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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SEC Offseason Reset

Posted by Brian Joyce on October 15th, 2014

The gym is open and the ball is bouncing. College basketball is here. Well, almost. The clang of the ball bouncing off the rim will soon turn into the sweet sound of the nothing but net shot that comes with practice, practice and more practice. The offseason was eventful in the SEC, and now that the dust has settled, here are a few conference predictions, observations, and questions for each team as they begin their 2014-15 journey.

John Calipari is in a good mood with this many All Americans on his roster (AP).

John Calipari is in a good mood with so many prep All-Americans on his roster (AP).

  1. Kentucky: Kentucky dominated the headlines this offseason, and for good reason. After a national title game run last April, expectations could not be higher for this group. The Wildcats played well in six games in the Bahamas during an August trip, earning high praise from observers despite a loss in their final game. The exhibition tour gave John Calipari‘s group of new highly-touted freshmen an opportunity to log significant minutes, a valuable advantage for this time of the year. The big story in Lexington is the possibility that Calipari will rely on a platoon system to provide sufficient minutes for the abundance of talent on his roster. Whether it works is something to watch for this season, but with returnees Alex Poythress, Dakari Johnson, Willie Cauley-Stein, Andrew Harrison and Aaron Harrison joining another impressive recruiting class, it is hard to imagine this group failing to dominate the SEC.
  2. Florida: The Gators looked like a team that could have won it all last season on its way to a Final Four, a 36-3 overall record, and a perfect 21-0 in SEC play. The key pieces in that run are now gone, but coach Billy Donovan reloads yet again in Gainesville. Sophomore Chris Walker figures to play a more significant role, as do Kasey Hill and Dorian Finney-Smith. Florida has always thrived with the team-first approach, but it will rely heavily on the sharp shooting of junior Michael Frazier to carry the scoring load. The Gators will again find themselves in the upper echelon of the conference standings.

How will the rest of the conference shake out?

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SEC M5: Microsite Relaunch Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on October 15th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. For the second straight year, Andrew Harrison might be Kentucky’s most important player. And for the second straight year, there are many questions surrounding him. CBSSports.com‘s Gary Parrish writes about the opportunity Harrison has to bounce back from a largely disappointing freshman season. Granted, Harrison was the point guard for the national runner-up. He did have his moments in the NCAA Tournament (20 points against Wichita State; 14 points and seven assists against Louisville), but was still plagued with inconsistency throughout the event (24 turnovers in the six games). It’s been awhile since Calipari has had two seasons to work with a point guard, but developing Harrison may be the Wildcats’ surest ticket to another Final Four.
  2. Not much has gone right for Mississippi State‘s Rick Ray during his two-plus years in Starkville, as a seemingly constant stream of injuries and suspensions has been the theme. The latest injury might be the biggest blow of all, however, as news was released this week that junior guard Craig Sword will miss four to six weeks after back surgery to relieve a bulging disc. Backs are tricky injuries and who knows the effect it’ll have going forward, but as of now it is expected that Sword should be ready for conference play. The Bulldogs’ leading scorer became more efficient in his sophomore season, increasing his field goal percentage by eight points to 48 percent and cutting down on his turnovers from over 25 percent to 19 percent. Clearly there is still improvement to be had, so any missed time is crucial for a player that could develop into an excellent SEC scorer.
  3. Another coach who has dealt with personnel issues is Missouri‘s Kim Anderson. The first-year coach has already dismissed Torren Jones and watched Cameron Biedscheid leave the program before ever playing a minute in Columbia. On Tuesday it got worse, as freshmen Jakeenan Gant and D’Angelo Allen were charged with “peace disturbance” relating to a mid-September campus altercation. Theirs are misdemeanor charges, and it’s a relief for all involved that whatever was alleged to have happened didn’t amount to a felony charge. But eventually enough has to be enough for Missouri. This is the third legal incident for the basketball Tigers since last March (albeit two being under Frank Haith), and it has been a dark undertone to the good will Anderson has generated with the fan base and recruits.
  4. Luke Winn and Dan Hanner have a fascinating piece up at SI.com that predicts who the scoring, rebounding and assist leaders will be in 2014-15. What’s different about this piece is that the predictions are based on raw numbers generated by a system developed by Hanner that incorporates advanced statistics, a decade of player data, recruiting rankings and specific coach attributes (like playing distribution tendencies and quality), among other things. Their meticulous formula pegs Ole Miss senior guard Jarvis Summers as the nation’s sixth leading scorer, predicting that he’ll score 18.8 points per game. Summers has been overshadowed by Marshall Henderson over the last two years but should emerge as one of the better guards in the SEC this season.
  5. We’ve all seen high school kids put on hats, but Alabama signee Dazon Ingram brought a fresh take to his recent school announcement. “I told [Tide assistant Antoine Pettway] I wasn’t going to commit to Alabama and he got all sad,” Ingram told AL.com’s John Talty. “Then I told him I was just kidding. He started screaming and said ‘Oh my gosh. Can I call Coach Grant?’” No matter how it happened, the 6’5’’ point guard – the third ranked 2015 recruit in Alabama according to 247Sports – is a nice get for Anthony Grant as he had to fend off Gregg Marshall and Kelvin Sampson to sign him.
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Breaking Down the Top Five Big 12/SEC Challenge Match-ups

Posted by Brian Goodman on June 3rd, 2014

Over the last few years, college basketball has taken some big steps to become more relevant in the national consciousness before non-conference play. The second annual Big 12/SEC Challenge will attempt to drum up some early December interest in basketball before bowl season hits in earnest. The Big 12 won last season’s rendition with seven victories in 10 games and will look to pick up the pieces of its fractured national reputation after a middling March performance. Here’s a quick look at the top five match-ups of next season’s edition.

Cameron Ridley will look to build on an impressive 2013-14 campaign when Texas faces the prohibitive #1 team in the country. (Brendan Maloney/USA Today)

Cameron Ridley will look to build on an impressive 2013-14 campaign when Texas faces the prohibitive #1 team in the country. (Brendan Maloney/USA Today)

  1. Texas at Kentucky (December 5) – Just 12 months ago, Rick Barnes was squarely on the hot seat. Now he finds his team in the Challenge’s marquee game against last year’s national runner-up and what is sure to be the preseason #1 team in the country. Both squads will enter this game with crazy depth, so look for this one to be decided by how each team’s coach handles its pieces at this early juncture. The Longhorns will have a slight leg up on Kentucky in experience with Cameron Ridley, Jonathan Holmes and Prince Ibeh to side with blue-chip prospect Myles Turner,  but much of Kentucky’s frontcourt will be back too after Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress and Dakari Johnson announced their returns in surprising fashion. The guard battles will be nothing to sneeze at, either, with Javan Felix, Isaiah Taylor and Demarcus Holland going up against the loaded Kentucky backcourt of Aaron Harrison, Andrew Harrison and Tyler Ulis.
  2. Florida at Kansas (December 5) - Andrew Wiggins nearly led the Jayhawks to an improbable comeback in Gainesville last season, but Kansas ultimately fell short in that effort. They’ll have a chance to make it good at Allen Fieldhouse, where despite their overall struggles last season, was a relative safe haven for Bill Self’s team. Wiggins and Joel Embiid are of course now gone, but Kelly Oubre, Cliff Alexander and Sviatoslav Mykhaliuk will step in, and hopefully Bill Self will find a steady point guard who can be relied on to make everything come together. Florida’s Final Four core has moved on as well, so this will be a great chance to see how incumbents Michael Frazier, Kasey Hill, Chris Walker and Dorian Finney-Smith handle a big early test on the road. Read the rest of this entry »
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Looking Back at Kentucky’s Remarkable Run

Posted by David Changas on April 11th, 2014

On March 1, Kentucky‘s season hit its lowest point when the Wildcats lost to SEC bottom-feeder South Carolina, 72-67. Talk of a 40-0 season was a distant memory, and an early exit from the NCAA Tournament seemed likely. After that loss, Kentucky went on to lose twice to SEC champion Florida, but it was during the second of those losses – a one-point SEC Tournament Championship Game thriller that the Wildcats had a chance to win – that gave coach John Calipari’s team confidence that all was not lost. Kentucky received a #8 seed from the selection committee, and the path ahead of it would consist of games with the region’s top seed and the first team to enter the NCAA Tournament with an undefeated record in 23 years, Wichita State, as well as a possible rematch with arch-nemesis Louisville. The regional final projected as a game against the team that lost to Louisville in last year’s national championship game, Michigan, or SEC rival Tennessee. The Wildcats were able to beat Kansas State with relative ease in the opening round, and then proceed to win thrillers against the Shockers, Cardinals, and Wolverines to advance to their third Final Four in Calipari’s five years at the helm of the program.

Kentucky Will Play For The Program's Ninth National Title On Monday Night

Kentucky Celebrated Its Way to the National Title Game

At the outset of the season, Kentucky was the nation’s consensus No. 1 team, and there was some serious talk in the Bluegrass State that the Wildcats could reach 40-0. That dream was dashed with an early-season loss to Michigan State at the Champions Classic, and then Kentucky followed that with pre-conference defeats to Baylor and North Carolina. If those losses didn’t cause significant concern, the Wildcats’ play in the lowly SEC did. They were swept by the Gators and by Arkansas, and narrowly avoided a sweep by LSU. By the time the SEC Tournament arrived, many wondered whether it was too late for the club to figure things out and salvage their season. After dominant wins over LSU and Georgia, the Wildcats appeared headed for another blowout loss in the title game to Florida. They trailed the Gators by 16 early in the second half, but eventually cut the lead to one point with the ball before James Young slipped and lost control, costing the Wildcats a chance to win. While Kentucky wasn’t able to complete the comeback, that game was the impetus for the turnaround. Willie Cauley-Stein called the performance “a big confidence-booster” afterward, and said that the Wildcats were a “new team” coming out of Atlanta. While winning the daunting Midwest region appeared to be a near-impossible task for a team that entered the NCAA Tournament with 10 losses, the 78-76 second-round win over Wichita State in what many considered the best game of the Big Dance served notice that the Kentucky team many had expected had finally arrived.

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Breaking Down the Top 10 SEC Likely Returnees

Posted by Greg Mitchell on April 10th, 2014

No player on the lengthy 2013-14 all-SEC first team will be back next season (barring a couple of unlikely reversals), leaving the conference leaderboards completely up for grabs. The top returnees feature a heavy number of sophomores, and could be shaken up depending on some of the announcements out of Lexington over the next few days. Here are the top 10 SEC players to watch for in 2014-15.

Bobby Portis will anchor Mike Anderson's 2014-15 Arkansas squad (wholehogsports.com).

Bobby Portis will anchor Mike Anderson’s 2014-15 Arkansas squad (wholehogsports.com).

  1. Bobby Portis, Arkansas. Portis’ offensive efficiency stood out most during his freshman year, but he also was in the SEC’s top 10 in rebounds and blocks per game. He also has experience as a marked man as he became the Razorbacks’ primary option as the season wore on. Portis should flourish in his sophomore campaign, especially if Mike Anderson relents and plays him more than 30 minutes per game.
  2. Jordan Mickey, LSU. Mickey had a better statistical season than Portis, but he did so with Johnny O’Bryant commanding the bulk of attention. O’Bryant is now gone, and Mickey will become the Tigers’ top option in the low post. If his jumper continues to improve (39.3% on two-point jump shots) he’ll be a load on offense. Mickey also had the sixth most blocks in the country as a freshman.
  3. Andrew Harrison, Kentucky. Harrison and his brother are expected to return to Lexington, but it wouldn’t surprise anyone if they both left school either. If they do stick around, they’ll look to turn solid play in the NCAA Tournament into breakout sophomore seasons. Andrew gets the nod here merely because his position is more important, but he’ll need to improve on the 1.4 assist-to-turnover ratio he posted as a freshman. He could become a Tyreke Evans-type lead guard who looks to score first and creates offensive rebounding opportunities for his frontcourt with penetration and shots at the rim. Read the rest of this entry »
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