEC Freshman of the Week. The 6’6″ guard averaged only 10 points per game in the team’s wins over Missouri and Alabama, and while those numbers somewhat paled in comparison with previous weeks, his run is nonetheless remarkable. He was not the most heralded of the Wildcats’ class of elite freshmen, but it would be difficult to argue that he hasn’t been the best of the group. Despite going only 1-of-6 from beyond the arc in Kentucky’s 69-58 win over Georgia Tuesday night, he is still shooting better than 50 percent from three-point range on the season.
  2. Speaking of Kentucky’s win over Georgia, the Bulldogs kept things close in Rupp Arena despite playing without senior forward Marcus Thornton, their leading scorer and rebounder. It was the second straight game Thornton has missed, as he also did not play in the Bulldogs’ weekend loss at South Carolina. Coach Mark Fox hopes to get Thornton back soon, and the team clearly needs him in the lineup. Georgia is in the hunt for an NCAA Tournament bid, and has a favorable stretch coming up that includes home games against Tennessee, Auburn, and South Carolina sandwiched around a trip to Texas A&M. If the Bulldogs are eventually going to punch their ticket to the Big Dance, they need to take care of business against the SEC’s bottom-feeders over the next two weeks.
  3. Thornton wasn’t the only player to miss his second straight game in last night’s match-up between Georgia and Kentucky. Wildcats freshman Trey Lyles was out once again due to an undisclosed illness. It is unclear exactly when he will return, and coach John Calipari is not giving any specifics about what is wrong with him. Kentucky is obviously a very deep team that can overcome these losses, but given that they are already playing without Alex Poythress — who tore his ACL earlier this season — small forward is the one position at which they are not overly deep. At this point, however, it is too early to assume that Lyles’ absence will be a major cause for concern for the Wildcats.
  4. After missing the season’s first four games with an injury and struggling to find his way after that, Mississippi State‘s Craig Sword has regained his form, and the Bulldogs, which looked like a team that would struggle to win any games in SEC play, are now 4-5 after winning at Tennessee. Over his last five games, Sword has scored in double-figures, after doing so only once in his first 13. Against the Volunteers, Sword was a sizzling 7-of-8 from the field, including 4-of-5 from three-point range. The Bulldogs have now won four of their last six games, and are no longer the also-ran they were for the season’s first two months.
  5. Texas A&M has won six straight SEC games and is in sole possession of second place, sitting at No. 31 in the RPI. The team’s turnaround began when the Aggies took Kentucky to double-overtime in their second conference game, and though they ended up losing, they have used it as a springboard to success. Other coaches in the league have taken notice too, and believe that the Aggies are in fact the real deal. They are led by transfers Jalen Jones and Danuel House, who was named SEC Player of the Week on Monday after averaging 17.5 points per game in the team’s wins at Auburn and at home against Vanderbilt. Texas A&M faces a tough test at Mississippi on Wednesday, but after that, the schedule sets up favorably, and the possibility that the Aggies will make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since joining the SEC is very real.
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SEC Stock Watch: 01.30.15 Edition

Posted by David Changas on January 30th, 2015

It’s time for our weekly look at which SEC teams, players, and coaches are trending up, down, or somewhere in the middle. This is SEC Stock Watch.

Trending Up

  • Texas A&M. It is hard to imagine that the future has looked any brighter at this school since the glory days of Billy Gillispie. The Aggies lost their first two SEC games — played without second-leading scorer Jalen Jones — but have since reeled off five in a row in league play. They already have three conference road wins and a favorable schedule going forward. With an RPI that sits at #34, this team is a legitimate contender for an NCAA Tournament bid, something that certainly didn’t seem very likely a few short weeks ago.
Alex Caruso and Texas A&M have hit their stride (Paul Abell- USA Today)

Alex Caruso and Texas A&M have hit their stride (Paul Abell- USA Today)

  • Dorian Finney-Smith Dunks. In what was likely the most emphatic game-winning basket we’ve seen this year, Finney-Smith put away Alabama and got his Gators a key road win last week. Florida is still sitting squarely atop the bubble and has a lot of work to do to overcome it, but this was the type of win that will serve handy on Selection Sunday.
  • Mark Fox’s Job Security. It’s looking more and more like Georgia has a legitimate chance to emerge as the SEC’s second-best team, as the Bulldogs have bounced back nicely from two losses to open conference play. Georgia has moved into the RPI’s top 25 and appears very well-positioned to secure its first NCAA bid since 2011.
  • Jordan Mickey’s Draft Stock. If there is a more consistent player in the SEC this season, we haven’t seen him. Mickey is averaging 15.9 points, 10.4 rebounds, and 3.7 blocks per contest and has propelled LSU to a nice 5-2 league record. The only bad news associated with Mickey’s play is that he likely won’t be around to play with Ben Simmons and Antonio Blakeney next season, as the NBA Draft’s first round is well within his sights.
  • Kentucky’s Chances of an Undefeated Season. This stock trends up with every passing week that the Wildcats don’t lose a game. According to KenPom, the best chance Kentucky has of losing in the regular season is when it travels to Georgia on March 3. There, the Wildcats have an 84 percent chance of winning, according to the advanced stats guru’s latest projections.

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SEC M5: 01.30.15 Edition

Posted by David Changas on January 30th, 2015

SEC_morning5

  1. The Big 12/SEC Challenge, which has been played in early December over several days the last two seasons — and has not garnered anywhere near the exposure or interest of its ACC/Big Ten counterpart — will move to a single blockbuster Saturday in late January next season. Each of the 10 games to be played will be broadcast on the ESPN family of networks. The move is a bold one given that conference play will be in full swing for both leagues when the event takes place. While some coaches surely won’t like that, we think it is wise — especially in SEC country — to bring greater exposure to the sport after college football has wrapped up. Whether the event will be more successful in this new spot on the schedule remains to be seen, but we bet it will be.
  2. Tennessee head coach Donnie Tyndall had no comment about news that two of his Southern Miss recruits, Rasham Suarez and Jeremiah Eason, were dismissed from the team on Thursday for issues related to their academic standing. While the exact reasons for their dismissals were not made known, they relate to an ongoing NCAA investigation into Tyndall and his previous school. Tyndall has done a nice job this season with an undermanned Tennessee roster and he seems to have much of the Volunteers’ fan base on his side. But those same fans remain skeptical about whether, in light of his uncertain status, he will be around Knoxville for the long haul.
  3. Speaking of Tyndall, his Vols welcome their former leader Bruce Pearl into Thompson-Boling Arena on Saturday. Pearl, who coached at Tennessee from 2005-11 and went to the NCAA Tournament in all six of his seasons at the school, will be making his first trip to Knoxville as the visiting coach. While it remains to be seen what kind of reception he will receive upon his return, odds are that it will be a good one. Many of the fans who pined for Pearl to return to Knoxville as recently as last year have moved on now that he is coaching at another SEC school. For his part, Tyndall thinks Pearl deserves a warm welcome for his many accomplishments in his tenure at Tennessee.
  4. SEC basketball has received more than its fair share of criticism over the past several years, and most of that conversation has been deserving. The league has been very inconsistent aside from Florida and Kentucky and its low number of NCAA Tournament bids has accurately fit the conference profile. But according to The Sporting News’ Mike DeCourcy, things are finally looking up. His article points out that league teams have beefed up their non-conference schedules to the point that it is the best among the Power Five conferences. Such strong scheduling in addition to improved play in those games has resulted in better conference-wide RPI and KenPom numbers, which should translate into more NCAA bids. And while the league still has a ways to go to improve its overall perception, the future holds promise with several schools like LSU and Texas A&M recruiting well and building competitive programs.
  5. Alabama travels to Lexington to face Kentucky for the second time in 15 days on Saturday, and if things don’t go better than the Crimson Tide’s first game against the Wildcats, they will be looking at their fourth loss in five games and a 3-5 conference record. That is certainly not good news for Anthony Grant, who came into the season on the hottest of hot seats after receiving a reprieve from athletics director Bill Battle last spring. As AL.com‘s Kevin Scarbinsky writes, Tuesday’s disappointing home loss to Florida was symbolic of Grant’s entire tenure at the school. Since he arrived six years ago, people have expected things that Grant has been unable to deliver. Against the Gators, the Crimson Tide shook off a rough first half to have a chance to win before, once again, falling just short. Given the regularity with which this kind of result has occurred throughout his career in Tuscaloosa, it stands to reason that there is a very good chance Grant will not be back for a seventh season at the school.
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