SEC Tournament Takeaways: Second Round

Posted by David Changas on March 11th, 2016

Thursday was the first full day of action at the SEC Tournament, and even though the league’s top four teams have byes into Friday’s quarterfinal round, there were still plenty of important happenings that could impact which of the league’s teams are invited to the NCAA Tournament.

Tennessee pulled off a stunning upset of Vanderbilt Thursday (John Bazemore/AP)

Tennessee pulled off a stunning upset of Vanderbilt Thursday. (John Bazemore/AP)

Florida Stays Alive. In Thursday’s opener, the Gators took down Arkansas in a win that kept the Gators’ faintly flickering NCAA Tournament hopes alive. It wasn’t pretty — the two teams combined to commit 50 fouls (thanks, Pat Adams) — but Florida played just well enough to get the job done. Center John Egbunu, who was expected to miss the game with an injured right hand, gutted out an eight-point, nine-rebound performance in 24 minutes, while also helping hold Arkansas center Moses Kingsley to just 10 points. Florida moves on to play #1 seed Texas A&M on Friday, in what will be quite surely be another must-win for the Gators’ still-faint Tournament hopes.

Vanderbilt’s NCAA Hopes Damaged. Vanderbilt came into its game against Tennessee as a 12-point favorite and its regular season sweep of the Vols hinted that this was a touch matchup for Rick Barnes’ team. After all, big men Damian Jones and Luke Kornet had dominated Tennessee inside in both of the prior meetings. Things were different on Thursday, though, as Vanderbilt failed to consistently feed those mismatches in the post. The Commodores instead fired up 25 threes (making nine) and generally didn’t seem all that interested in battling as if its postseason life was on the line. A valiant second half comeback nearly saved Kevin Stallings’ team, but Wade Baldwin‘s game-tying layup at the buzzer was released fractions of a second after the horn sounded. Now the Commodores will have a few nervous days ahead, as a loss to a team that entered the SEC Tournament with six conference wins puts Vanderbilt squarely back on to the bubble.

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Handing Out the SEC Awards

Posted by David Changas on March 9th, 2016

Unlike the coaches, the SEC microsite writers stick to a rule of putting only five members on their all-conference team. Clearly, making our group should mean more to those selected than having the coaches pick them.

All-SEC Team

Tyler Ulis is playing at an MVP level (Getty)

Tyler Ulis is the hands-down choice for SEC Player of the Year. (Getty)

  • Tyler Ulis, Kentucky (SEC Player of the Year)
  • Jamal Murray, Kentucky
  • Ben Simmons, LSU
  • Jalen Jones, Texas A&M
  • Stefan Moody, Ole Miss

Credible cases could be made for Damian Jones, Kevin Punter, Retin Obasohan, and Michael Carrera, among others, but the five selected stood out as the five best.

SEC Player of the Year

Tyler Ulis, Kentucky. The diminutive Kentucky point guard successfully made the leap from role player on a 38-win team of all-stars to the leader of one of the nation’s best backcourts. Playing almost every important minute of every contest, Ulis averaged 16.6 points and a league-leading 7.4 assists per game. But it was the way in which he could dominate a game at only 5’9″ that separates him from the pack. If the Wildcats are going to make their usual run later this month, Ulis will be the catalyst that make it happen.

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Austin Peay Returns to the Big Dance With a Surprise Run

Posted by David Changas on March 7th, 2016

After finishing the 2012-13 season with a record of 8-23, Austin Peay head coach Dave Loos decided it was time to relinquish his duties as the school’s athletic director and refocus on his first love: coaching basketball. Loos had been at the school since 1990 and had led the Governors to three NCAA Tournament bids in his first 18 seasons, but in 1997, he added the role of AD to his title. Things steadily slipped over time, and even after Loos returned solely to the sideline, many wondered if the longtime coach would again compete for OVC championships. Austin Peay won only 20 games over the two seasons that followed Loos’ resignation before suffering through a middling 14-17 campaign entering last week’s OVC Tournament. The #8 seed in the event exhibited nothing on its resume to suggest that anything special would happen in Nashville.

Dave Loos's fourth trip to the Big Dance is his most improbable one.(AP Photo/Stephen Lance Dennee)

Dave Loos’ fourth trip to the Big Dance is his most improbable one. (AP Photo/Stephen Lance Dennee)

But therein lies the beauty of college basketball. After easily dispatching #5 seed Tennessee Tech in the first round, the Governors overcame a 10-point deficit with just over five minutes remaining to beat #4 seed Tennessee State. In a subsequent semifinal game that may have been the best of Championship Week thus far, Austin Peay then stunned regular season champion Belmont by a single point in overtime after the Bruins’ go-ahead putback was waved off. That led to Saturday night against #2 seed Tennessee-Martin, where the Governors trailed by nine early before charging back and ultimately coasting to their fourth victory in four days, an 83-73 win that came with an automatic bid to the Big Dance.

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Florida’s NCAA Tournament Hopes Hinge on a Win Over Kentucky

Posted by David Changas on March 1st, 2016

Just a few short weeks ago, Florida, with a lofty RPI and impressive strength of schedule, looked to be comfortably within the NCAA Tournament. On February 3, the Gators beat Arkansas to move to 7-3 in the SEC. A subsequent trip to Lexington did not go well — Florida lost to Kentucky, 80-61 — and things have gone steadily downhill ever since. Heading into tonight’s rematch with the Wildcats in Gainesville, the Gators have lost five of seven games and their position as a possible NCAA Tournament team is tenuous at best. Most bracketologists have already moved them out of the field of 68, but a win over Big Blue will go a long way towards putting Mike White‘s team back into position for a bid.

Michael White has Florida positioned for the NCAA Tournament (Rich Barnes/USA Today)

Mike White’s Gators probably need to beat Kentucky if they have any thoughts of going to the NCAA Tournament. (Rich Barnes/USA Today)

A close examination of Florida’s resume shows that the Gators have played a considerable number of quality teams but they haven’t won enough of them. Florida is currently 2-8 against RPI top-50 teams and 7-11 against teams in the top 100. While Florida has avoided any terrible losses (other than a blowout defeat at then-competitive Tennessee), its two best wins came against St. Joseph’s and West Virginia. The Gators have not made much hay in SEC play, as none of their eight conference wins have come against teams expected to make the NCAA field. Read the rest of this entry »

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Kentucky is Suddenly in Control of the SEC

Posted by David Changas on February 19th, 2016

On February 2, Kentucky inexplicably blew a 21-point first half lead against a mediocre Tennessee team in Knoxville as the Vols upset the Wildcats. John Calipari’s team at the time sat 6-3 in league play, while Texas A&M, at 7-1 and on a major roll, appeared in complete control. LSU, which had won at Auburn on the same night, was also ahead of the Wildcats at 7-2 and the Tigers finally appeared to be hitting their stride. Just 17 short days later, the Aggies have now lost four of five games and LSU is coming off a perplexing home loss to Alabama. For its part, Kentucky has not lost since, and after exacting some revenge against Tennessee on Thursday night with an 80-70 win in Rupp Arena, it’s difficult to argue that the Wildcats are not once again the team to beat with five games remaining. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Tyler Ulis is playing at an MVP level (Getty)

Tyler Ulis is producing at a Player of the Year level (Getty)

The Wildcats have flourished despite losing their most consistent low-post threat and third-leading scorer, Alex Poythress, to injury. But thanks to dominant backcourt play from Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray as well as an increase in production from junior forward Derek Willis, Kentucky has seized control of the league race and appears ready to climb the national rankings back into the top 10. Willis, who hardly played during his first two seasons in Lexington, scored a career-high 25 points in Thursday night’s win and has capably filled a void left by Poythress’ absence and the inability of freshman Skal Labissiere to consistently produce.

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SEC Stock Watch: 02.05.16 Edition

Posted by David Changas on February 5th, 2016

As we reach the halfway point of conference play, we take a look at which teams, players, and coaches we should buy and sell. This is our latest stock watch.

Buy: Vanderbilt Making the NCAA Tournament. The Commodores’ resounding win over Texas A&M Thursday night was a huge step in the right direction, but Kevin Stallings‘ team is still on the outside of the bubble at this point. They finally looked like the team everyone expected at the beginning of the season, however, and we think they will use that performance as a springboard to securing a bid. They will be favored in their next five games, and should be able to build more confidence for a tough stretch run.

Sell: Kentucky Exiting the Big Dance Early. Sure, the Wildcats looked bad in blowing a 21-point lead to Tennessee on Tuesday, but they also took Kansas to overtime and arguably should have beaten the Jayhawks at Phog Allen. They will have to get more consistent production from the post, but with Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray growing comfortable together in the backcourt, we’re not betting against a relatively deep run for John Calipari‘s team.

Kevin Stallings

Kevin Stallings and Vanderbilt got a big win Thursday night. (AP)

Buy: Kevin Punter Earning First-Team All-SEC Honors. The senior guard plays for a team that almost certainly will finish the season in the bottom third of the league, which is ordinarily a tough position from which to earn first-team all-conference honors. But Punter has been fantastic on a team with little offensive balance. He currently is second in the league in scoring (23.1 PPG) and is shooting 38.5 percent from three-point range. He’s shown remarkable improvement from his junior campaign, when he averaged just over ten points per contest. If he keeps up this level of play, Punter has a strong chance to make the all-SEC first team. Read the rest of this entry »

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Florida is Quietly Building a Strong NCAA Resume

Posted by David Changas on February 2nd, 2016

Heading into the Big 12/SEC Challenge, Florida had quietly managed to put together a solid NCAA Tournament-quality resume. It may not have contained any wins over top-50 opponents, but the loss column was also largely limited to teams ranked among the top 50. After getting thrashed by Tennessee in early January in Knoxville, the Gators narrowly lost at Texas A&M and Vanderbilt in working their way to a good-not-great 5-3 SEC record. That profile changed on Saturday, however, as Florida enhanced its resume significantly with a resounding 88-71 home win over #9 West Virginia. It’s the kind of win that will pay significant dividends on Selection Sunday, and one that head coach Michael White hopes will become a springboard to even more success in the second half of conference play.

Michael White has Florida positioned for the NCAA Tournament (Rich Barnes/USA Today)

Michael White has Florida well positioned for the NCAA Tournament (Rich Barnes/USA Today)

Florida has lived in the NCAA Tournament for nearly all of the last two decades, missing the Big Dance only twice in the prior 17 seasons. Small note: All that was accomplished with a Hall of Fame coach pacing the sidelines. When Billy Donovan fled Gainesville last spring for the bright lights of the NBA, athletic director Jeremy Foley turned to a coach who was about as accomplished as Donovan when he arrived at the school in 1996. While the early returns on White’s tenure are mixed – the Gators’ pre-conference losses came to Purdue, Michigan State, Miami (FL) and Florida State, prior to the ugly loss at Tennessee — the new head man in Gainesville has since steadily righted the ship. Some questioned his hiring around the holidays, but Florida would easily be in the field of 68 if the season ended today. Most of the focus in the SEC has centered on the rise of Texas A&M, the fall of Kentucky, and the superstardom of Ben Simmons, allowing the Gators to fly well under the radar for the first time in a long while.

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SEC Stock Watch: 01.22.16 Edition

Posted by David Changas on January 22nd, 2016

We are now one-third of the way through conference play, and the balance of power in the SEC is starting to take shape. This is our latest Stock Watch.

Buy: Texas A&M. The Aggies brought in a top-five recruiting class, and big things were expected. However, it hasn’t been the heralded crop of top-75 players — one of whom has already left College Station — that has carried Billy Kennedy’s team. Instead, it has been several veterans — Danuel House and Jalen Jones most prominent among them — and a graduate transfer (Anthony Collins) who have put the Aggies squarely in the driver’s seat in the SEC with a 6-0 start to league play. They should get to 8-0 with games against Missouri and at Arkansas forthcoming before things get more difficult, but it’s fair to say they have more than lived up to expectations, and with such a veteran club, a long run in the NCAA Tournament should be expected.

Danuel House has emerged as one of the most dangerous scorers in the SEC (247sports.com).

Danuel House has helped lead Texas A&M to a perfect start in SEC play. (247sports.com)

SellMissouri. Things for the other 2012 entrant into the SEC have not gone nearly as well as they have for their counterpart to the south. Kim Anderson’s Tigers have already a self-imposed a postseason ban that, with Missouri sitting at 8-10, is meaningless, and the future looks murky. This is what happens when Frank Haith has the reins of your program for three years. While the Tigers have a good tradition of strong basketball, it may take several years to right this ship, and questions as to whether the 60-year-old Anderson is the man to get it pointed in the right direction are fair, despite the fact that he had nothing to do with the troubles they are currently facing. Read the rest of this entry »

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SEC Stock Watch: 12.04.15 Edition

Posted by David Changas on December 4th, 2015

Now that the season is in full swing, it’s time for us to take a look at the coaches, teams, and players that we should be bullish on, and those we should look to unload as fast as we can.

BuyKentucky Being Beatable. The Wildcats’ big win over Duke last month had some people thinking that Kentucky could make another long undefeated run to start the season. Thanks to UCLA last night in Pauley Pavilion, any 40-0 talk is already over. The Bruins’ handling of John Calipari’s squad should give the rest of the SEC some hope this season. After watching the Wildcats cruise through the conference schedule last year, it is clear that this year’s version will not be quite as dominant. That has to be encouraging to the rest of a league that has grown tired of being beaten down by Big Blue.

Tyler Ulis and Kentucky are the prohibitive favorites to win the SEC (Mark Zerof, USA Today Sports)

Tyler Ulis and Kentucky are still the prohibitive favorites to win the SEC (Mark Zerof, USA Today Sports)

SellAnyone Besides Kentucky Winning the SEC. While Kentucky’s loss will encourage the rest of the league, no one should be delusional enough to think the Wildcats are anything but the prohibitive favorite to win the regular season title. It is likely that they lose a game here or there, but Kentucky is still without question the team to beat. Vanderbilt and Texas A&M have shown that they are ready to win a lot of games in league play as well, but when everything is said and done, it’s still all too likely that the Wildcats will take home another SEC championship.

Buy: Vanderbilt. These Commodores have a chance to advance as far as any Vanderbilt team has since the 2007 squad that went to the Sweet Sixteen. Kevin Stallings seems to truly enjoy coaching this group, and the talent may fit his coaching style better than it did with the Festus Ezeli, Jeffery Taylor and John Jenkins group. With two solid NBA prospects in forward Damian Jones and guard Wade Baldwin, the Commodores should be athletic enough to compete with most teams. Assuming their defense continues to improve, anything short of a run to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament will be considered a disappointment in Nashville.

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SEC M5: 12.01.15 Edition

Posted by David Changas on December 1st, 2015

SEC_morning5

  1. Kentucky held on to its position as the No. 1 team in America in yesterday’s AP poll. The Wildcats defeated Illinois State 75-63 at home on Monday night, despite playing without their leader, Tyler Ulis. The 5’9 sophomore hurt his right elbow in Friday’s win over South Florida in Miami, and coach John Calipari said prior to Monday’s game that he was day-to-day. One could assume that if Calipari thought his team really needed Ulis to dispatch the Redbirds, he would have played, but that obviously wasn’t necessary. It is safe to say that Ulis, who was averaging 13.2 points, 4.3 assists, 3.8 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game going into the contest, is the player the Wildcats can least afford to lose.
  2. Speaking of injuries to smallish SEC guards, Auburn will be without  guard Tahj Shamsid-Deen for up to two weeks after the junior re-injured his surgically-repaired right shoulder during the Tigers’ home win over Northwestern State on Friday. Shamsid-Deen, who originally injured the shoulder on October 27, missed both of Auburn’s exhibition games and the season-opener against UAB. Regarded as one of the best defenders on the team, Shamsid-Deen was on the verge of re-entering the starting lineup. Now, coach Bruce Pearl will hope to get him back before the Tigers’ December 12 trip to Middle Tennessee State. If he is not back by then, Pearl should get his most experienced player back before Auburn travels to Xavier on December 19.
  3. College basketball fans have made sport over the past year or so of making fun of LSU coach Johnny Jones’s shortcomings as a head coach. Talent has not been an issue for the Tigers, who lost underclassmen Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey to the NBA Draft after last season, but added the best player in the country, Ben Simmons, and another five-star recruit in Antonio Blakeney. Unfortunately for Jones, however, nothing he has gotten from his talented group so far has changed the perception people who follow the sport have of him, and Monday’s loss at the College of Charleston, which comes on the heels of two losses last week, will do nothing to quiet the critics. Certainly, it is way too early in the season to reach any overarching conclusions about where any team is, and LSU does get Arizona transfer Craig Victor eligible and sharpshooter Keith Hornsby back soon. Still, the Tigers are digging a hole that they’re going to struggle to get out of when it comes to building their resume, and with the calendar flipping to December, Jones would be well-served to figure things out.
  4. South Carolina is one of only a handful of teams in the country that is still undefeated, and though the Gamecocks’ competition may not have been overly impressive thus far, given the school’s recent basketball history, things are looking up for Frank Martin’s club. On Monday, senior forward Mindaugas Kacinas was named SEC Player of the Week for his efforts in South Carolina’s wins over Tulsa in the Paradise Jam championship game and against Lipscomb at home on Friday. Kacinas averaged 13.0 points and 7.0 rebounds in the games. Mississippi State’s Quinndary Weatherspoon was named SEC Freshman of the Week after he scored a season-high 16 points in the Bulldogs 76-51 win over Tennessee-Martin.
  5. If you’re a Star Wars fan, you know that the latest installment – Star Wars: The Force Awakens – opens on December 18. Several professional sports teams have held versions of “Star Wars nights,” allowing fans to dress up as their favorite characters. Florida has decided to get into the act, and Tuesday night’s home game against Richmond will be Star Wars night. There will be costume contests, among other activities, and given the popularity of the movie series, the promotion is a sure bet to draw some fans who normally would not darken the door of the O’Connell Center. Considering some of the problems Florida had with attendance over the years, despite an incredible amount of success, kudos to the Gators’ marketing department for coming up with – or at least copying – the idea.
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