Checking In On… the SEC

Posted by Gerald Smith on December 14th, 2011

Gerald Smith (@fakegimel) is the RTC correspondent for the Southeastern Conference. 

Reader’s Take


The Week That Was

  • That’s Why You’re Mad: Kentucky was seeing red on Saturday as they dropped a game to Indiana. Coaches across the country (especially in the SEC) had a good look at the blueprint to upset Big Blue: Hot outside shooting, strong post play, and good interior defensive positioning to take charges on driving Wildcats. Much has been made about Terrence Jones‘ malaise and Marquis Teague‘s resurgence. Although the Wildcats have plenty of time to lick their wounds the pride of being the last undefeated SEC team was trampled by the Hoosier faithful rushing their court.
  • Desperately Seeking 3-Goggles: Another SEC power-team also had its pride damaged last week. Dayton exploited Alabama’s weakness — awful three-point shooting — to pull off a 74-62 upset. Though the Crimson Tide’s next game yielded a better result (64-52 win over Detroit), the three-point shooting woes continued (2-15 vs. Detroit, 10-58 the last four games). Coach Anthony Grant was counting on one or more of his freshmen guards — Trevor Lacey, Rodney Cooper and Levi Randolph — to provide the outside shooting. None of them have risen to the challenge yet. Alabama will be particularly vulnerable to upsets from streaky-shooting teams until they find a solution to their outside shooting woes.

The Iron Has Been Unkind To Trevor Lacey's Three-point Shooting. (Credit: Marvin Gentry-US PRESSWIRE)

  • Big: A pleasant surprise in the SEC this season has been the play of Mississippi State’s Arnett Moultrie. The transfer from UTEP, averaging 17.1 PPG and 11.2 RPG, is exceeding the expectations set for him. Unfortunately the 6’11” forward is battling with knee tendinitis. He has missed three games for the Bulldogs, including yesterday’s 75-68 victory over FAU. Moultrie will hopefully be ready for Mississippi State’s next series of games which include two away games, including a tilt at #6 Baylor.
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SEC Set Yer TiVo: Dead Week Edition

Posted by Gerald Smith on December 13th, 2011

Students across SEC schools are finishing up their term papers and cramming for finals before the Christmas break. To help their students, most schools have scheduled a bunch of high-calorie cupcakes for this week’s game. Beware of the sugar crash! A team might sleep through their on-court exam and end up with an embarrassing grade.

Which games are worth the extra case of Red Bull, and which you should just sleep through?

Tennessee at Charleston — Wednesday, December 14 at 9 PM on ESPN2 and ESPN3 (***)

In the midst of a three-game losing streak — including an embarrassing 74-70 home loss to Austin Peay last Saturday — Tennessee has squandered a scrappy, feel-good start to the season. In order to build any momentum for being included on the NCAA Tournament bubble come March, Cuonzo Martin‘s team must stop the slide in the Carolina First Center. The College of Charleston has racked up an impressive 7-1 record this season with wins at Clemson and on a neutral court against UMass. They should win the Southern Conference and by extension make a potential win by Tennessee look especially good to the NCAA Selection Committee.

Tennessee Is the Only SEC Team Facing A Legitimate Threat This Week

Tennessee will need to find the defensive pressure of olden times to pull off the upset. For the season the Cougars are shooting 46.6% from the field and all five starters shoot better than 45%. Tennessee is 0-4 when allowing their opponents to shoot better than 43% from the field. Charleston is getting out-rebounded by their opponents by an average of three per game. If Tennessee can use their athleticism and length to contest shots and dominate the defensive glass, it will fuel their transition game and possibly help them avoid missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006.

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Crosstown Shootout 2011: Overwhelmed By Passion

Posted by Gerald Smith on December 10th, 2011

Gerald Smith is an RTC correspondent. He filed this column from today’s Crosstown Shootout game between Cincinnati and Xavier.

Our Alma Mater, proud and strong. Fight to the finish, never give in.

We want athletics to be our battleground: My team versus your team, my color better than yours. Local foes — the enemy you know best — often extract the most passion. The one game of the year that secures bragging rights. It’s definitely more than just a game for the players, coaches and fans. Xavier’s 76-53 victory against Cincinnati in today’s Crosstown Shootout, like most deep-seated rivalries, brought out the best and the worst of everyone involved. Yet somehow we’re all supposed to act outraged when the passion becomes overwhelming.

Dezmine Wells got overwhelmed. He saw Ge’Lawn Guyn put his hands on Tu Holloway. Wells, in his first Crosstown Shootout, snapped and shoved Guyn. The frustrated Bearcats — and their especially-animated coach Mick Cronin — snapped. Xavier snapped back. The whole arena of fans snapped. For close to a minute of real time, shades of the Malice in the Palace were exhibited in a corner of the Cintas Center with pushes, punches, haymakers, stomps, shoves and general mayhem involved. Order was finally restored short of a complete chaos, and with 9.6 seconds left, the refs called the game over. The pressure had been building all game. The Xavier home crowd was especially livid; they knew what was said about Tu Holloway by Cincinnati’s Sean Kilpatrick. Student’s chanted “Tu’s your daddy!” when Kilpatrick and others took free throws.

At the end of the first half, the teams met at half court with just a smidge of bumping. The refs took a look at the tape and decided to warn the coaches of the players who were mouthing. The mouthing didn’t stop: Musketeer Mark Lyons and Kilpatrick mouthed at each other off-and-on through the latter half. Posing and three-goggles were busted out.

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SEC Morning Five: 12.08.11 Edition

Posted by Gerald Smith on December 8th, 2011

  1. Another set of games, another entry in the archive of “OH NO, SEC!” Tonight’s folly is provided by Alabama in its 74-62 loss to Dayton. The Crimson Tide’s 2-3 zone defense was pounded by 10-19 shooting from three by the Flyers. Similar to the Georgetown game, ‘Bama let themselves get behind early (down 38-27 at halftime) and couldn’t score enough in the second half to overcome the deficit. In its two losses this season, Alabama has allowed 41.2% (Georgetown) and 52.3% (Dayton) three-point shooting for their opponents. Anthony Grant’s team is not built to pour in the points through up-tempo play; he and his team will need to find a way to defend outside shooting if they want to re-enter the Top 25 after this week.
  2. Joining Alabama in the SEC Shame Loss Review is Georgia, who lost 68-56 in Athens to Georgia Tech for the first time in 35 years. With a little over fifteen minutes left in the second half, the Yellow Jackets went on a 12-0 run to pull away from their rivals. Once again, a team-wide poor shooting performance — 17-49 (34.7%) FG, 6-23 (26.1%) 3FG — chained the Bulldogs down on their own home court. Sophomore forward Donte’ Williams, praised earlier in the week by coach Mark Fox as “a much better player today than he was a month ago” was held to just three points and three rebounds in 20 foul-limited minutes. This 4-5 Georgia team squandered an opportunity to give itself some hope for an NCAA bubble appearance. Its next game against Southern California is their last, desperate chance to improve its non-conference RPI.
  3. In SEC action that’s doesn’t involve bad losses, Florida outlasted Arizona in overtime, 78-72, giving the Gators a much-needed strong RPI win for their non-conference schedule. The Gators took control of the game in the second half using the offensive rebounding of Patric Young (25 points, 10 rebounds, six offensive rebounds) and the long arms of Will Yeguete (seven points, four steals) to force turnovers. Arizona kept the game tight with nine three-pointers and then used a generous foul call on forward Solomon Hill to force overtime. In the extra period, the Wildcats looked tired and started missing shots that were falling just minutes before. Billy Donovan might had been livid at Hill’s continuation foul but he must be pleased with the way his team handled its business in overtime.
  4. John Calipari is a coach of the people. Last week, he opened up an interactive poll on his web site that sought the opinion of the Big Blue Nation — as though getting Kentucky fans to voice their opinion requires asking — on which of the basketball team’s traditional rival games could be dropped. The overwhelming winner is Indiana with 69% of the drop-them vote, followed by North Carolina (23%) and Louisville (8%). The coach tweeted today that, “dropping [one] annual [head-to-head] series allows me to schedule more neutral site games like the KU, Duke, MSU classic. [You] wanna play ’em, we schedule ’em.” ESPN’s college basketball blogger Eamonn Brennan notes that Calipari’s attempt to crowdsource the schedule and keep the UK fanbase engaged is just the latest example of why he is perfect for leading the Wildcats and their fans.
  5. The SEC expanded schedule is just around the corner, with Texas A&M and Missouri joining the league next season. This season Mizzou filled coach Mike Anderson‘s vacancy with Frank Haith. The new coach cut out the full-court press and installed some offensive tweaks that has helped propel the Tigers to a #10 AP ranking and an 8-0 record. After Missouri’s impressive rout of Villanova on Wednesday, Ballin’ is a Habit reported that the team feels better without Anderson: “It’s no secret that this group did not enjoy their final year under the tutelage of Mike Anderson. The combination of a short leash, a deep bench and unacceptability of making a mistake made it difficult for the players on this team to get into a rhythm.” We wonder if Arkansas players, now under the tutelage of Anderson, agree with his former players? Or do they now have some new bulletin board material for their first in-conference battle with the Tigers next year?
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SEC Morning Five: 12.07.2011 Edition

Posted by Gerald Smith on December 7th, 2011

  1. When you hang banners in Rupp Arena, then you make that money! On Tuesday the University of Kentucky Board of Trustees approved a contract extension for basketball coach John Calipari, making him the highest paid college basketball coach in the nation. Including money for broadcasting and endorsements, Calipari will make $3.7 million the first year; if he stays through the eight-year duration, he will make $4.5 million in his final year. Compared to college football’s highest-paid coaches, the Kentucky basketball coach’s salary is less than Texas’ Mack Brown ($5.2 million/yr) and just five other coaches, including the SEC’s Nick Saban ($4.8 million) and Les Miles ($3.75 million), but it’s certainly not too shabby.
  2. The season series with North Carolina and Kentucky is now awaiting renewal. Officials from both schools aren’t exactly rushing out to secure the series, including newly-minted coach John Calipari. The Kentucky coach spoke on his radio show about removing one of the heads of the “three-headed monster” — UNC, Louisville and Indiana — in Kentucky’s non-conference schedule. The coach argued that one of the traditional rivals must be dropped to allow for a projected increase of SEC conference games and to protect his ever-constant flow of talented freshmen recruits. Calipari later clarified on his web site that Kentucky’s schedule should be tailored to the players and the team. Ultimately, Calipari is trying to find a solution for two problems: Traditional rivalry games don’t make the kind of broadcasting money that justifies the risk of losing; and without an earlier start for team practices, Calipari’s freshmen-loaded squads will always be more vulnerable in high-profile December games against traditional powerhouses. A Kentucky non-conference schedule without North Carolina would be strange but acceptable if Kentucky continues to sign up for marquee events like the State Farm Champions Classic. We think that a Kentucky season without engaging long-time regional rivals Louisville and Indiana, however, would just be wrong.
  3. One regional rivalry that won’t be going away anytime soon: Georgia vs. Georgia Tech. The two in-state foes will clash for the 188th time on the hardwood tonight. This is truly a home-grown event: The Atlanta Constitution-Journal’s preview highlights that ten of fourteen players on each teams’ roster grew up in the Peach State. The Yellowjackets have not won at Stegeman Coliseum since 1976, though the teams played at a neutral court for 14 years since that time. (For more info about tonight’s games, check out our Set Yer TiVo post.)
  4. Good news for people who love Gator news: Erik Murphy has recovered from his knee injury and should play against Arizona tonight. The 6’10” junior missed three games since November 25 after suffering a bone bruise in practice. Murphy was a key figure in keeping Florida within reach in its seven-point loss to then #3 Ohio State and was desperately missed in the four-point loss against then #4 Syracuse. Arizona has been using a three-guard lineup recently, which may allow Murphy to contribute more inside-the-paint than outside of it.
  5. In this week’s SEC Check-In — which you checked out, right? — we rewarded Mississippi with a #4 position in our Power Rankings due to its ability to gut out wins against good-not-great opponents. The difference between this Rebels team and last year’s team is the lack of guard Chris Warren. Red Cup Rebellion wonders whether Warren’s absence is providing an example of a Ewing Theory-like effect on coach Andy Kennedy’s team. RCR notes that current guards Jarvis Summers and Nick Williams in particular have been controlling the offense more effectively than Warren’s efforts last season. With former McDonald’s All-American and Memphis transfer Jelan Kendrick becoming eligible for a December 10 game against Mississippi Valley State, Ole Miss will need to adapt to continue their impressive tough-win streak.
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Checking In On… the SEC

Posted by Gerald Smith on December 6th, 2011

Gerald Smith is the RTC correspondent for the Southeastern Conference. 

Reader’s Take


The Week That Was

  • Big East Beatdown:The SEC left this past weekend’s Big East/SEC Challenge battered and bruised. Despite a tight road win for Mississippi at DePaul, the SEC only won four of the twelve games of the Challenge. Several of the high-profile swing games were close but did not turn in the SEC’s favor: Florida‘s three-point barrage wasn’t enough to lift it over Syracuse’s offensive rebounding and free-throw rate; Alabama could not slow down Georgetown’s offense enough to catch up; and Vanderbilt folded late in regulation and offered no counter to Louisville’s defense in overtime. The eight SEC teams that lost in the Challenge games scored an average of just 59.8 points, which includes Florida’s respectable 68 points and South Carolina’s surprising 67 points. Those eight losing teams also were out-rebounded by an average of 4.6 rebounds per game, with five teams out-rebounded by at least six rebounds. Those are some big talking points for coaches as they take their teams into the the final warm-ups for conference play.
  • And All I Gave You Was Goodbye: Vanderbilt’s problems are almost too numerous to count. Everybody notices the absence of injured center Festus Ezeli; others have picked up on its underwhelming point-guard play. A recent disturbing trend is Jeffery Taylor‘s ineffectiveness late in Vandy’s last two games. Most of the senior’s stats this year (14.9 PPG, 47.3% FG, 6.3 RPG, 2.9 APG) are career bests… except for free-throw shooting (57.5%, down from 71.9% last season). Against Xavier, Taylor didn’t score after the 8:17 mark in the 2nd half. Against Louisville, Taylor didn’t score after the 17:25 mark in the second half, and gave up five turnovers from that time until the end of overtime. We hope he and his coaching staff can figures out what’s happening to him late in games and fix yet another problem dragging down his team.

Vandy's Jeffery Taylor doesn't want to go back to December after his dismal late-game performance against Louisville. (AP/Timothy D. Easley)

  • Yeah, Click-Clack: The Head Ball Coach is mostly done with Bruce Ellington, and not a moment too soon for coach Darrin Horn. The Gamecocks lost four of their first six games before Ellington hit the floor last Thursday in a 76-67 loss to Providence. On Sunday, the sophomore guard and his teammates beat their in-state rival Clemson 58-55 in part to Ellington’s nine points which included 4-4 FT. With Ellington back in the fold — and without any significant injuries from his time playing football — the Gamecocks can finally get their offense moving again.

Power Rankings


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SEC Set Yer TiVo: 12.5.2011 Edition

Posted by Gerald Smith on December 5th, 2011

SEC Set Your TiVo will take a look ahead at each week’s key games. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

Two days. The SEC has given us two whole days of no basketball action. Take Monday and Tuesday to spend time with your significant other and/or children. Tell them you love them and that you enjoy their company. Then on Wednesday night, you have a choice: Shall you spend an unprecedented third day with the people-that-you-love-the-most-after-March? Or is there a game that needs to be seen?

Arizona at Florida – Wednesday, December 7, 7 PM on ESPN3 (***)

Arizona is still trying to figure things out this season. Sean Miller has started eight different players, most recently removing center Kyryl Natyazhko from the starting lineup. In Saturday’s 53-39 win over Northern Arizona, the Wildcats featured a three-guard set featuring Kyle Fogg (11 PPG, 41.4% 3FG), Jordin Mayes (7.4 PPG) and Nick Johnson (10.8 PPG, 46.4% 3FG). That leaves 6’7″ Jesse Perry (10.5 PPG, 9.1 RPG) and 6’6″ Solomon Hill (12.4 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 3.1 assists per game) in the frontcourt.

Patric Young identifies aliens and subliminal advertising using the eyewear provided by Billy Donovan (Photo via John Raoux / AP)

In the paint, Arizona may find themselves outmatched. 6’9″ Patric Young and 6’7″ Will Yeguete played up to their size in a losing effort against Syracuse. If 6’10” forward Erik Murphy can contribute — he’s been cleared to play — Arizona will have a tough time covering all the locations from which Murphy can score. Arizona must not over-commit to interior defense or else Kenny Boynton, Bradley Beal and Erving Walker will bomb away. Arizona has one of the best three-point defenses in the country even though they allowed 8-12 3FG shooting in a 61-57 loss to San Diego State.

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A Quick, Fake Summary: There Ain’t No Easy Way Out of Rupp Arena

Posted by Gerald Smith on December 3rd, 2011

Seven or more potential NBA Lottery picks! The new #1 team in the nation versus the old #1 team! Jim Nantz put on his extra-stretchy pants! Almost everybody in college basketball was excited for this afternoon’s tilt between Kentucky and North Carolina. Would the teams bring the kind of effort and execution that the nation would expect from them?


North Carolina took a 43-38 lead at halftime thanks to incredible 3-point shooting (6-8) and great execution from junior forward John Henson, who had six points, three rebounds, and three blocks in the 1st half. Kentucky missed tons of lightly-contested jumpers and shot only 14-38 FG (36.8%) and a dismal 2-9 3FG (22.2%). Terrence Jones (5-11 FG, 3-3 FT for 14 points in first half) and Mike Kidd-Gilchrist (eight points, seven rebounds in first half) kept the Wildcats close.

Surprisingly it was John Calipari’s young squad that stepped up to the challenge by controlling the game. Kentucky forced North Carolina to play a slower-tempo game and started double-teaming senior forward Tyler Zeller (14 points, eight rebounds, and four turnovers for the game). North Carolina got blocked six times in the second half and was limited to just 10-29 FG (34.5%) and six free-throw attempts on just five Kentucky fouls.

Neither team would back down: It took a block by Anthony Davis (seven points, nine rebounds, and two blocks) on Henson (ten points, eight rebounds, and three blocks) to prevent North Carolina from going ahead in the final seconds. The future NBA Stars all contributed to the epic game: UNC’s Harrison Barnes scored 14 points with four 3-pointers in just 24 foul-limited minutes. Kendall Marshall had eight assists and three turnovers with eight points. UK’s Jones (14 points, seven rebounds, three blocks, and two steals), Marquis Teague (seven points on 3-11 FG, four assists, and one turnover) and Doron Lamb (14 points on just two 3-pointers) all shined on both offensive and defensive ends. Even Rupp Arena attendees seemingly forced a turnover when Dexter Strickland fumbled away an inbound pass during a deafening “Go Big Blue” chant.

Kentucky wins 73-72, but neither team would back down. That made for an awesome experience that will be talked about in the annals of college basketball history.

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Big East/SEC Challenge: Arkansas @ Connecticut, LSU @ Rutgers

Posted by Gerald Smith on December 3rd, 2011

To preview the match-ups in the Big East/SEC Challenge, the Big East & SEC Microsites are facing off in conversational analysis. Gerald Smith and Patrick Prendergast butt heads once last time over the final two games of the series: Arkansas @ UConn (2:15 PM EST on ESPN) and LSU @ Rutgers (7PM EST on ESPNU).

Arkansas @ Connecticut

Patrick Prendergast: We know Mike Anderson and his Arkansas Razorbacks want to play fast and outgun their opponents. They are averaging 83.7 points per game in their 5-1 start. Their lone defeat was an 87-78 setback to Houston and I just happened to catch a good portion of it on the tube. The game actually gave me the cold sweats because I thought I was watching the Keno Davis-coached Providence teams of the past few years. Arkansas could not find a shot it didn’t like, and it was a flossing of the cylinder for Houston to the tune of 52.5% shooting for the game.

Jeremy Lamb Is Living Up to the Hype

Connecticut can score the ball at a fair rate themselves (75.6 PPG), and honestly have to be salivating at the opportunity to fatten up on the Hogs. Further, UConn should be able to have its way around the basket due to an overwhelming size advantage up front with the likes of the 6’10” Andre Drummond, 6’8” DeAndre Daniels, and the 6’9” duo of Tyler Olander and Alex Oriakhi pounding away. The freshman phenom Drummond (8.1 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 2.9 BLK) is the reigning Big East Rookie of the Week and is beginning to get his collegiate sea legs under him. Oh yeah, and Connecticut’s most dynamic players have not been mentioned yet: Sophomore forward and All-America candidate Jeremy Lamb (21.1 PPG, 3.9 RPG) is living up to the hype and Lamb’s classmate, point guard Shabazz Napier (17.9 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 6.0 APG) already has a triple-double under his belt this year.

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The MOST ANTICIPATED North Carolina at Kentucky Preview!

Posted by Gerald Smith on December 3rd, 2011

The game that nearly every college basketball fan has circled on their calendars is finally here: #4 North Carolina visiting #1 Kentucky. The hype for the game started with Kentucky’s defeat of UNC in the 2011 Elite Eight. Then anticipation turned into a frenzy when upperclassmen — sophomore Harrison Barnes, senior Tyler Zeller, and junior John Henson for the Tar Heels, sophomores Doron Lamb and Terrence Jones for the Wildcats — passed on the 2011 NBA Draft. Instead the NBA will be coming to them (if they can get the media credentials) Saturday at Noon EST. Plebeians like the rest of us can watch the national broadcast on CBS.

Series History (by Gerald Smith): These two programs are the foundation of college basketball, yet on Saturday they play each other for just the 35th time in history. The Tar Heels own the overall series 22-12 and have padded their lead with a 6-2 record since 2004. Back in the 1920s, North Carolina and Kentucky were actually conference-mates in the Southern Conference. The two teams played each other twice in the conference tournament held in Atlanta and once in Lexington, with the Tar Heels coming away victorious each time. Kentucky left to join the Southeastern Conference while North Carolina eventually split off with other Southern Conference teams to form the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Adolph Rupp Helped Turn This Into A Regular Series in the 1960s

Kentucky Coach Adolph Rupp and first-year UNC coach Dean Smith organized a ten-game home-and-home series starting in 1962. According to’s highly-detailed write-up of the UNC-UK rivalry, the first game of the series saw the debut of Smith’s “the Kentucky play”: a prototype version of Smith’s (in)famous Four Corners offense. North Carolina point guard Larry Brown — yeah, that Larry Brown — would move the ball to the middle and all other Carolina players would space out to the four corners of the floor. By controlling the ball and limiting Wildcat great Cotton Nash to 12 points, North Carolina upset the Wildcats, 88-86. During the 11 games that encompassed this first regular-season series, UNC won eight of them.

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