SEC Season Preview: Auburn Tigers

Posted by Greg Mitchell on October 30th, 2014

The SEC microsite will preview each of the league teams over the next few weeks, continuing today with the Auburn Tigers.

Strengths. The Tigers should not struggle to put the ball in the basket this year, at least not from the outside. Bruce Pearl’s first team at Auburn will feature not only the SEC’s leading returning scorer, KT Harrell (18.3 points per game), but also the country’s leading returning scorer Antoine Mason (25.6 PPG at Niagara). Only Doug McDermott scored more points per game than Mason did in 2013-14. Whether that translates against tougher competition still remains to be seen, but sophomore Tahj Shamsid-Deen and New Mexico State graduate transfer K.C. Ross-Miller offer support in the backcourt too. Each of these players brings something different to the table: Harrell is a high volume three-point shooter (35.9% 3FG); Mason gets the bulk of his points at the rim or from the free throw line (10.8 free throw attempts per game); Shamsid-Deen has upside (9.5 points per game as a freshman); and Ross-Miller can create for others (3.5 assists per game). Despite the differences, these four should fit well together in Pearl’s up-tempo system, and if nothing else, make for some entertaining games on the Plains.

Tahj Shamsid-Deen could be poised for a breakout sophomore season at Auburn (photo courtesy cbssports.com).

Tahj Shamsid-Deen could be poised for a breakout sophomore season at Auburn (photo courtesy cbssports.com).

Weaknesses.  Rebounding could be a problem for the Tigers this season. From a straight numbers perspective, Auburn lost Asauhn Dixon-Tatum and Allen Payne to graduation, who finished first and second on the team in rebounds per game. These two players weren’t supporting a great rebounding team either, as the Tigers finished 278th in the country in total rebounds last season. It also doesn’t help that Pearl will likely need to give heavy minutes to Mason, Ross-Miller and Shamsid-Deen, all of whom stand at a height under 6’1.’’ The hope for the Tigers is that raw sophomore Matthew Atewe can stay healthy and build on the solid 13.5 percent total rebounding rate he posted last year. JuCo transfer Cinmeon Bowers and freshmen Jack Purchase and T.J. Lang can also help out on the glass.

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Assessing the SEC Coaching Hot Seat

Posted by David Changas on October 29th, 2014

As the college basketball season approaches, it’s time to assess how much pressure, or lack thereof, is on each of the SEC’s 14 coaches.

The Seat is ICE COLD

  • Billy Donovan (Florida) and John Calipari (Kentucky). It is hard to imagine two seats being any cooler than these two. The only way either leaves his current post is voluntarily for a high-profile and higher-paying job in the NBA. While that may still be a threat for both, Calipari would appear to be the more likely option to eventually take that route. Donovan, who remarkably is now entering his 19th season at Florida, does not appear to be headed anywhere, although he has flirted with — and once even took the Orlando Magic gig — several times in his tenure. For now, though, the two kings of the SEC are firmly entrenched at their respective schools and appear to be primed to dominate the league for the foreseeable future.
  • Bruce Pearl (Auburn). The Auburn administration did what many thought was unthinkable in March: It made Auburn basketball relevant again. The school’s hiring of Pearl was not just a home run; it was a grand slam, as the former Tennessee coach will have the Tigers playing at a high level within two to three years. He has already started recruiting well  – his 2015 class is currently No. 10 in Rivals.com‘s most recent ratings — and once his system is in place with the right parts, the rest of the SEC will be on notice.
Auburn is happy to have Bruce Pearl back in the SEC. (athlonsports.com)

Auburn is happy to have Bruce Pearl back in the SEC. (athlonsports.com)

  • Donnie Tyndall (Tennessee). Tyndall takes over a program that went to the Sweet Sixteen last season and was one controversial call away from having a chance to play for a Final Four berth. However, it is no secret that former head coach Cuonzo Martin was not beloved in Knoxville, and Tyndall’s engaging personality seems to be a better fit for the school. The Vols will certainly struggle this year and maybe a couple more after that, but Tyndall will get a pass in the short term to bring in players who fit his more frenetic system.

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SEC Season Preview: South Carolina Gamecocks

Posted by Greg Mitchell on October 28th, 2014

The SEC microsite will preview each of the league teams over the next few weeks, continuing today with the South Carolina Gamecocks.

Strengths. The league’s best backcourt may reside in Columbia, South Carolina. If that’s too much for you to process [Ed. Note: The one in Lexington might be pretty good too], then maybe the backcourt with the most upside in the SEC resides in the Palmetto State. Sophomores Sindarius Thornwell and Duane Notice assumed more responsibility last season than Frank Martin probably would have given them in an ideal world, but that experience should pay dividends this time around as Thornwell in particular flashed all-conference potential at times. The Gamecocks lost Brenton Williams, but will get Tyrone Johnson back from a fractured foot that ended his season in January. They also add four-star point guard and Columbia native Marcus Stroman to the mix. These four guys give Martin a nice mix of shooting, slashing and play-making ability that he could ride to his best season yet at South Carolina.

Screenshot 2014-10-27 at 9.13.33 PM

Sindarius Thornwell will be a giant part of Frank Martin’s third team at South Carolina (Credit: greenvilleonline.com).

Weaknesses. Depth. Not even a minute has ticked off the clock this season and the Gamecocks have already lost 75 percent of their freshmen class, as neither of James Thompson and Shamiek Sheppard will be taking the floor in 2014-15. Thompson was arrested in June and never enrolled in school while Sheppard tore an ACL over the summer. This was followed by freshman guard TeMarcus Blanton injuring his hip last week in practice, putting him also out for the season. This subjects the Gamecocks to potentially dicey situations since they had a penchant for foul trouble last season, with six players collecting more than 72 fouls during the campaign.

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LSU Gives Jones Extension: Does He Deserve It?

Posted by David Changas on October 24th, 2014

LSU announced earlier this week that head coach Johnny Jones‘ contract has been extended for two years through the 2017-18 season, and that he has received a $400,000 raise. Jones had been one of the lowest-paid coaches in the SEC, and will now make $1.5 million per season as the leader of the Tigers (with incentives, that number could reach as much as $2.1 million). While that is still well below what the highest-paid coaches in the SEC earn, the question that must be answered is why LSU thought this was the right time for an extension.

Johnny Jones and LSU Are Happy

Johnny Jones and LSU Are Happy

Jones has been at LSU for two years now but he has yet to lead the Tigers to an NCAA Tournament berth, and last season was a disappointment. Despite being picked to finish fourth in the conference, LSU went 9-9 in league play and 20-14 overall. The Tigers reached the NIT, but they were beaten handily by SMU in the second round. The Tigers were unable to finish better than .500 in league play despite having the talented services of Johnny O’Bryant, who departed for the NBA after the season, and freshman sensation Jordan Mickey, who was selected earlier this week to the preseason all-SEC first team. The Tigers also had Jarell Martin on hand, a player who came in as a five-star recruit but did not produce on the level of the less-heralded Mickey. And although attendance at the Maravich Center increased from Jones’ first year on the job, it is still not on the level it was even a decade ago and questions remain as to whether he can bring the program back to a level it was for much of Dale Brown’s tenure.

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SEC M5: 10.24.14 Edition

Posted by David Changas on October 24th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. South Carolina was picked to finish 12th in the SEC by the media earlier this week, but coach Frank Martin is encouraged about the progress his team is making as he enters his third year. He is especially pleased with the leadership he is seeing from his backcourt duo of sophomore Sindarius Thornwell and senior Tyrone Johnson. If the Gamecocks are going to make a climb out of the bottom of the league, they will need the pair to take another step forward.
  2. The SEC put three teams into the Sweet Sixteen last season, but there is no dispute that the league has lacked significant depth, and has struggled to find teams other than Kentucky and Florida that can consistently compete for an NCAA Tournament bid. As FoxSports.com‘s Zach Dillard points out, one way to remedy the perception the league has is by playing better collective out-of-conference schedules. Too often, teams that finish near the top of the league standings do not have enough of a resume to be considered for a bid. For instance, Georgia finished third in the league last season, but was an afterthought with the selection committee because of a handful of bad losses in November and December. The more the league’s teams do to take on tougher competition, the better positioned they will be come Selection Sunday.
  3. As he embarks upon his first season at Tennessee, Donnie Tyndall credits getting his first shot at a high-major school to another former SEC coach: LSU’s John Brady. Brady coached the Tigers to a Final Four in 2006, but was not exactly a favorite of coaches or fans in the league before he was fired two years later. Tyndall says the current Arkansas State coach taught him “how to build a program,” and he hopes to put those lessons into practice as he rebuilds the Volunteers.
  4. Everyone knew that having Bruce Pearl back in the SEC would be fun, and he continues to do whatever it takes to promote his Auburn program. Earlier this week, he invaded a marketing class to promote his “Pearl Jam” event next Friday. So while Pearl is at a new school and in a different shade of orange, he hasn’t changed, and though his team likely will struggle to compete this season, he will do all he can to raise the profile of the Auburn program, while at the same time bringing much-needed notoriety to the SEC.
  5. As preseason practice continues, Kentucky coach John Calipari is looking for more fight from his most ballyhooed freshman, Karl-Anthony Towns. Towns, a 7′ center, was selected by the media as a second-team all-SEC player before setting foot on the court, will have to live up to the hype if the Wildcats are going to win the national championship. Towns has plenty of opportunity to get better in practice each day, as he goes up against Willie Cauley-Stein, Dakari Johnson, and Marcus Lee. As usual with Kentucky, there will be ups and downs, but with the experience and depth this team has, Calipari can wait for his star freshman to come along.
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Kentucky Dominates All-SEC Picks, Tops Preseason Poll

Posted by David Changas on October 23rd, 2014

The SEC held its annual media day on Wednesday, going to the home of the SEC Network in Charlotte for the first time. Along with the usual glass-half-full comments from each team’s coach, the media selected its all-conference teams and predicted the order of finish in the league. To the surprise of absolutely no one, Kentucky was not only picked to win the league, but it also dominated the 10-player preseason all-SEC team. While shooting guard Aaron Harrison was the only Wildcat selected on the first team, the second team included four more Wildcats: Willie Cauley-Stein, Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Harrison, and Alex Poythress. Aaron Harrison, whose late-game heroics sent the Wildcats past Michigan in the Elite Eight and Wisconsin in the Final Four, was chosen as the Player of the Year. Towns, the only freshman to make the first or second team, is a 6’11” center who most expect to be the best of Kentucky’s latest All-America-filled recruiting class. He was ranked fifth in that class by Rivals.com. Florida, which lost a lot of talent from last season’s Final Four squad, put guard Michael Frazier II on the team, and he was joined by Ole Miss’ Jarvis Summers, LSU’s Jordan Mickey, and Arkansas’ Bobby Portis. The only non-Wildcat on the second team was Georgia guard Charles Mann
Preseason SEC Rankings (first-place votes in parentheses)

  1. Kentucky (20) 280
  2. Florida 258
  3. Arkansas 226
  4. LSU 223
  5. Georgia 204
  6. Mississippi 168
  7. Missouri 123
  8. Auburn 113
  9. Texas A&M 111
  10. Alabama 109
  11. Vanderbilt 89
  12. South Carolina 86
  13. Tennessee 75
  14. Mississippi State 35

It goes without saying that preseason all-conference picks mean next to nothing, but, as always, there were a few surprises. Tennessee’s Josh Richardson, who came on strong during the NCAA Tournament, could have been selected, as he will clearly be the Vols’ best player. Likewise, enigmatic Florida forward Chris Walker, who has already been suspended for the first two regular season games, is primed for a breakout season now that he will be a bigger focus of the Gators’ offense. LSU’s Jarell Martin, who received at least one vote for SEC Player of the Year, was a surprising omission. Certainly coaches are glad to have high-quality players left off of the team, as their perceived snubs will serve to motivate them to prove the media wrong.

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SEC Season Preview: Mississippi State Bulldogs

Posted by Greg Mitchell on October 23rd, 2014

The SEC microsite will preview each of the league teams over the next few weeks, starting today with the Mississippi State Bulldogs.

Mississippi State Bulldogs

Strengths. Continuity. Okay, continuity may not be Rick Ray’s best friend considering that his Bulldogs have gone just 24-41 since he took over the program two years ago. But players grow through experience, and Ray has a quintet of upperclassmen who have seen plenty of action together during his tenure. Trivante Bloodman, Craig Sword, Fred Thomas, Roquez Johnson and Gavin Ware know their roles and what to expect from one another. That kind of consistency is a step in the right direction for a program that has struggled with injuries and dismissals the last two years (although Sword’s recent back injury clouds that idea a bit).

Player 2012-13 2013-14
G Craig Sword (Jr.) 26.7 MPG/29.3 USG% 28.1 MPG/30.0 USG%
G Fred Thomas (Jr.) 28.7 MPG/22.1 USG% 29.9 MPG/17.5 USG%
Trivante Bloodman (Sr.) 29.1 MPG/15.6 USG% 24.7 MPG/15.2 USG%
F Roquez Johnson (Sr.) 26.1 MPG/22.3 USG% 23.7 MPG/22.5 USG%
F Gavin Ware (Jr.) 25.8 MPG/17.6 USG% 26.0 MPG/16.8 USG%

 

Weaknesses. When you don’t expect to win the sheer talent battle on a game-to-game basis, you simply can’t give away free points. The Bulldogs did just that by shooting 66.3 percent from the free throw line as a team last season, good for 288th in the country. Part of the problem was that their lead guards, Sword (62.0%) and Thomas (62.5%) weren’t effective despite getting to the line at a high rate. When paired with a lack of three-point shooting, this resulted in a sub-standard 0.96 points per possession. The injury bug also extended its stay in Starkville by knocking out JuCo forward Johnny Zuppardo for the season. That leaves the Bulldogs entirely dependent on two freshmen (Oliver Black and Demetrius Houston) for frontcourt depth.

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Three Takeaways From SEC Media Day

Posted by Brian Joyce on October 23rd, 2014

The SEC rolled out the red carpet for the media on Wednesday as part of #SECTipoff15 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The league’s basketball campaign may have kicked off in the heart of ACC country, but geographic proximity to the nation’s top college basketball conference did not detract from placing SEC basketball at the center of attention here. Rush the Court was there, well, when we weren’t searching for more of those delicious chicken biscuits from the breakfast spread. Here are the three key takeaways from a fun and interesting day of talking college basketball and hitting the buffet line.

The SEC Network studios and the Ballantyne Hotel in Charlotte, NC played host for SEC media days.

The SEC Network studios and the Ballantyne Hotel in Charlotte played host for SEC media days.

1)    Platoon system – The word of the day was platoon. Of course, Kentucky coach John Calipari set the tone by talking about how and why he would implement two separate five-man squads to achieve better team chemistry among the 10 or 11 players he plans on putting on the court this season. On advice from other coaches, Calipari admitted that “most of them think I’m crazy,” but he further explained that he is considering the switch to allow players to become comfortable playing with the same group.

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SEC M5: 10.22.14 Edition

Posted by David Changas on October 22nd, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. Everyone knows that John Calipari’s biggest problem this season with Kentucky will be making sure his bevy of high school All-Americans gets adequate playing time. Calipari usually does not have this concern, as he often relies upon short benches, but because of the return of so many players that he assumed would be headed to the NBA, he no longer has that “luxury.” As SportingNews.com’s Mike DeCourcy points out, there are specific challenges Calipari must deal with for the Wildcats to reach their ultimate goal of a national championship. And while it is unlikely any coach in the country will feel sorry for Calipari’s accidental embarrassment of riches, DeCourcy’s raises good points about how difficult it may be to keep everyone happy, and to keep everything in balance.
  2. Billy Kennedy’s remarkable recruiting run continued on Tuesday, when the Texas A&M coach picked up a commitment from top-30 forward Elijah Thomas, becoming the fourth top 100 player to commit to the Aggies over the offseason. Kennedy’s tenure in College Station has been mostly nondescript, but this haul changes the game for the Aggies. Thomas joins post Tyler Davis, forward D.J. Hogg and point guard Admon Gilder to form what 247sports.com rates as its second-best class in the country thus far. This season could be a rough ride for Texas A&M, but the future looks very bright.
  3. Like Kennedy’s tenure at Texas A&M, Mark Fox’s run at Georgia has been anything but overwhelming. However, after the Bulldogs finished tied for second in the SEC last season, big things are expected this year. In fact, many observers believe that Georgia should be disappointed in anything short of an NCAA Tournament run. Fox is entering his sixth season in Athens, but he has been to the Big Dance at Georgia only once. With a veteran club returning and the success last year brought, it is realistic to think the Bulldogs could get to the Tournament for the second time under his tenure. Getting off to a good start will be key, as last year saw several bad early season losses that crippled the team’s chance to compete for a bid. This year, for Georgia to play meaningful basketball in March, it will need to avoid such a slow start, and the Bulldogs should be able to do so with the experience it has returning.
  4. The SEC Network announced its schedule for the upcoming season, and there is no question that the league — which for years suffered from very poor TV contracts that left many games not televised — will gain plenty of exposure from the new outlet. In total, 118 games will be shown, starting with Kentucky’s exhibition against Pikeville on November 2. While top-tier games will continue to be released on bigger outlets, the fact that the network is part of most cable packages nationally can only help increase the league’s visibility. The network also announced its commentators, which will include many of the old SEC standbys like Barry Booker and Joe Dean, Jr., but two new names include former Kentucky standout Tony Delk and Tennessee’s Dane Bradshaw.
  5. When Auburn hired Bruce Pearl, a program with no identity and very little success over the past decade-plus instantly became one that people would talk about. Pearl’s team likely will struggle this season (although no one predicted the success he had during his first year at Tennessee in 2005 either), but the buzz he has brought to The Plains is palpable. Season ticket sales have more than doubled and the players have started to feel as popular as the school’s football team. Not since the days of Charles Barkley and Chuck Person, and, to a lesser extent, the late ’90s run of the Chris Porter team, has anyone spent much time talking about Auburn basketball. The administration knew that hiring someone like Pearl, whose promotional skills are as good as his coaching chops, would bring an identity to the program that had long been missing. Thus far, everything has gone according to plan.
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SEC M5: 10.20.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on October 20th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. The ability to recruit was (and still is) a big question mark surrounding first year Missouri head coach Kim Anderson. To address this expected deficiency, Anderson added Huntington Prep coach Rob Fulford to his staff, and that decision has already paid immediate dividends in landing four-star wing Montaque (“Teki”) Gill-Caesar from – you guessed it – Huntington Prep. Fulford told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the time Gill-Caesar spent playing with Andrew Wiggins at Huntington was invaluable. “Teki would never back down from Andrew. Now, there were points in practice where Teki would get the better of Andrew until Andrew decided, ‘OK, enough’s enough.’” The Tigers will need that kind of confidence from Gill-Caesar as they replace Jordan Clarkson, Jabari Brown and Earnest Ross, three players that accounted for virtually all of the team’s scoring last season.
  2. Luke Winn and Dan Hanner continue their intricate, raw number modeling at SI.com, this time predicting which transfers will have the biggest impact at their new schools. Texas A&M’s Jalen Jones (SMU) lands the second spot on the list as the model predicts he will score 13.9 points per game for the Aggies. This infusion of scoring talent is vital for Billy Kennedy since his team was at times difficult to watch offensively last season. The addition of Jones and a healthy Davonte Fitzgerald should give Texas A&M the offensive boost that it needs. Florida’s Alex Murphy (#70) and Jon Horford (#90) check in pretty far down the list, but each will be heavily relied upon in the frontcourt while Chris Walker serves his three-game suspension, and they could shoot up this list if Walker’s off-court problems persist into the season.
  3. LSU junior guard Joseph Gray checked in at #12 on the SI.com list, and his journey to Baton Rouge has been tumultuous and at times heart-breaking. The Louisiana native, whose mother passed away while he was in high school, was spurned as a prep recruit by former Tigers coach Trent Johnson and ended up Texas Tech. He left the Red Raiders after one productive season (9.3 PPG, 3.2 APG) for Odessa Community College, where he averaged 34.7 PPG in his single season of JuCo action. New LSU head coach Johnny Jones gave Gray the chance to return home and he has a massive opportunity in front of him. He should be in position to earn a lion’s share of the minutes at point guard with Andre Stringer (graduation) and Anthony Hickey (transfer to Oklahoma State) now out of the picture. And despite all the movement in his young career, Gray has two years of eligibility to establish himself as a star at LSU.
  4. Unfortunately for Alabama, one of its transfers won’t see the court at all this season. Christophe Varidel, a graduate transfer from Chaminade, will miss the season because of a pre-existing knee injury, thus ending his collegiate career. Varidel was a part of Florida Gulf Coast’s Sweet Sixteen team in 2012-13, but transferred to the Islands when Andy Enfield left for USC after that season. First and foremost, it’s a sad situation for Varidel, as he will miss out on his only chance to play basketball in a power conference. It’s also an early blow for Anthony Grant since Varidel, a career 38.5 percent three-point shooter, would have played a part in trying to replace the scoring production that left with Trevor Releford.
  5. Frank Martin is angry — this time about criticism leveled at the lack of fan support for basketball at South Carolina. “It’s hard to tell me people don’t care, and yet you’re in the top 40 in the country in total attendance, you’re fifth in the SEC, and there’s an opinion that people don’t care,” Martin told the Charleston Post and Courier. The article points out that South Carolina was actually 41st in attendance with an average of 10,074 fans per game last season, but Martin’s argument is still well-taken. It’s rather impressive that a team without much success in recent history can post that kind of attendance figure, because winning leads to crowds no matter the sport and no matter the level. If Martin can turn the Gamecocks around, Colonial Life Arena and its 18,000-seat capacity will become a daunting challenge. For his part, Martin is about determined as a person can be to reach that point. “I’m not going to stop until the good Lord either takes me, or we put 18 [thousand] in that building when we play,” he said. Touche.
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SEC M5: 10.17.14 Edition

Posted by David Changas on October 17th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. Florida has had a rough week thus far, as the Gators were forced to suspend sophomore forward Chris Walker on Wednesday for an undisclosed violation of team rules. The three-game suspension will force Walker to miss the Gators’ exhibition game against Barry University as well as the regular season’s first two games against William & Mary and cross-state rival Miami. It has been speculated that Walker, who missed a good portion of last season with academic issues, may have violated the school’s drug policy. The Gators also found out they will be without four-star freshman guard Brandone Francis because of his academic shortcomings. Francis is ineligible to practice with the team this fall, but could return to the court in the spring if his performance in school improves.
  2. Despite having two teams in the top 10, it’s no surprise that the SEC is not particularly well-represented in the first preseason USA Today coaches poll. Kentucky tops the list, receiving 24 of the available 32 first-place votes.  Florida checks in at No. 7, and the only other SEC team to even receive votes was Arkansas. Given the league’s lack of national success over the past several years – Kentucky and Florida aside – and so many questions that must be answered by so many teams in the league, the Wildcats and Gators might be the only two schools from the conference who consistently spend time in the poll throughout this season.
  3. It is no secret that Kentucky’s Andrew Harrison often didn’t see eye to eye with coach John Calipari last year, and that his freshman campaign was mostly disappointing. While he redeemed himself in helping the Wildcats make their surprising run to the national championship game, his success there did not erase the shortcomings of the rest of the season. By contrast, CBSSports.com’s Gary Parrish thinks Harrison can be a great redemption story this season. While he did not live up to the hype that came with being one of the nation’s most heralded freshman, he has put that disappointment behind him. His first season in Lexington failed to match those of other great point guards who have played under Calipari — players like Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans, John Wall, and Brandon Knight — but that doesn’t mean he can’t turn things around this year. By all accounts, Harrison is in better shape than when he arrived in Lexington last August, and has worked hard during the offseason to be ready to raise the overall level of his game. If Kentucky is going to live up to those lofty preseason expectations, he will need to do just that.
  4. The announcement earlier this week that SEC Commissioner Mike Slive will retire in July 2015 received a lot of attention nationally, mostly because of the remarkable job Slive has done in bringing the conference to a level of college football dominance not seen in some time. He is also credited with putting together the fledgling SEC Network, which virtually every cable and satellite provider in the country offers as part of its basic packages. And while there is no questioning the financial success that the league has enjoyed under Slive’s leadership, his relative inability to lead the conference to commensurate success in basketball is certainly worth discussing. Kentucky has been again dominant since Calipari’s arrival in 2009, and Florida has been a perennial top-10 power for over a decade under Billy Donovan’s leadership, but the overall profile of the league has not improved since Slive took the job in 2002. In fact, it could be reasonably argued that it has diminished, and that the league is perceived, now more than ever, of being concerned only with football success. While it obviously would be overly simplistic to put all of that at Slive’s feet, it is fair to direct some criticism his way, especially in light of the great accolades he receives for the conference’s success on the gridiron.
  5. There were plenty of surprises that came with Tennessee‘s unexpected run to the Sweet Sixteen last year, but none was bigger than the emergence of forward Josh Richardson. The defensive stalwart averaged just under 10.0 PPG during the regular season, but his average soared to 19.3 PPG in the team’s four NCAA Tournament games. Now, with most of his running mates from last year’s team as well as his coach having moved on, new coach Donnie Tyndall is leaning heavily on Richardson to lead his young group of Volunteers. It appears the senior forward has taken Tyndall’s admonitions to heart, and while it is unrealistic to expect Tennessee to duplicate its March success this season, if the Volunteers are going to have any real success, they will need Richardson to lead the way on both ends of the floor.
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What We Can Expect From Auburn in Bruce Pearl’s First Year

Posted by Greg Mitchell on October 16th, 2014

The SEC’s basketball profile will continue to flounder until some of the other 12 programs other than Florida and Kentucky develop into consistent winners. The conference needs the depth of several year-in, year-out NCAA bid contenders to complement those two crown jewels. Suddenly, Auburn, which hasn’t had a winning season since 2008-09 and hasn’t been ranked in over 10 years, looks as ready as anyone to make that leap. The reason? Simple. Bruce Pearl’s return to the conference.

Bruce Pearl is back in the SEC, albeit in a different shade of orange.

Bruce Pearl is back in the SEC, albeit in a different shade of orange.

The former Milwaukee and Tennessee coach has already provided a jolt in fan support and recruiting since being hired last spring. For example, in late August he signed three key recruits in four days to give Auburn one of the current best 2015 recruiting classes in the conference. It’s a virtual certainty that this excitement will eventually lead to on-court improvement, but how soon is it reasonable to expect? If his past performance is any indication, it might be sooner than you think. Below we examine how Pearl fared in each of his first years leading the Panthers and the Vols.

2001-02 Milwaukee Panthers

What happened: Pearl took over when Wisconsin hired a coach named Bo Ryan, who had gone only 30-27 in his two seasons at Milwaukee. At 16-13 overall, the Panthers won only one more game in Pearl’s first season than they had the year before, and there was no postseason. Nevertheless, Milwaukee jumped to third place in the Horizon League (11-5) after finishing fifth (7-7) in Ryan’s last year (in what was then unimaginatively called the “Midwest Collegiate Conference”). Not surprisingly, Pearl revved up the pace of action (72.7 possessions per 40 minutes) over Ryan’s more disciplined approach (65.3), but this didn’t necessarily yield better efficiency since the Panthers scored and allowed roughly the same number of points per possession and didn’t see a big uptick in free throw attempts. The biggest reason for the slight improvement in the conference standings seems to have been better play from a trio of junior guards: Clay Tucker, Ronnie Jones, and Jason Frederick. The diminutive Jones (5’9’’) made the biggest jump, upping his scoring average by seven points per game and dishing out an additional assist per contest.

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