SEC M5: 11.22.13 Edition

Posted by Justin Bridgman on November 22nd, 2013

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  1. ESPN.com‘s Eamonn Brennan took a look at the early candidates for the Wooden Award, and it’s no surprise that Julius Randle made the list. In fact, Randle was the only SEC player to be named. In a season of big-time talent across the nation, the SEC is a bit short yet again. Put me in the camp that has Randle as the current favorite, though, as he has dominated in a way that freshman typically do not. While Marcus Smart and Jabari Parker are both fine candidates, my money is on Randle. He’s a singular force that changes the way his entire team is defended. Even on nights when his shot isn’t falling, Randle can control a game with his rebounding and brute force. Ultimately, though, the winner of the award will probably be whichever player’s team wins the most games.
  2. It has been far too long since a John Calipari to the NBA rumor came out, so good thing it was reported yesterday that the Knicks are interested in hiring him. From a Kentucky perspective, this would be an unmitigated disaster. Calipari has been insanely successful as the Wildcats’ head coach, and it is doubtful the school could strike gold twice in a row (remember Billy Gillispie?). Odds are that this speculation continues for a while but goes away when Calipari gets a pay bump from his employer. Barring another visit from the NCAA, Coach Cal can stay in Lexington for as long as he likes. In New York, Calipari would be setting himself up for disappointment with a lack of draft picks and a bunch of overpaid fading stars. Right now, it doesn’t seem worth it for Calipari to leave the college game.
  3. Jordan Clarkson has been an early revelation for Missouri this season, and the defending SEC Player of the Week is just getting started. Clarkson sat out last season due to transfer rules, and he spent all the practice time working on his finishing moves. That work has given Clarkson the confidence to keep attacking the rim, which is going to help Mizzou in games where they would otherwise have no business winning. Clarkson can get an entire team’s frontcourt in foul trouble and make a living at the line. The most impressive park of his game thus far, though, is his willingness to avoid the three. He’s only taken eight treys this season, and he seems to be aware it isn’t his strength. That awareness is what is allowing him to flourish.
  4. With Kasey Hill out for at least a month, Billy Donovan has a lot of work to do. In this press conference Donovan talks about how he already had to pull point guard minutes from desperate places when Hill needed rest during games. The problem is that Donovan previously only needed to find 10 minutes per game to spell him, not 40. The bottom line is that without a true point guard the Gator’s offense will suffer. Shooting guards and point forwards are more inclined to look to score and make plays for themselves rather than through the offense.That can lead to bad shots and unhappy players. At least for one night though, the team found balanced scoring in a solid win over Middle Tennessee. Still, they had just 10 assists on 25 made baskets, which just goes to show they really miss having a true point guard.
  5. Ever wonder what a high major recruit could do to JuCo competition? Well new LSU commit Josh Gray is giving us a pretty good idea. Gray, who will be joining Johnny Jones in Baton Rouge next season, scored 61 and 59 points in his last two games. Originally a Mississippi State recruit, Gray actually went to Texas Tech for his freshman season before moving on to junior college, and now LSU gets to enjoy his services next season. A solid rim attacker and distributor, Gray will be an excellent addition to a rising Tigers program next season.
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SEC M5: 11.21.13 Edition

Posted by Justin Bridgman on November 21st, 2013

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  1. Auburn will be without one of their key forwards for the time being. JUCO transfer Chris Griffin has to leave the team to attend to a family matter. While we all hope everything ends up being okay in his personal life, there is no doubt Auburn will miss Griffin. He was coming off a 17-point effort against Northwestern State, and presents an inside-outside presence that the Tigers really need. This is an Auburn team that already has shown they cannot defend and they will likely struggle to score a little as well. Griffin will be replaced for now by walk-on Alex Thompson. Thompson gives the Tigers a little size at 6’8″, but his scoring ability is limited. He will have to contribute on the boards and defense to make an impact. Anyone on Auburn willing to defend at this point is an automatic upgrade.
  2. Johnny Jones was not happy with his team’s effort on Tuesday night, despite the fact that they won 81-54. Jones felt the team wasn’t consistent in their shot selection and generally played poorly on offense, including going seven minutes without a field goal at one point. He has a point, LSU has already had a couple games this season where they went long stretches without a field goal. That is hard to watch and not wonder what happens when the level of competition is raised as the team makes a run at a NCAA bid. However, Jones should keep in mind he has a dominant rebounding team, and is currently missing one of his best players. Once Jarell Martin is back, the Tigers offense will have another weapon, and it is doubtful they go through many dry spells.
  3. Look up on the map to Kentucky and surprise surprise, you will find another coach not happy with his team. John Calipari is a master at finding even the smallest thing to criticize about his teams. Right now, he isn’t happy with the way his team is rebounding, and it all relates back to effort. Kentucky is far too big to lose rebounds to inferior competition, so its hard to blame Calipari. As with every minor detail he sets out to correct, Calipari understands that he has the most talented team. That is the case nearly every season. What trips his team’s up tends to be because they take stretches of the game off. The Anthony Davis team was so successful because they combined their immense talent with effort. Same thing with the DeMarcus Cousins team, and effort will be what sets this Kentucky team apart and allows their talent to dominate.
  4. Here is a name to keep an eye on as the season moves along: Mississippi State big man Gavin Ware. He dropped 23 points and 11 rebounds on Mississippi Valley State, and is averaging 15 points and 12 rebounds a game so far this season. The reason Ware took such a big step this year? He has dropped his late night visits to Waffle House and replaced them with early morning exercise. Now Ware is in shape and the Bulldogs can run their offense though him, which is exactly what Rick Ray wants. His ability to score in the post will draw double teams to open up the three point line for the Mississippi State guards, and also give slashing teammates easy layups at the basket. Don’t be surprised when he is giving your favorite team’s big man trouble in conference play.
  5. There really isn’t much basketball related to say about this story, but it is too cool to not pass along. Missouri will host a Make-a-Wish kid during their basketball game this Saturday. This young woman was a former basketball player who was diagnosed with cancer which was discovered after she broke her leg. Now she wants to study Radiology and Medical Imaging. Go read her whole story, it is really amazing, and puts the typical early season coaches complaints into their proper perspective.
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SEC M5: 11.20.13 Edition

Posted by Justin Bridgman on November 20th, 2013

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  1. For the first time in eight seasons, Alabama scored more than 100 points in a game. All it took was playing Division II Stillman to pull it off. Two things worth noting really stood out in the box score. First, the Crimson Tide attempted 31 free throws while Stillman took just nine. Clearly, Alabama was more aggressive offensively, and were able to take advantage of the new NCAA rules. Second, and perhaps more remarkable in the age of the three-pointer, but Alabama made just five threes for the game. They made 32 two-point field goals, yet another testament to their aggressive mentality on offense. That is the mentality Anthony Grant needs from his team when they play better opponents the rest of the season.
  2. Frank Martin is concerned that his team is suffering from a lack of leadership, and it is showing with the team’s bad start. Martin felt that a lack of preparation led directly to the Gamecock’s inability to run their offense against Clemson, in true coach’s fashion Martin hated the team’s defense too. With seven true freshman on the roster, this really shouldn’t come a surprise. While Martin can lean on sophomore Michael Carrera for leadership, that is a lot to ask of a player with just one year of NCAA experience under his belt. As the season goes on, South Carolina will work out their issues, and a leader will emerge. In the meantime, enjoy Frank Martin’s brilliant quotes throughout the article, which include complimenting his team’s defense by calling it “not pathetic”.
  3. When a team is as deep and talented as Kentucky is, someone suffers a loss of playing time. At the start of the season it looked like Marcus Lee and Dominique Hawkins would not be in the Wildcat rotation. Flash forward to five games into the season and the picture has already changed. Lee started his second straight game last night, scoring 10 points and three blocks. Hawkins only scored 3 points, but played 13 minutes in a blowout win. John Calipari likes the way Hawkins brings energy when he plays, something the Wildcats have struggled with at times this season. Lee adds a versatile defensive element that Calipari loves. Lee can lead a press and also protect the rim in half court situations. Exactly what the rest of the country wanted, for Kentucky to find even more depth.
  4. LSU has one of the most talented front courts in the country this season, and their rebounding numbers reflect that so far. Even without start freshman Jarell Martin, the Tigers averaged 53.5 rebounds in their first two games, and added 56 last night. Johnny O’Bryant and Jordan Mickey have been dominating the glass, and even 5-9 guard Andre Stringer has been contributing quite a few rebounds. This is an advantage that LSU should continue to exploit all season long. Not only will it keep them in contention against Kentucky and Florida, but it will cause major issues for teams like Missouri that don’t have much size inside.
  5. Speaking of Martin, his return is still up in the air right now. While there was speculation he might return last night, precaution won out and Martin sat out again. It’s hard to determine the impact of Martin’s injury since he has only played 33 seconds and the LSU big men haven’t missed a beat without him. Still Martin is a five-star recruit and expected to make a major impact whenever he does get back from his injury. The sooner he comes back and develop chemistry with his teammates the better. In the meantime, fellow freshman Jordan Mickey has been a revelation for LSU and added 16 points and 11 rebounds last night.
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SEC M5: 11.19.13 Edition

Posted by Justin Bridgman on November 19th, 2013

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  1. Missouri’s Jordan Clarkson was named the SEC Player of the Week for his impressive work against Southern Illinois and Hawaii. He averaged 22 points on 51.5% shooting over those two games while carrying the Tigers to two victories. Clarkson has proven himself to be one of the biggest offensive threats in the conference already this season. His hard driving style has thrived with the new rules. If teams guard him too closely, he ends up on the foul line, and if they don’t, he is finishing at the rim. Clarkson is probably going to earn this honor a few more times this season, he is the heart of the Missouri offense, and without him in the game scoring is going to be difficult for the Tigers. It is not just the scoring that is so important, it’s the way it creates open looks for the rest of the team, especially Jabari Brown.
  2. In a very good article detailing the most overburdened players in college basketball, Miles Simon mentions Ole Miss star Marshall Henderson. As has been mentioned here before, Henderson has to carry his entire team’s offense this season. His most trusted teammates from last season are all no longer on the team, and that creates a situation where Henderson is asked to do too much. As a team, Ole Miss would benefit greatly from Henderson shooting more efficient shots and being able to find open teammates. The problem is, nobody has yet shown themselves capable of making those shots. Jarvis Summers and Ladarius White in particular need to help Henderson in the back court. If Summers and White can prove themselves capable of making open shots, the defense will have to defend them, and Henderson will wind up with more efficient looks.
  3. The Harrison twins were downright awful against Michigan State, but they showed Sunday night why they are such highly regarded basketball players. Aaron finished with 28 points including four made three pointers. Andrew finished with eight points, eight rebounds, and most importantly just two turnovers. Plenty of people questioned their collective readiness for the college game after Michigan State rendered both freshman useless. John Calipari made a great point after the game. “Like I said to Aaron after, you can’t be energized because you made shots. You’ve got to be energized because you’re playing basketball.” This is true not just for Aaron, but for the entire Kentucky team. The challenge isn’t winning on nights when all the shots are falling, it is winning on the night where the shots aren’t falling. That will be what puts them over the top this season.
  4. Coming into the season it seemed like LSU might have a bit of a point guard controversy. Freshman Tim Quarterman had the four star pedigree while junior Anthony Hickey was the solid contributor with past behavior issues. While Hickey has come off the bench every game this season, he already averages double the minutes of Quarterman, who has been the starter. The reality is, this situation is working itself out, and there is never going to be a controversy. Quarterman’s reputation for being a distributor has yet to be proven on the court, he’s had just one assist this season. He’s looked more comfortable playing off the ball, and actually had some of his best minutes while being teamed up with Hickey. This is a great thing for the Tigers, and gives them usable depth instead of a minutes feud. Combined with Andre Stringer, LSU can actually throw a few different guard combinations all with varying skill sets.
  5. As if the Gators needed more bad news, it looks like point guard Kasey Hill is going to miss a lot of time. He badly sprained his ankle Monday night in a win against Southern. It’s a shame too, because Hill was having a very good game going 4-6 from the field with three assists. With Hill out, and Scottie Wilbiken still suspended, Florida currently doesn’t have a point guard. DeVon Walker will fill in for now, along with Michael Frazier and perhaps a sprinkling of Dorian Finney-Smith. Still, it is a large burden to carry, and Florida’s offense is likely to take a dip in production until a real point guard returns. Florida will have to rely on their size advantage inside to create space on the perimeter, instead of the other way around. It will be yet another challenge for Billy Donovan this season.
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SEC M5: 11.18.13 Edition

Posted by Justin Bridgman on November 18th, 2013

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  1. Florida got their star transfer Dorian Finney-Smith back from a suspension on Saturday night, and he scored 17 points despite battling a virus. Finney-Smith is going to make an impact all over the court for the Gators, covering up holes inside and outside with his versatile game. Most importantly, he will help the Gators rebounding. Florida had been out rebounded in their first two games, but won the battle of the boards in their first game with Finnney-Smith back. During SEC play, Finney-Smith will be counted on even more against the big front lines of Kentucky, Tennessee, and LSU. Smith presents the kind of size and athletic ability that won’t be overwhelmed by those ultra-talented front lines. The Gators now await the return of Scottie Wilbekin and the NCAA approval for top recruit Chris Walker.
  2. Speaking of coming back from suspension, Marshall Henderson came back from his and led Ole Miss to a win. Naturally Henderson couldn’t resist showing off a few antics, and he let loose after a dunk late in the game. Antics aside, Henderson is the heart and soul of this Ole Miss team. It might not be ideal, but he makes all the difference. He’s able to destroy college defenses coming off screens and using his non-stop energy to create chaos. The Rebels offense is not the same without Henderson playing, and he is a good enough scorer to bail his team out when they do silly things like miss five of 10 free throws at the end of the game.
  3. Something quite amazing happened in the second half of Auburn‘s 111-92 loss to Northwestern State. The Tigers allowed a shocking 72 points in the second half at home. Northwestern State shot 68 percent in the second half, made 14 threes in the game, and earned 29 free throw attempts. That sort of thing only happens when a team simply does not care defensively. Auburn is not going to win any SEC games if they don’t play harder on defense. At some point, a team is no longer just “hot” and that point was reached Friday night. A cool moment for Northwestern State, but an embarrassing showing by a supposed major conference basketball team.
  4. Just two SEC teams made Gary Parrish’s Top 25 (and one) this week, and it is a trend likely to continue all season. There is a legitimate chance, with LSU and Tennessee both losing early, that entering conference play only two SEC teams will be ranked. Missouri has a chance to sneak in based on stacking up a lot of wins, but otherwise it doesn’t look good. This may seem trivial, but sheds light on the overall problem that continues to plague this league. Nationally the league is regarded as a playground for John Calipari and Billy Donovan, and yet again this season the rest of the league has fallen flat out of the gate.
  5. LSU, the SEC, and all of basketball lost a legend on Sunday. Joe Dean Sr, one of just three LSU players in the basketball Hall of Fame, passed away at the age of 83. He was a legendary broadcaster, and his signature call of “string music”  for a swish is infamous to many basketball fans. In addition to his impact as a broadcaster, Dean became the athletic director at LSU and the school won 40 SEC titles under his watch. Dean lived an accomplished athletic life and was able to enjoy great success in every endeavor. Not many players will make the All-SEC team, go on to be a broadcast titan, and finish their career by helping birth an athletics powerhouse. What a truly amazing life.
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South Carolina Better Than Expected, But Needs to Improve on the Boards

Posted by Justin Bridgman on November 16th, 2013

Frank Martin was quite clear in his impressions a day after his team lost to Baylor by two points earlier this week. He felt that his team gave the game away, and blamed a variety of factors for the loss: weak perimeter defense, a lack of off the ball movement on offense, a complete lack of rebounding. Martin used a zone defense to help negate the size advantage that Baylor had inside, and for the most part he made the right choice. The Bears only shot 38 percent from the floor and their starting five only attempted three three-point shots. The problem was that Martin failed to make the necessary adjustments when Baylor’s best shooter, Brady Heslip, was in the game. Heslip made five three-pointers and led Baylor with 18 points for the game.

Frank Martin can fix the offense, but he needs to get better rebounding effort in order to win

Frank Martin can fix the offense, but he needs to get better rebounding effort in order to win

Martin placed the perimeter defensive struggles on a lack of understanding by his players. “The personnel is there, it’s just a matter of developing their understanding and a desire to do it on a more consistent basis.” That is the kind of thing that will develop as the season goes on as players learn to trust the zone concept more and put forth the necessary effort to recover. If the Gamecocks can add a stronger perimeter defense while staying in their zone, it will force their opponents to take a lot of contested, inefficient jump shots.

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Jarell Martin’s Injured Ankle Pressures LSU Backcourt to Produce

Posted by Justin Bridgman on November 13th, 2013

Jarell Martin’s college career got off to a disappointing start yesterday, as he sprained his ankle during the first minute of LSU’s 92-90 season-opening loss at Massachusetts. Martin missed his only field goal attempt of the game, and never returned after the injury. Head coach Johnny Jones has yet to give an estimate on how severe the injury is or how long it will keep Martin out, but he did stress that the team will be extremely cautious with its precocious freshman.

Jarell Martin hurt his ankle just one minute into his college career (Scout.com)

Jarell Martin hurt his ankle just one minute into his college career (Scout.com)

In the short term, Martin’s absence was noticeable in the way Jones worked his rotation. The Tigers missed his presence with the team’s early foul trouble, especially when Johnny O’Bryant was forced to stay in the game with two early fouls. He was the only player scoring for the Tigers at the time, but his presence on the floor led to a third first half foul, costing him playing time later. Had he not been injured, Martin would have been able to shoulder some of the scoring load and perhaps Jones would have been more comfortable keeping O’Bryant on the bench had he trusted someone else to score. Based on how close the game was at the end, and the way LSU struggled to score when O’Bryant was out, it seems safe to assume the Tigers could have won had Martin been healthy. At the very least, LSU would have avoided the scoring issues that plagued them for long stretches in both halves.

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Team Chemistry Over Playing Time Holds the Key to LSU’s Season

Posted by Justin Bridgman on November 12th, 2013

When a team finishes its season on a run and they return a group of core veterans, it is natural to expect them to be quite good the next season. When that same roster adds a top 10 recruiting class, expectations rise even further. For LSU and Johnny Jones, a unique dilemma is going to play out early this season. Jones claims he can play up to 11 guys this season, but with all that talent and only 200 minutes per game to divvy up, someone is bound to get upset.

Johnny Jones is all smiles now, but can he make all his players happy this season? (SportsNola.com)

Johnny Jones is all smiles now, but can he make all his players happy this season? (SportsNola.com)

Can Johnny O’Bryant, Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey learn to play together? They are three of the best players on the roster, and all of them are best suited to play power forward. Martin is going to play small forward even though he played at the four throughout high school. He has some perimeter skills including a great jump shot, but his frame is more suited to play down low. To use him exclusively as an outside shooter would be a disservice to his overall talent. Mickey at the five has rim-protecting skills that will make life easier for O’Bryant, but he will also be taking up space in the lane and forcing O’Bryant to operate around him. O’Bryant will need to adjust and take advantage of all the open shooters created with such a packed lane.

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SEC M5: Opening Day Edition

Posted by Justin Bridgman on November 8th, 2013

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  1. ESPN’s Paul Biancardi did a fantastic job breaking down the individual skill sets of Kentucky’s hyped freshman class. His breakdown reveals a group of ultra-talented basketball players who should play wonderfully together. Last year’s Kentucky team suffered because the freshman did not mesh together the entire season, and their games were not well suited for one another. Based on their scouting reports as well as preseason reports, it appears that will not be the case this season. Offensively it seems obvious that the Harrison twins have games that will compliment each other. James Young will thrive in two roles, either as a spot up three point shooter or as an extra rebounder. The easy layups and dunks that Julius Randle gets his two centers will give teams nightmares every night. At least headed into the season, it seems like the chemistry and fit questions that faced Kentucky last season will not face them this season.
  2. Going into this season, one that will likely decide the coaches’ future, Auburn’s top scorers are excited about their two point guardsMalcolm Canada and Tahj Shamsid-Deen are praised by Tony Barbee for their chemistry with one another and the way it will benefit the entire team. Barbee thinks that the combination of Shamsid-Deen shooting from the outside and Canada slashing towards the basket will give the Tigers an exciting offensive dimension. Obviously, the time right before the season is when everyone is a great player and everything is supposed to go well. Hopefully for the sake of Barbee’s employment, these two talented guards can turn into the dynamic duo he is projecting them to be. He will need them to be able to open up space for the two best scorers on the team, KT Harrell and Chris Denson. Harrell and Denson are both very good scorers that can carry a team for a night at times. Without help from their teammates though, opposing defenses will lock in on those two and try to take them out of the game.
  3. Brace yourselves SEC fans, there are new rules in the NCAA this season, and the amount of fouls called per game is going to go up. With an emphasis on cutting down on physical play, it is likely that free throw attempts will be high at the start of the season. This is an idea that excited Auburn coach Tony Barbee, who thinks the game has been too bogged down the last few years and needs to be more open for offenses to run. Meanwhile, Billy Donovan admits he has changed the way he calls fouls during his practice to help his team adjust to the new rules. Donovan in particular is going to have to adjust his team to the new rules, because he is missing almost half of his team right now. With SEC Men’s Basketball officiating coordinator Jake Bell estimating 45 to 60 fouls will be called a game at the start of the season, teams without much depth will be forced to adapt. Big men in particular will be challenged to stay out of foul trouble while the officials are adjusting to the new points of emphasis. Eventually, I would expect the foul calls to cut back down, especially if a controversial incident occurs towards the end of a big game. For now though, coaches need to be prepared to deal with foul issues earlier in the game than usual.
  4. LSU has still not gotten word if freshman power forward Brian Bridgewater can play this season or not. Bridgewater needs clearance from the NCAA, and in a shocking turn of events, that is taking longer than expected. Bridgewater is an undersized power forward who relied on brute strength in high school to impose his will. As he transitions to the collegiate level Bridgewater will need to increase his basketball skills, because his 6-6 frame will not allow him to overpower all of his opponents. Even if Bridgewater cannot make a big impact on the court this season, the NCAA delay keeps him out of practice, which is where he needs to be. Developing skills is the next step in his career, and for right now, that is all on hold.
  5. Buried in this piece about Mississippi State coach Rick Ray admitting his team needs to win more games is a very interesting nugget. Ray says that he felt his team struggled to rebound last season in part because of the way he ran practices. Now instead of stopping a play to correct every fundamental flaw, Ray is going to let the play run until completion and then make his corrections. It will be interesting to see if this small adjustment actually makes an impact on the team’s rebounding ability. As they say, repetition breeds success, so the practice can’t hurt. Still, it reads as the type of preseason optimism that is running rampant across SEC basketball blurbs right now. It will be great to finally get the season started tonight and let the results do the talking.
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SEC M5: 11.07.13 Edition

Posted by Justin Bridgman on November 7th, 2013

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  1. After securing a commitment from power forward Trey Lyles, Kentucky now has the number one ranked 2014 recruiting class – seemingly an annual tradition at this point. With six of 247Sports top 10 players still undecided, that ranking is by no means locked in, but regardless, the Wildcats will reload again. Even if Kentucky does not land the biggest names like Jahlil Okafor or Cliff Alexander (and the rumors are that it won’t), this is still an amazing recruiting class. Kentucky fans should take a look at the players they are adding next season as a net positive. Tyler Ulis and Devin Booker are two players that are likely to stick around for two or three years rather than leave for the NBA after one season. Those are the type of players who help sustain championship-level teams as the elite prospects roll through on their one-year stopovers. The 2012 National Championship team needed senior Darius Miller as well as sophomores Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb. The one-and-done players are awfully nice, but having some 4-star recruits stick around an extra year or two also benefits the team in the long run.
  2. Speaking of Kentucky and highly touted recruits, Ken Pomeroy examined how many first round picks this Kentucky is likely to have next June. He looked back in the Draft Express archives and examined where players were picked and then compared it to their projected draft position before the season. The conclusion was that Kentucky is most likely to have either four or five first round picks this season. Something to keep in mind is that what we think of players now is often not what we think of them at the end of the season. Last January nobody would have thought Alex Poythress would be back for his sophomore season, and Nerlens Noel was the runaway choice to be picked first overall. Things can change drastically over the course of a season. Perhaps Andrew Harrison wants to stay in school with his brother who is not ready for the NBA yet. James Young could decide he wants to wait a year and get picked higher. No matter what happens, projections suggesting up to seven Kentucky players could go in the first round should be taken with a grain of salt. Too much can change between now and June to know anything for certain.
  3. When Missouri coach Frank Haith sits for his five-game NCAA suspension related to the Miami/Nevin Shapiro scandal, Tim Fuller will take over the Tigers’ head coaching duties. Fuller came to the Tigers with Haith and has been the associate head coach the last two years. This move is a bit of a surprise, considering assistant coach Dave Leitao has some experience as a head coach at the D-I level. Still, Fuller has been rumored to be a prime head coaching candidate the last couple of summers, and he deserves a chance to prove himself too. Missouri has a fairly easy opening five games (Southeastern Louisiana, Southern Illinois, Hawaii, Gardner-Webb, IUPUI), but not having the head coach in place creates a leadership void. Haith feels as though Fuller is up to the task, and it is a good bet that when Haith returns on Thanksgiving to face Northwestern, the Tigers will already be 5-0. The two things to watch for with Fuller: managing the rotation of players, especially with a young and unpolished frontcourt; and how he coaches at the end of games. Haith struggles himself at the end of close games, perhaps Fuller can prove himself capable in avoiding that same issue.
  4. Buried within the Tim Fuller news was the announcement that two Missouri big men might not play the season opener on Friday night. Forward Tony Criswell has been suspended for the first game of the season, while fellow big man Keanau Post hasn’t practiced all week with a bad ankle. Criswell is the only returning interior player for the Tigers this season, so they need him to play as much as possible. While Haith said he expected Criswell to be back for the team’s second game, that is not a given. When a team has as much roster turnover as Missouri does, they need as much time to play together as possible. Post was a solid scorer at the JuCo level and Missouri desperately needs someone who can score inside this season. Until these two inside players are able to return to the lineup, look for Mizzou to use its four-guard lineup quite often to spread the floor and overcome the size disadvantage.
  5. Billy Donovan isn’t sure what to expect in the early part of this season because he’s missing so much of his team. Donovan questions the team’s top 10 ranking to start the season, pointing out that the team pollsters voted on is not the team he currently has available. With three key players suspended, one sick with mononucleosis, and five-star point guard Chris Walker struggling with test scores, the Gators are missing a starting lineup that could beat Auburn by 15. Donovan is right, his team is going to hit some really rough patches early. Their non-conference schedule is tough, and they could suffer a few losses that probably would not have occurred if the team was at full strength. Playing Wisconsin on Tuesday will be especially challenging without all their athletes around to negate the Badgers more deliberate pace. Hopefully by the time Florida plays UConn on December 2, the team will be more intact. Like Devon Walker says in the article, eventually they will get most of their players back and have time to come together. Perhaps a slow start removes an opportunity for a two-seed in the NCAA Tournament, but a fully healthy Florida roster in March has no ceiling.
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SEC M5: 11.06.13 Edition

Posted by Justin Bridgman on November 6th, 2013

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  1. It seems that narrowly escaping exhibition games is the thing to do in the SEC this year, as Alabama needed overtime to beat West Georgia Monday nightTrevor Releford was the star of the night, scoring 27 points including two key free throws to send the game into overtime. Releford is the type of player who could have a great scoring night and contribute heavily to an upset of one of the top SEC teams. He’s an offensive force, and his ability to draw fouls can change the game in an instant. He tallied 12 total free throw attempts on the night, and Alabama fans should expect that continue into the regular season. Releford was rightfully named to the preseason all-SEC team, and if there is one player in the conference who should scare Kentucky and Florida, it is him. Alabama is a great candidate to pull off at least one big home upset this year.
  2. Building on yesterday’s theme of weak non-conference schedules, LSU has high hopes for this season but could find itself paying the price in March for a weak slate. The SEC does not provide many opportunities for RPI-building wins, so ideally LSU would have some other strong wins to bolster its resume. Unfortunately, the Tigers’ schedule is not very strong and it could hurt them in the NCAA Tournament selection process. I mentioned yesterday that Florida can count on its strong non-conference schedule to cover up for a weak conference slate. The opposite might be the case for LSU because in January and February the Tigers are going to be desperate for resume-padding wins. In the future Johnny Jones needs to make sure he is challenging his team throughout the entirety of its schedule, and putting them in the best possible chance to be on the right side of the bubble in March.
  3. Georgia desperately needs someone to replace the void left by Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and two candidates emerged during the team’s first exhibition game. Kenny Gaines finished with 19 points and Charles Mann added 18 with four assists. Although the Bulldogs struggled overall with turnovers and offensive rhythm, having two players show the potential to be solid scorers is important. Without another NBA-level talent there to bail out the offense each trip down the floor, one or both of those guards needs to become a more consistent threat. Georgia won’t enjoy the size advantage they had Monday night in every game, which will make its perimeter scoring even more important throughout the season.
  4. Auburn was not very good last year, and might not be very good this year. Just don’t tell that to the Tigers, as they are ignoring the critics this season. With a fresh crop of new players on board, optimism is in full force right now and the pressure is on head coach Tony Barbee to win more games. His overall SEC record is a paltry 12-39, including 3-15 last season. Even at a school like Auburn, which quite frankly does not care much about basketball, that simply will not cut it. Barbee is a likely candidate to be fired after this season if he cannot bring this new crop of players together and finish the season with a better record. Nobody is expecting much from this team, but with the SEC carrying a number of bad teams, it is not unreasonable for fans to expect six or more conference victories this year. Kudos to the players and coaching staff for coming into the season with optimism, but they need to show they can start backing up that optimism up with some wins.
  5. In his massive season opening column Jay Bilas mentions Tennessee’s Jarnell Stokes as one of the top rebounders in the country. Stokes averaged 9.7 rebounds per game last season, and headed into his junior year it is likely that he is going to be an even better player this year. Tennessee has big plans for this season, and right now look like the third best team in the SEC. Stokes is a big part of that, and is one the challengers to Kentucky’s stable of freshmen for SEC Player of the Year honors. If the Volunteers are going to compete inside with Kentucky and Florida’s plethora of big men, Stokes will have to be at his best — when he is playing as well as he can, Tennessee is going to give even the best teams all they can handle down low.
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SEC M5: 11.05.13 Edition

Posted by Justin Bridgman on November 5th, 2013

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  1. This season the SEC is a bottom-feeding league during the non-conference season. According to the article, eight SEC teams had a RPI of #80 or worse last season. Weak non-conference scheduling is a big part of this, and the conference needs to come together and stop the practice. The problem is that a school like Georgia or Mississippi State wants to pad its win total instead of playing tougher competition; otherwise, coaches of those schools know they will lose their job. Every school in the conference should look at what John Calipari does with his non-conference schedule and make an effort to imitate it. Athletic directors should agree to give coaches some leeway in regards to job security when a coach puts together a more aggressive non-conference schedule. This will raise the overall reputation of the conference and lead to more quality wins that matter come NCAA selections. In the long run, coaches will find that tougher non-conference games will result in better outcomes for the entire SEC.
  2. Speaking of non-conference schedules, this list of the top non-conference games includes a number of Kentucky games as well as a few involving Florida. While the rest of the SEC is likely to be ignored nationally for most of the non-conference season, these two teams have plenty of big games before January. Kentucky plays Michigan State, Louisville, and North Carolina before Christmas. It will be fascinating to see how Kentucky’s freshman play against those teams, especially since Kentucky usually needs some time to gel defensively. Calipari will need to have his team ready to go from day one, and since the expectation in Big Blue Nation is a 40-0 season, the pressure won’t let up all year long. Florida’s schedule will be crucial in its bid to earn a top seed in the NCAA Tournament. The fact is, the SEC schedule does not give Florida many chances to bolster their RPI, so winning these tough non-conference games is incredibly important. When it comes down to getting a #2 or #3 seed, a win over Kansas or Wisconsin can make all the difference on the resume.
  3. The AP Preseason All-America Team was announced yesterday, and it surprisingly did not include Kentucky freshman Julius Randle. While fellow freshman phenom Andrew Wiggins did make the list, Randle was left off in favor of Michigan sophomore Mitch McGary. Of course the list means nothing since there has not even been a game played yet, but it makes little sense for Randle to have been omitted. By all accounts he is one of the five best players in college basketball this season and it would be stunning if he isn’t on this list at the end of the season. All due respect to McGary, who had a great NCAA Tournament, but Randle is already a more polished player. The bottom line is this, the best player on the best team should be on the All-American team. AP voters might be rethinking this exclusion after watching Randle tear apart the competition all season long.
  4. Mississippi State coach Rick Ray is expecting a number of his players to take a big jump in their second season of college basketball. Ray claims that players improve the most during the summer after their first season. He doesn’t provide statistics to actually back up that claim, but for Ray’s sake I hope he is correct. It looks like Mississippi State will struggle to score again this season, a year after having the second worst offense in the league. Representative of that struggle is the fact that freshman point guard IJ Ready is acknowledged as the top addition to the team. However, as the author points out, Ready is not much of a scorer. This is going to be another long season for the Bulldogs unless a number of their players start making more shots; otherwise, look for another season of low-scoring games and a pile of losses. Good defensive teams will feast on this lineup, in all likelihood packing the paint and daring the Bulldog guards to shoot three-pointers. On top of their offensive struggles, advanced metrics rate the Bulldogs as the worst defensive team in the SEC — marginal improvement by three sophomores is just not going to be enough.
  5. Grantland posted its SEC preview, and the entire article is worth a read. What stood out was the placement of Missouri’s Frank Haith on the hot seat. By all accounts the administration and fans like Haith, and he has been fairly successful in his two years at the school. However, as the author points out, Haith’s teams have shown a disturbing tendency to fall apart at the end of games. That happened to him at Miami too, and in two NCAA Tournament games at Missouri, Haith’s team has yet to give a good effort. Some fans could protect Haith by pointing out that Phil Pressey was always mentally volatile during his Missouri career, but nonetheless this will be a pivotal season for the head coach. If Missouri does not have a successful season and win an NCAA tournament game, Haith will start to lose some of the legion of defenders that he has right now.
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