Arkansas Conquers Past Demons, Takes Aim at the NCAA Tournament

Posted by Nate Kotisso on November 26th, 2014

Nate Kotisso is a Big 12 microsite writer for Rush The Court, but he decided to cover Arkansas-SMU in Dallas last night for a change. You can follow him on Twitter @natekotisso. 

There isn’t any doubt that when Mike Anderson made the decision to leave Missouri to help rejuvenate Arkansas’ basketball program in 2011, he and the school were in it for the long haul. Anderson signed a seven-year contract at $2.2 million annually and in year four, at last, Arkansas may have its best team in quite some time.

Perhaps last night was the night we witnessed the Arkansas Razorbacks best road win in the Mike Anderson era. (Andy Jacobsohn/Associated Press)

Perhaps last night was the night we witnessed the Arkansas Razorbacks’ best road win in the Mike Anderson era. (Andy Jacobsohn/Dallas Morning News)

During the first three years of Anderson’s tenure, you could look at an Arkansas game on a schedule one of two ways. First, if you had to travel to Bud Walton Arena, sure, the Razorbacks were a handful with a raucous crowd backing them, but they weren’t unbeatable at home. Second, if you played them in your own building, you could pretty much pencil them in as a W. It looks like we might have to change that initial scouting report. Three games into the season, all of them at home, the Razorbacks were doing Razorback things, dismantling Alabama State, Wake Forest and Delaware State with little regard. The SMU game on Tuesday night was big for a few reasons. It would be the first outing since being named an AP Top 25 team on Monday, their first such ranking since 2007. It also proved to be a golden opportunity for the SEC who could use a shot in the arm for its conference RPI.

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SEC M5: Thanksgiving Eve Edition

Posted by David Changas on November 26th, 2014

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  1. It is safe to say the SEC has not had the strongest of starts to this Feast Week, Arkansas’ impressive win at SMU Tuesday night notwithstanding. The league has taken a beating on the first two days of the Thanksgiving week tournaments, and it is safe to say that the SEC, as a whole, somehow is performing below its not-so-lofty preseason expectations. On Monday, LSU lost in the Paradise Jam to a Clemson team that had home losses to Winthrop and Gardner-Webb earlier this month; Missouri got trounced by Arizona in Maui; Auburn put up a whopping 35 points in an 18-point loss to Tulsa in Las Vegas; and Alabama fell to Iowa State in the CBE Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City, though the Crimson Tide at least showed some life, and bounced back with a 76-71 win over Arizona State in the consolation game. Also on Tuesday, Missouri was trounced by Purdue, 82-61.  There is plenty of basketball left this week, so the league has a chance to redeem itself, but based on the early returns, that does not appear likely to happen.
  2. The drama continues to unfold in the Donnie Tyndall saga, as his long-time assistant and apparent right-hand man, Adam Howard, resigned for “personal reasons.” Gary Parrish reported that, not surprisingly, the resignation of the coach who drove Tyndall to his first interview with Tennessee brass in the spring, was related to the NCAA’s investigation of improprieties that occurred at Southern Miss while Tyndall coached there. It was also learned Monday that special assistant R.J. Rush resigned before the season opener against VCU for personal reasons. This situation is far from over, but one must wonder whether, at the end of the day, Tyndall will survive in Knoxville. Long-time Knoxville News-Sentinel columnist Mike Strange, who has seen plenty of ups and downs with this program, knows that, whichever way this ultimately goes for Tyndall, the UT administration is in a very tough spot.
  3. Alabama senior guard Levi Randolph was named SEC Player of the Week on Monday after averaging 21 points and 6.5 rebounds in the Tide’s wins over Western Carolina and Southern Miss. Randolph was obviously motivated after winning the award, as he went out and scored 18 points in Alabama’s 84-74 loss to the Cyclones on Monday. He followed that effort with an even better one in Tuesday’s win, as he went for a game-high 28. Vanderbilt’s Wade Baldwin won Freshman of the Week honors, as the guard from Belle Mead, New Jersey averaged 9.5 points and a robust 7.5 assists in the Commodores’ wins over Lipscomb and Tennessee State. Baldwin, who led the team with 13 points in Tuesday’s 63-53 win over Norfolk State, is part of a talented freshman class that is giving Vanderbilt fans reasons to be optimistic about the future.
  4. Now that the season is in full swing, various power rankings are out, and to the surprise of no one, Kentucky occupies the top spot in all of them. ESPN.com‘s power rankings have the Wildcats as a unanimous selection at number one, and SI.com‘s Luke Winn has them at the top of his as well. Winn points out that Kentucky is pressing on 20.4% of its defensive possessions, which is a number nearly five times higher than average in coach John Calipari‘s previous five seasons at the school. Of course, with the amount of athleticism and depth he has, as well as the size on the back end of the press to erase mistakes, this should not be surprising. Given the way the Wildcats are demolishing everyone in their path thus far – they trounced Texas-Arlington on Tuesday 93-44 – it is unlikely Calipari will change much of what he is doing moving forward.
  5. Georgia blew a chance at a quality pre-conference win when the Bulldogs dropped their season opener to Georgia Tech in Atlanta. This week, coach Mark Fox‘s team gets a shot a redemption, and a huge resume builder, when it takes on Gonzaga in the semifinals of the NIT Season Tip Off at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday. It will face either Minnesota or St. John’s on Friday. This appears to be Mark Few’s best team in a number of years, and it has demolished all four of its early-season opponents, including SMU. Georgia knows this is a crucial test, and a win could go a long way toward erasing the Georgia Tech loss and building the Dawgs’ NCAA Tournament resume.
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SEC M5: 11.24.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on November 24th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. Feeling down about LSU’s lackluster start to the season? Here’s something that should lift your spirits: Shaq and Dale Brown were inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame in Kansas City last night. Johnny Jones was an assistant during Shaq’s three years in Baton Rouge, when he scored 21.6 points per game and pulled down 13.5 rebounds per game. It’s surreal to think there was once a time when a player like Shaq actually played three college seasons. And speaking of Brown, if you missed Luke Winn’s story on him trying to recruit Arvydas Sabonis through the Iron Curtain, it’s definitely worth a read.
  2. It hasn’t been a smooth start to the season for Florida. The Gators have been undermanned all year with seemingly half their roster having missed time for various reasons. Friday night’s discouraging overtime win against Louisiana-Monroe continued that trend, as Billy Donovan was without Eli Carter and Dorian Finney-Smith. Carter injured his left foot in practice on Thursday, fresh off a coming-out-party-type game against Miami. It’s unclear at this point how serious the injury is, and Finney-Smith’s time table to return is equally murky as he wasn’t with the team on Friday night because of “academic issues.” If both these players miss significant you start to wonder whether Florida has the depth to put together a NCAA tournament-worthy resume. The good news for Donovan is that his team calls the SEC home, where even a mediocre team can feast like a king.
  3. While one Billy in the SEC loses players, another keeps adding them. Billy Kennedy and Texas A&M got news from the NCAA on Friday that Danuel House and Tony Trocha-Morelos are eligible immediately. David talked about the big impact House could have, and Trocha-Morelos will help out too. Kennedy played him for 10 minutes right off the bat in the Aggies’ win over New Mexico. He was understandably rusty (four fouls, one turnover), but his presence gives Kennedy six serviceable bigs on a team that suddenly looks like one of the deepest in the SEC.
  4. Kentucky was in crisis on Friday night. The Wildcats led Boston University by just five at halftime, prompting questions over whether the platoon system, and John Calipari in general, were in the program’s best long-term interests. Sarcasm aside, Kentucky didn’t leave anything to doubt yesterday against Montana State, posting the fifth-largest margin of victory in Rupp Arena history by beating the Bobcats 86-28. There were a lot of eye-popping stats from this game, including Montana State scoring just 0.39 points per possession and getting to the line just twice. The Wildcats will have their ups and downs this season, and you feel for a team like Montana State that catches them on a night when their talent is on full display.
  5. The season is just over a week old and South Carolina is already flush with missed opportunities. The Gamecocks hold three losses, all by five or fewer points, including yesterday’s 68-63 loss to Akron in the Charleston Classic third place game. The good news for South Carolina is that Frank Martin is relying on a lot of young players, such as Marcus Stroman and Demetrius Henry, who both had turnovers late in the game but should learn from that experience. I still think Martin can build a competitive program in Columbia, but at some point close games like the ones in Charleston against Charlotte and Akron need to end up as wins.
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Danuel House’s Immediate Eligibility Should Boost Aggies

Posted by David Changas on November 21st, 2014

According to TexAgs.com, Texas A&M received word on Friday that Houston transfer Danuel House, a 6’7  junior guard, is eligible immediately. House was not in the lineup for Friday morning’s win against College of Charleston in the Puerto Rico Tip-off, but for a team starved for scoring punch (currently 171st nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency), the former five-star recruit should make a big impact. House will command significant minutes in a lineup that features two freshmen guards who may not be ready to contribute immediately. The transfer is a big, physical guard who, though he struggled from three-point range himself (32.5%) during two effective years at Houston, has proven capable of getting to the basket to score. House averaged 12.4 points per game as a freshman and 13.6 last season while pulling down more than five rebounds per contest. He ranked second on the team in both categories to fellow transfer TaShawn Thomas, who was ruled eligible at Oklahoma earlier this week. His presence on the floor not only gives  the Cougars a legitimate scoring threat on the wing, but it should also open things up for his teammates on the perimeter.

Danuel House should make an immediate impact at Texas A&M (12thman.com).

Danuel House should make an immediate impact at Texas A&M (12thman.com).

House’s case with the NCAA was no different in that it was nearly impossible to predict whether he would be granted a waiver for immediate eligibility At the time of his transfer. House was precluded from transferring anywhere in the state of Texas by new head coach Kelvin Sampson, but he eventually worked something out and was given the go-ahead to join A&M, the only in-state school he was allowed to attend. Regardless of why the waiver was granted, new head coach Billy Kennedy has to be elated, and this news bolsters the roll that the Texas A&M leader is already on. He currently has the nation’s second-ranked class for 2015, having signed four of the country’s top 66 players, including three in the top 35, and he has some good young talent already on the roster. With House, SMU transfer Jalen Jones, and the uber-talented group coming in, big things appear to be on the horizon in Aggie-land. While Kennedy’s team will face some difficulties this season, having House on board should improve its ability to compete in what appears to again be a relatively weak SEC, and the Aggies should be ready to not only contend for an NCAA Tournament berth as soon as next season, but to make a run at winning a few games when they get there.

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Impressions From the SEC’s Thursday Games

Posted by Greg Mitchell on November 21st, 2014

Yesterday was a busy day in the always-interesting world of SEC basketball. Kentucky and Florida were both idle, but the league still managed to go 5-1 with the only blemish being Texas A&M’s loss in an ugly game against Dayton. That’s a successful day considering Dayton sits respectably at #50 in KenPom’s latest ratings and the SEC has already taken its fair share of lumps this year. Small steps, people. Here are a handful of thoughts from yesterday’s action.

Anthony Grant may have the personnel to run an effective zone this season (Bamahoops.com).

Anthony Grant may have the personnel to run an effective zone this season (Bamahoops.com).

  • Alabama flashes defensive potential against Southern Miss. We can finally mention Southern Miss on this microsite without discussing Donnie Tyndall. The story of this game, won by Alabama 81-67, was the potential of its defense. The Crimson Tide are flush with long, versatile guys this season who can play both on the perimeter and in the post. Anthony Grant ran a lot of 1-3-1 zone against the Golden Eagles, and while it didn’t exactly flummox them as they scored a point per possession, the strategy could turn into a nice season-long weapon for Alabama. Consider the personnel in Grant’s rotation: Levi Randolph (6’5’’), Rodney Cooper (6’6’’), Shannon Hale (6’8’’), Jimme Taylor (6’10’’), Michael Kessens (6’9’’) and Riley Norris (6’7’’). All of these guys are either natural wings or can hold their own on the perimeter. Ricky Tarrant also looked at home in picking up three steals out of the zone. It worked last night largely because the Golden Eagles went 8-of-29 from three, but it’s something for opponents to think about going forward.

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SEC M5: 11.21.14 Edition

Posted by David Changas on November 21st, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. The Puerto Rico Tip-off got underway on Thursday, and another opportunity for the SEC to pick up a quality non-conference win went by the wayside as Texas A&M fell to Dayton in the tournament’s opening game. The contest was a back-and-forth affair that the Flyers won on a Devon Scott tip-in with two seconds left. The ugly 55-53 game, in which the Aggies shot 34.6 percent from the field, saw no team take a lead larger than six points. Despite the loss, coach Billy Kennedy got strong performances from his best two returning players, Kourtney Roberson and Alex Caruso. Roberson grabbed 13 first half rebounds on his way to a game-high 15, and scored 12 points to boot. Caruso, a Cousy Award semi-finalist, poured in 17 points to go with five assists. Kennedy, though, had to be disappointed in the lack of production from three newcomers he will need a lot from: Alex Robinson, Jalen Jones, and Peyton Allen. The trio combined for 13 points in 66 minutes of action. If Texas A&M is going to surprise anyone in the SEC, it will need more from that threesome going forward.
  2. After dropping a close game to Miami earlier this week, Florida gets forward Chris Walker back from a three-game suspension for its upcoming game against Louisiana-Monroe. For the Gators to reach their goals this season, Walker will have to be an important piece of the Gators’ roster. He missed the first semester of last season due to academics, and he was only a minor contributor on the team’s run to the Final Four after that. This year, however, much more is expected of him, and coach Billy Donovan is pleased with what he has seen from the sophomore and thinks he is getting more comfortable with the idea of doing the dirty work inside for the Gators.
  3. The college basketball world is still abuzz after Kentucky’s 72-40 dismantling of Kansas on Tuesday night, and the Wildcats return to the court tonight for a home game against Boston University. Much has been made of coach John Calipari‘s platoon system, and it appears to be having a significant effect in the second halves of the Wildcats’ games, as they are simply throttling opponents after the break. Overall, Kentucky currently ranks second in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency and first in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to Ken Pomeroy. The Wildcats also lead the nation in offensive rebounding percentage, grabbing over half of their misses. The game against the Terriers is the first of four home games that they should win handily before December brings tougher contests against Texas, North Carolina, UCLA and Louisville.
  4. With the pall of the NCAA mess hanging over him, Tennessee coach Donnie Tyndall got his first win as the Volunteers’ head coach Thursday. The 70-58 win over Texas Southern did not come easily, as the game was tied at the half. Josh Richardson, who is being forced to handle the point guard duties because Tyndall has no one else to turn to, led the team in both scoring and rebounding, as the senior netted 19 points and grabbed eight boards. It is impossible to say what will come of the NCAA mess and whether Tyndall’s job truly is in jeopardy or whether this team is being impacted by the situation, but it is hard to imagine there isn’t some effect. Regardless, this is a team that was picked to finish 13th in the SEC even before it was known that Tyndall could be in hot water, and the early returns have shown why.
  5. Bruce Pearl‘s team may have taken one on the chin at Colorado Monday night during the Tip-Off Marathon, but once again, the Auburn coach was able to steer the conversation away from the Tigers’ poor performance. On Wednesday, video of Pearl nailing a trick shot from the upper deck of Auburn Arena emerged, and, as with most of his promotional gimmicks, Pearl entertains. Based on the early play of his team, Pearl has a long year ahead of him on the Plains, but the coach clearly is happy to be back in the game after serving his three-year show cause penalty, and with reinforcements on the way, it is unlikely anything can deter him from having fun.

 

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Freeze Frame: The Ceiling for Kentucky’s Elite Defense

Posted by Brian Joyce on November 19th, 2014

The Big Blue Nation doesn’t forget. None of the players on the court during last night’s Kentucky-Kansas game were alive way back in 1989 — with the possible exception of Perry Ellis, who looks like he ran out of college eligibility during the Clinton administration — but the fans remember their school’s basketball history like it was yesterday. And they hold a grudge. Two decades on, Kentucky fans have been known to purchase “I still hate [Christian] Laettner” t-shirts and have never forgiven the Duke star for his infamous foot stomp and turnaround jumper back in 1992. They can’t help but wonder “what if Nazr Mohammed had made just a couple free throws” in the 1997 title game against Arizona. They remember exactly where they were when Dwyane Wade exploded on the scene for Marquette in 2003. The 2011 Cats could have — scratch that, should have — won a backdoor national title if they hadn’t gone completely blank against UConn. All of that and more. But there is another loss — a regular season one, no less — that ranks near the top of a long list of defeats that Kentucky fans haven’t let go.

Rick Pitino during Kentucky's 150-95 loss to Kansas in 1989 (photo courtesy of KUsports.com).

Rick Pitino during Kentucky’s 150-95 loss to Kansas in 1989 (photo courtesy of KUsports.com).

The date was December 9, 1989, and the score was 150-95. For Kentucky, that season signified just how far the mighty had fallen. Not a lot was expected from the decimated Wildcats in Rick Pitino’s first year on probation, but that didn’t mean fans took it lightly when the tables were turned. Coming into last night’s game in Indianapolis, Kentucky was 5-3 against Kansas since that demoralizing night, but the margin of victory never approached the beatdown that Roy Williams put on the Wildcats even if the scale of importance was elevated. Tubby Smith’s group knocked the Jayhawks out of the NCAA Tournament in 1999; and there was a certain National Championship game in 2012 that went the Wildcats’ way too. But Kentucky hadn’t gotten revenge for the embarrassing 55-point drubbing it endured in Allen Fieldhouse. Until last night.

Kentucky’s defense was outstanding, and it stood out in three distinct ways: effort; rim protection; and defensive rotations. In this edition of Freeze Frame, we look at Kentucky’s dominating defensive performance against Kansas, and the potential for this year’s team to be among the best interior defensive teams of all-time.

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SEC M5: 11.19.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on November 19th, 2014

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  1. A bleary-eyed Bruce Pearl was not happy with his team after Auburn was outscored 52-25 in the second half of its midnight tilt against Colorado late Monday night. “You can tell, in a game like this, who belonged out there,” Pearl told the Auburn IMG Sports Network after the loss. “KT Harrell belonged out there. Cinmeon Bowers belonged out there. K.C. Ross-Miller, offensively, belonged out there. You go beyond that, it’s really hard to look at Jordon [Granger], who didn’t score, and Tahj [Shamsid-Deen] who was 1-for-8, but God bless for playing with the shoulder that got separated.” The smart money is that Pearl isn’t really all that angry, that these comments are just his way of pushing the right buttons. To expect the Tigers, with Antoine Mason out and Shamsid-Deen playing with a separated shoulder, to compete against a good Colorado team on the road, is irrational. The second half and the 24-0 run that the home team teed off on went on certainly wasn’t pretty, but growth is the theme at Auburn this season.
  2. For the second straight year South Carolina came oh-so-close to knocking off Baylor before falling in the final minutes. Yesterday’s loss, however, felt more like a missed opportunity since it was a home game against a Bears team needing to replace Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson. Ty Johnson and Sindarius Thornwell couldn’t exploit Baylor’s zone, though, going a combined 4-of-15 from three. The encouraging news for Frank Martin? Freshman point guard and Columbia native Marcus Stroman can really play. He scored South Carolina’s biggest basket of the game to cut the lead to three with just over two minutes left, and has notched nine assists against just one turnover in his first two college games.
  3. Several outlets are reporting that Donnie Tyndall met with NCAA representatives yesterday in Knoxville, but Tennessee officials won’t confirm whether the meeting in fact took place. For his part, Tyndall has stayed quiet on the situation. The only public comment he’s reportedly made was telling the Knoxville Quarterback Club last week that everything would be “fine.” The Vols next play on Thursday against Texas Southern, and the long layoff from Friday’s game against VCU seems even more extended with all the rumors swirling about. Unfortunately it’s a story that will continue to linger around this program for the foreseeable future.
  4. Kasey Hill did not have a particularly good night in Florida’s loss on Monday night to Miami. As Alligator Army points out, the sophomore committed two critical, poor fouls on Angel Rodriguez down the stretch: one while Rodriguez was in the act of shooting a three, and the other 40 feet from the basket. The blog also points out that the Gators’ lack of point guard depth means that Hill must improve, and fast. The sophomore may be the key to the ultimate success of this Florida team since efficient point guard play from him ties individual strengths like Michael Frazier’s shooting and Chris Walker’s athleticism together .
  5. The SEC’s first weekly awards are in, and the leagued picked Cinmeon Bowers for the Player of the Week honor and Trey Lyles for the Freshman of the Week honor. Bowers had 17 rebounds in Auburn’s win against Wisconsin-Milwaukee and was almost a one-man wrecking crew considering the Tigers’ depleted front line. Lyles scored 13 points in both of the Wildcats’ first two games and has impressed playing a bit out of position on the wing in John Calipari’s “white” platoon, showing great touch for a guy his size.
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Five Impressions from Florida’s Loss To Miami

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on November 18th, 2014

There are several ways that you can frame Florida’s home loss to Miami. The popular way nationally is that yet another SEC team lost a non-conference game. That this loss included one of the league’s two flag-bearers just fuels the ubiquitous “sky is falling” narrative. There’s certainly no sugarcoating it: The SEC is off to a disastrous start. But all things considered, I don’t think this loss falls into a worrisome category. Florida’s frontcourt was decimated last night, with Dorian Finney-Smith, Alex Murphy and Chris Walker all out of the lineup for various reasons. This meant Billy Donovan had to provide 36 minutes of action to former walk-on Jacob Kurtz and 31 minutes to transfer Jon Horford, who was strictly a role player at Michigan. Horford played great (17 points, seven rebounds) and Kurtz more than held his own (six points, eight rebounds) but these are not the roles Donovan envisioned for this pair. With a full squad on the floor, Florida would have had a decided advantage on the glass against a smaller group of Hurricanes. Here are a handful of thoughts on a loss that shouldn’t leave Gators fans hanging their heads.

  • Michael Frazier. The Gators scored just one point over a four-minute stretch starting at the eight-minute mark in the second half, and this stretch coincided with Angel Rodriguez’s three-point barrage that got the Hurricanes back in the game. This was already an area of concern for Florida: When the Gators need a basket, who would go get it? Last year a combination of Scottie Wilbekin and near-flawless execution solved that problem. This year the de facto answer seems to be Frazier, the most experienced and accomplished scorer on the team. But the junior couldn’t answer the bell against Miami, missing four shots over that drought, including a few desperation jumpers late in the shot clock. One game doesn’t make a season, but Rodriguez got the better of Frazier last night.
The Gators need more from Michael Frazier, especially in crunch time (tampabay.com).

The Gators need more from Michael Frazier, especially in crunch time (tampabay.com).

  • Backcourt Potential. It was a mixed bag for the Florida guards last night. Eli Carter stole the show for the Gators, pouring in 21 points on 8-of-9 shooting and scoring from all over the floor. It was he, not Frazier, who got the Gators’ final shot (although it ended in a charge). Frazier had a pedestrian night (13 points) and Hill had a miserable shooting performance, including a crucial missed layup late in the second half, but he still handed out eight assists. Despite the so-so results, Carter’s return to the scorer he was at Rutgers gives Florida a dynamic-looking backcourt. We know Frazier will make shots and Hill will be able to break down the defense, so Donovan will have a dangerous backcourt that can score in bunches if Carter’s leg holds up and freshman Chris Chiozza proves serviceable.

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Kentucky vs. Kansas: Previewing Tonight’s Champions Classic Battle

Posted by Kory Carpenter & David Changas on November 18th, 2014

When it was introduced in 2011, the Champions Classic quickly rose to become the crown jewel of ESPN’s Tip-Off Marathon. The event was such a success that last November, all four teams – Duke, Kansas, Kentucky and Michigan State – renewed the deal without hesitation. Tonight marks the start of the second rotation, and the nightcap will pit the two winningest college hoops programs of all-time (4,269 wins, at last count) against each other. Big 12 microsite writer Kory Carpenter (@Kory_Carpenter) and SEC microsite writer David Changas (@dchangas) took some time to preview the matchup.

Kory Carpenter: Few coaches have a shared history like Bill Self and John Calipari. Each began his career as a Larry Brown disciple at Kansas in the 1980s, and they were famously reunited over 20 years later in the 2008 National Championship game, with Self (thanks to Mario Chalmers) taking the first championship match-up between the two. Calipari got even with Self four years later (thanks to Anthony Davis), beating Self and Kansas in the 2012 National Championship game. Aside from Coach K at Duke, there is nobody in the country recruiting like these two; and, depending on whom you ask, they could easily be considered the two best coaches in the country. In the first year of the Champions Classic in 2011, Kentucky cruised to a 75-65 win behind 17 points from Doron Lamb and seven blocks from future NPOY Anthony Davis. Kentucky is favored once again, thanks to a roster that includes more McDonald’s All-Americans than Calipari might know what to do with. Blue-blood problems, indeed.

In a battle of coaching titans, John Calipari and Bill Self enter tonight's contest looking to one-up each other once again. (AP)

In a battle of coaching titans, John Calipari and Bill Self enter tonight’s contest looking to one-up each other once again. (AP)

Both teams should contend for the National Championship this season, but there are always questions this early, especially when facing teams of this caliber. The biggest concern for Kansas has to be post play, specifically rebounding. Kentucky starts three guys as tall or taller than anyone in Kansas’ starting lineup. Then you have 6’9” Marcus Lee, 6’10” Trey Lyles, and 7’0″ Dakari Johnson coming off the bench. The Jayhawks started a pair of 6’8” guys — Jamari Traylor and Perry Ellis — against UC Santa Barbara on Friday night. Beyond that, Landen Lucas (6’10”) and Cliff Alexander (6’8”) combined for 21 more minutes. As a result, UCSB forward Alan Williams had a field day against the Jayhawks’ frontcourt, finishing with 22 points and 11 rebounds on 50 percent shooting. But with all due respect to the future mid-major draft pick, he’s got nothing on players like Lyles, Johnson, and Towns. Kansas’ Ellis has struggled in the past against bigger, physical players, but that will have to change quickly if Kansas has a chance here, because Traylor doesn’t have a polished offensive game and Alexander looks like he will take some time to become a dominant player. Read the rest of this entry »

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Welcome to the Show, Part II: Breakout Newcomers in the Former SEC West

Posted by Christian D'Andrea on November 18th, 2014

Last week, we sorted through Kentucky’s latest five-star recruiting haul and delved into Frank Martin’s latest freshman class to determine who the SEC East’s breakout newcomers would be in 2014-15. Today, we’ll take a closer look at the first-year players who are ready to make a splash in the division once known as the SEC West. A number of high-profile junior college pickups will help teams like Arkansas, Auburn, LSU, and Mississippi replace departing talent and reload en route to a potential NCAA Tournament bid.

Alabama: Justin Coleman. Coleman was a big pick-up for Anthony Grant, and the embattled Alabama coach may need his four-star freshman to come through in a big way if he’s going to keep his job. Coleman started the Crimson Tide’s sole exhibition game and had six assists (and four turnovers) in 31 minutes as the team’s floor general. He’ll cede minutes to Ricky Tarrant – an explosive scorer from the same spot – but it looks like Coleman will have every opportunity to remain his team’s primary option at the position. He’s a diminutive player at just 160 pounds, but he has the passing instincts and shooting range to make an impact against SEC opponents as a true freshman.

Justin Coleman Can Fly (Al.com)

Justin Coleman Can Fly (Al.com)

Arkansas: Anton Beard. Beard is one of two solid point guard prospects in Fayetteville. He’s currently locked in battle with junior college transfer Jabril Durham for a role behind or alongside Rashad Madden, who can handle either guard spot. As a result, this prediction could change as the season wears on. Beard grew two inches in his senior year of high school to bolster his solid man-up defense and develop into a high-major recruit. However, he struggled to find his shot in exhibition play (25% FG). Durham had similar issues, but his JuCo experience and stronger passing from the point carried him to a start in the Hogs’ season opener last weekend. The two newcomers will see their roles expands and contract based on Mike Anderson’s offensive and defensive strategies and Madden’s availability this winter.

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Assessing Some Positives Amid an SEC Meltdown

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on November 17th, 2014

Hard as it may be to believe, SEC teams did do some good things on opening night (try not to fall out of your chair). Here are several positives that might have fallen through the cracks amid the conference’s Friday night meltdown.

Kentucky Bigs Own the Glass. The rebounding numbers that the Wildcats put on Grand Canyon Friday night were absurd. John Calipari’s gaggle of ultra-talented bigs grabbed 64.7 percent of the teams’ missed shots, which was good for 22 offensive rebounds. The Antelopes only had 20 total rebounds on their side, finishing the game -27 on the glass. Every Kentucky forward who played grabbed at least four boards, and while there are some open questions about the Wildcats’ outside shooting, that doesn’t really matter when they absolutely dominate on the glass. Opening night was a perfect example of this: Kentucky was just 3-of-14 from three-point land but still won the game by 40 points because Grand Canyon couldn’t take advantage of those misses.

Dakari Johnson led Kentucky's rebounding feast against Grand Canyon with 13 boards (bigstory.ap.com).

Dakari Johnson led Kentucky’s rebounding feast against Grand Canyon with 13 boards (bigstory.ap.com).

The Aggies Offense. Texas A&M burned up the nets in Reed Arena on Friday night against Northwestern State, averaging a whopping 1.30 points per possession in their 109-68 win against the Demons by shooting 57 percent from the field and 47 percent from three. Seven Aggies scored in double figures, led by Antwan Space and Jalen Jones with 16 apiece. Tavario Miller was the biggest opening night surprise for Billy Kennedy, as the sophomore who averaged just 1.8 points per game last season went a perfect 6-of-6 from the field and scored 15 points. Texas A&M’s offense is a hot topic because it brings back a good defensive team from a year ago. Northwestern State wasn’t an ideal litmus test (#206 in KenPom’s rankings), but the offensive clinic the Aggies put on against them was still a very good way to start the season.

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