Welcome to the Show: Breakout Freshmen in the Former SEC East

Posted by Christian D'Andrea on November 12th, 2014

Playing in the SEC means facing off against some of the most talented freshmen in the country, week in and week out. While Kentucky rightfully gets most of the credit for bringing in a cache of five-star prospects every season, the rest of the conference has produced plenty of gems of their own. Last season, players like Vanderbilt’s Damian Jones, South Carolina’s Sindarius Thornwell and LSU’s Jordan Mickey all broke on to the scene and made themselves potential first round NBA Draft picks. So who will be next?

Today, we’ll break down the first-year players who are primed to have the biggest impact for their teams in 2014-15. We’ll start with the side of the conference formerly known as the SEC East.

Georgia: Yante Maten. Maten, a 6’8″, 240-lb power forward, impressed in Georgia’s closer-than-expected exhibition win over Georgia Southwestern last week. He posted a 12/10/4 pts/reb/ast line and added a pair of blocks while playing the most minutes of anyone on the roster. He’s strong in the paint and has shown capable of passing from the low blocks when called upon, but he’s not the kind of shooter that will stretch the floor or pull defenders away from the basket. If Nemanja Djurisic stays at power forward all season (rather than sliding over to the three), he seems destined for a primary role off the bench this winter. Even in that capacity, he’ll have plenty of time to prep himself for a potential starting role in 2015-16.

Yante Maten

Yante Maten Was Impressive in Georgia’s Exhibition Game Last Week

Florida: Devin Robinson. Robinson had a disappointing unofficial start to his Gators tenure in the team’s exhibition win over Barry last week. The five-star freshman made just two of his 10 shots and picked up four fouls in 17 minutes of action. Even so, big things are expected from the small forward from Virginia. Robinson has the speed and athleticism to guard three positions and the shooting range to create match-up nightmares for opposing wings. He’ll have to prove that the Barry performance was just a case of the nerves catching up to him, but he’ll have several opportunities to find playing time on a team that must replace four seniors from last year’s squad.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

SEC Season Preview: Missouri Tigers

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on November 11th, 2014

The SEC microsite will preview each of the league teams over the next week, continuing today with Missouri.

Missouri Tigers

Strengths. A fresh start with a familiar face. Frank Haith produced three draft picks over the last two years (Phil Pressey, Alex Oriakhi, Jordan Clarkson), two first team All-SEC players (Pressey, Jabari Brown), and two second team All-SEC players (Clarkson, Laurence Bowers). But all this talent resulted in only one NCAA tournament appearance: an uninspiring second round loss to Colorado State in 2012-13. Missouri never seemed to play up to its potential after a magical first season under Haith, and the defense often looked disjointed. His three-year tenure was also marked with fallout from the Miami NCAA investigation. It’s not that Haith did a bad job in Columbia, it’s just that the program didn’t seem to be trending in the right direction and the fanbase wasn’t exactly crushed when he left for Tulsa after last season. Enter Kim Anderson, the former Missouri player who spent 11 years as an assistant coach under Norm Stewart, and is coming off a 12-year stint at Central Missouri that culminated in a Division II national championship. It might take time for Anderson to readjust to the Division I level, but his hire has created excitement among the fanbase, and along with six newcomers on the court, provides Missouri with a fresh start.

Jonathan Williams is looking to take a big step forward in his sophomore season (columbiamissourian.com).

Jonathan Williams is looking to take a big step forward in his sophomore season. (columbiamissourian.com)

Weaknesses. Scoring. Two numbers highlighted by the Columbia Tribune’s Steve Walentik speak for themselves: the Tigers are replacing 78 percent of their scoring from last season and Jonathan Williams is their leading returning scorer at just 5.8 points per game. To be fair, there weren’t a lot of scoring opportunities for players other than Clarkson, Brown, and Earnest Ross last year. Still, points will have to come from somewhere. Williams and Wes Clark should improve on their freshmen seasons, and Baylor transfer Deuce Bello has a chance to play a big role in the backcourt. The same can be said for Hawaii graduate transfer Keith Shamburger, but he figures to be more of a distributor than scorer. Freshman forward and late signee Montaque “Teki” Gill-Caesar has picked up rave reviews over the summer, and Jakeenan Gant and Namon Wright are top-100 Haith recruits that Anderson was able to hang on to. Despite the upside there are a lot of offensive question marks. Williams and Clark didn’t show the potential to be primary scoring threats in their first years, and Bello was just a role player during his two seasons in Waco. The other three players are just freshmen, and as a whole it doesn’t seem like there is much three-point shooting ability on the roster. Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

SEC Season Preview: Georgia Bulldogs

Posted by Greg Mitchell on November 10th, 2014

The SEC microsite will preview each of the league teams over the next week, continuing today with Georgia.

Strengths. Mark Fox will roll out one of the best backcourt duos in the SEC this season. Charles Mann had a breakout season for the Bulldogs last year and ended up on the all-SEC Second Team. He led the team with 13.9 points per game and posted the 10th best assist rate in the conference (22.7 percent). Fellow junior guard Kenny Gaines was not far behind him at 13.0 points per game and proved reliable from the free throw line (77.7%) and the outside (37.5% 3FG). The problem is that Georgia doesn’t figure to be very deep at the guard position. Fox didn’t bring in any backcourt newcomers, so he’ll rely on J.J. Frazier and Juwan Parker to make similar leaps in their sophomore years like Mann and Gaines did last season.

Charles Mann is looking to build on a 2013-14 season that landed him on the All-SEC second team.(msn.foxsports.com).

Charles Mann is looking to build on a 2013-14 season that landed him on the all-SEC second team.(msn.foxsports.com).

Weaknesses. On the intangibles side, the Bulldogs will need to prove that they can play with expectations. They won’t sneak up on anyone and will be playing with the pressure of a team with legitimate NCAA Tournament aspirations. Georgia was unable to build on Fox’s only NCAA Tournament appearance four seasons ago, going just 15-17 the following year. But that team had to replace NBA Draft picks Travis Leslie and Trey Thompkins. This season’s team, on the other hand, returns the bulk of its contributors from last year’s 12-6 SEC finish. The lights will be shining on the Bulldogs this year; can they respond?

Toughest Non-Conference Test. The Bulldogs muddled through an uninspiring non-conference schedule at 6-6 last year before their unexpected SEC run to second place. This year, however, the schedule is much more difficult. Georgia faces Kevin Pangos and Gonzaga at the NIT Season Tip-Off on November 26, and that might not even be the toughest game. The Bulldogs also travel to Kansas State to face Marcus Foster and what figures to be a salty Wildcats team on New Year’s Eve. An opening game at Georgia Tech this Friday is also a challenge — Brian Gregory might be on the hot seat but it’s never easy to draw another major conference team right off the bat.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

SEC M5: 11.10.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on November 10th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. Ole Miss will be without Aaron Jones to start the season, as the senior forward was suspended last week for a violation of team rules. He missed the Rebels’ exhibition win against Delta State on Friday and will also miss the first two regular season games against Charleston Southern and Troy. Andy Kennedy figures to weather life without Jones by giving more minutes to Sebastian Saiz (who had 14 rebounds in Friday’s exhibition win), M.J. Rhett and Dwight Coleby. Coleby playing increased minutes could be a silver lining in terms of his development, since he only played 10 minutes per game as a freshman last year. The Rebels are also relatively deep at the guard positions, and Kennedy could use four-guard lineups at times to cover Jones’ absence.
  2. It wouldn’t be a preseason M5 without a list from CBSSports.com’s Matt Norlander. This time Norlander looks at 10 coaches who are on the hot seat entering the season, and he includes Alabama’s Anthony Grant and Tennessee’s Donnie Tyndall (a last minute addition) from the SEC. Last year’s 13-19 campaign in Trevor Releford’s final season was certainly disappointing, but Grant has built a solid but underappreciated program at Alabama with at least 21 wins in three of his five seasons in Tuscaloosa. At the end of the day, it depends on how the Alabama administration views its basketball program. Even without a trip to the NCAA Tournament this season, 91 wins, one NCAA Tournament invitation and two NIT invitations in five years may be enough to buy Grant another year if his young roster shows potential. But he is no doubt walking a fine line at Alabama.
  3. Platoons, platoons, platoons. You just can’t avoid talk of platoons, especially not on the SEC microsite. First-year Kentucky assistant Barry Rohrssen talked about whether the platoon system will be a one-year thing or become a program staple at a press conference last week. “Well, you don’t exactly know it’s going to be limited,” Rohrssen said. “That’s to unfold next season.” This comment was in response to a question about the risk of recruits being turned away by the limited minutes they would get in a platoon system. It says here that Coach Cal will get players no matter what system he runs or who figures to be on the roster. Thus far elite recruits have not been scared away by a clogged roster in Lexington, and that doesn’t figure to change as long as Wildcats keep getting drafted.
  4. The Dallas Morning News obtained details of Billy Kennedy’s two-year contract extension that was announced in September, and they appear “mostly cosmetic,” according to the newspaper. Extending the contract of a coach who is 50-49 with no NIT or NCAA invitations in three years seems curious, but the recruiting class Kennedy has put together for next season furthers the case for patience. Still, Texas A&M has enough talent to emerge from the middle-of-the-pack in the SEC this season, and there is nothing like on-court success to validate a contract extension.
  5. Several Tennessee players told Ben Frederickson of GoVolsXtra that the NCAA infraction rumors swirling around Donnie Tyndall are not a distraction. “We are just trying to move forward,” JuCo transfer Kevin Punter told Frederickson. “We have a whole bunch of other things to be worrying about.” One of those things is the Vols’ season opener against VCU on Friday in Annapolis. The Rams are easily the most difficult opponent an SEC team will face to open the season, and it’s asking a tall task to prepare for the HAVOC even in drama-free times.
Share this story

SEC Season Preview: Ole Miss Rebels

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on November 7th, 2014

The SEC microsite will preview each of the league teams over the next week, continuing today with Ole Miss.

Andy Kennedy might have his deepest team yet at Ole Miss despite the fact he’s replacing the most prolific player of his tenure. Yes, Marshall Henderson is gone, but Jarvis Summers is not. And if you had to pick between the two, you’d be hard-pressed to pass over Summers since he was quite simply one the best players in the SEC last season (ninth in PER). LaDarius White is another senior starter in the backcourt and Kennedy also adds two guards with Division I experience in Stefan Moody and Terence Smith. The frontcourt has its offensive limitations but could go as far as five deep. The optimistic Ole Miss fan sees players like Aaron Jones and Dwight Coleby filling their roles protecting the rim, while Anthony Perez and Sebastian Saiz develop into consistent contributors on offense. Henderson will of course be missed, but Kennedy has some depth to work with in trying to return the Rebels to the NCAA Tournament.

Jarvis Summers will be one of the most heavily relied on players in the SEC this season (bigstory.ap.com).

Jarvis Summers will be one of the most heavily relied on players in the SEC this season (bigstory.ap.com).

Weaknesses. Ole Miss may be deep but the Rebels will need to prove that they can score. Summers is an excellent player but there’s no doubt that he benefited from the focus that opposing defense paid to Henderson manically running around screens. Other than Summers, there are few proven scoring options on the team. White has some experience but is a career 38.9 percent shooter. None of the returning Ole Miss big men scored more than 7.1 points per game last season, although Perez and Saiz showed glimpses of potential. It may be that Kennedy is counting on his newcomers with Division I experience to carry a big portion of the scoring load. Smith (14.6 points per game at Tennessee-Martin) and M.J. Rhett (10.9 points per game at Tennessee State) averaged double figure scoring last season, but those numbers came in the Ohio Valley Conference. Moody scored 15.7 points per game at Florida Atlantic en route to the 2012-13 Sun Belt Freshman of the Year award before off-court issues led him to junior college. There are several glimmers of potential on this roster for Kennedy, but it’s never comforting to rely on players who have yet to suit up for the program.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

SEC Season Preview: Arkansas Razorbacks

Posted by Brian Joyce on November 7th, 2014

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

Arkansas Razorbacks

Strengths. This is year four under head coach Mike Anderson, and he finally has the depth and firepower to run his “Fastest 40 Minutes in Basketball” style of play. Last year’s star freshman Bobby Portis returns for his sophomore year, along with Ky Madden, Michael Qualls, Alandise Harris, Anthlon Bell and Moses Kingsley, just to name a few of the expected contributors. In addition to depth, the Razorbacks have size with Kingsley and Portis standing at 6’10”, junior forward Jacorey Williams at 6’8”, West Virginia transfer Keaton Miles at 6’7”, and even Madden checking in at 6’5” from the point guard position. Anderson took both UAB and Missouri to three NCAA Tournament appearances each, respectively, and it is past time for his first trip as the head coach at Arkansas.

Mike Anderson is Big Dance or bust this season (Arkansas Business).

Mike Anderson is Big Dance or bust this season (Arkansas Business).

Weaknesses. Anderson’s Hawgs have struggled mightily on the road throughout his tenure. Arkansas won one road game in each of the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons before making a huge leap to three away victories last season (including a win in Rupp Arena over Kentucky). This season will present an arduous test for the Razorbacks venturing away from the friendly confines of Bud Walton Arena, with match-ups scheduled at SMU, Iowa State, and Clemson. Anderson’s squad could certainly use a signature win in non-conference play that demonstrates it can win outside of Fayetteville.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

SEC M5: 11.07.14 Edition

Posted by David Changas on November 7th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. Thursday was a really bad day for Tennessee. As we documented earlier, Jason King of Bleacher Report reported that Southern Mississippi, which was coached for two years by new Volunteers coach Donnie Tyndall, is under NCAA investigation for improper financial support of “Prop 48″ athletes. Tyndall has not been contacted by the NCAA yet, although that appears inevitable. Shortly after that troubling news broke, Chris Clarke, a top-75 senior who committed to Tennessee last week, reneged and announced that he will instead head to Virginia Tech. While it is likely the switch was in the works prior to the release of King’s story, it is hard to believe that the investigation had nothing to do with his change of decision. Clarke was clearly the crown jewel of the Volunteers’ class, and Tyndall must now head back to the recruiting drawing board under the potentially dark clouds of an NCAA investigation.
  2. SI’s Seth Davis recently made waves with an interview of Kentucky head coach John Calipari for his Campus Insiders show. In the interview, Davis raised the issue of the vacation of his two Final Four appearances at UMass and Memphis. Calipari did not seem overly pleased with Davis’ question, indicating that he was not concerned about “me or my reputation. I sleep great at night.” Of course, that particular topic is one that Calipari’s detractors often raise to support their argument that he does not recruit above board, but he was not implicated in either of the two scandals and he seems to be doing well for himself in the Bluegrass State.
  3. Exhibition basketball is about as meaningful as the NFL preseason, so the results of these games are hardly worth paying attention to. Still, it is always surprising when a top-10 team plays a relatively close game against a Division II school. On Thursday night, #7 Florida struggled with Barry College in its exhibition opener, winning by only nine points and getting outscored by the Buccaneers in the paint, 22-18. While the Gators may not have played particularly well, they did get a game-high 22 points from Rutgers transfer Eli Carter, who went 5-of-9 from three-point range. Florida head coach Billy Donovan has to be pleased with Carter’s output — especially given the inexperience in the Gators’ backcourt behind Kasey Hill and Michael Frazier II — and likely will not worry too much about the margin of Florida’s win.
  4. It is no secret that Anthony Grant likely needs a successful season to keep his job, and that he will be sent packing if Alabama does not significantly improve upon last year’s 13-19 record. The Crimson Tide have some returning experience, but Grant also brought in the best recruiting class in his six years in Tuscaloosa. Drew Champlin of AL.com took a look at Grant’s early efforts to blend this team’s youth and experience together. Alabama will be led by seniors Levi Randolph and Rodney Cooper, but expect significant contributions from its four freshmen as well. Grant also brought in long-time Buffalo head coach Reggie Witherspoon to add some much-needed experience to his staff. Witherspoon, who has what Grant calls a “great basketball mind,” will be crucial to the development of this team, and given a very difficult pre-conference schedule that includes games against Wichita State, Iowa State, Xavier and UCLA, he will need to work his magic quickly.
  5. LSU recently extended Johnny Jones’ contract through the 2017-18 season, based in large part upon his ability to bring in talent to Baton Rouge. He already has a commitment from Rivals.com’s top player in the 2015 class, Ben Simmons, and this weekend he will receive visits from two big-time recruitsJaQuan Lyle and Antonio Blakeney, both of whom previously committed to Louisville before backing out of their pledges. Lyle was a Class of 2014 player who committed to Oregon before reclassifying and going to prep school. Blakeney is ranked No. 13 in the 2015 class, and his decommitment from the Cardinals garnered significant attention because of the widespread belief that his decision was related to shoe company affiliation. For Jones, getting the two on campus for the weekend of the LSU-Alabama football game is a major coup, and if he can somehow convince the two guards to join forces with Simmons, the landscape of this program would change significantly.
Share this story

Assessing the Tennessee Basketball Head Coaching Curse

Posted by Christian D'Andrea on November 6th, 2014

The locals must call Knoxville, Tennessee “KnoxVegas” because, like its desert-bound brother, it’s a beacon of bad decision-making and snap judgments. How else could you explain the recent curse that has settled over the Tennessee Volunteers’ men’s basketball head coaching position?

New head coach Donnie Tyndall now faces an NCAA investigation into whether athletes under his watch at Southern Mississippi were given impermissible benefits. A Bleacher Report story by Jason King cited an anonymous source that alleges that basketball players were given scholarships and had certain living expenses despite not yet qualified as eligible players. The first-year coach did not address the report on this today, but he did suggest that he would cooperate fully with any NCAA investigation that follows.

Donnie Tyndall

Donnie Tyndall Could Be in Some Hot Water Soon

The aftermath of that investigation could mean another drastically shortened Volunteers career on the sidelines at Thompson-Boling Arena. Any tangible proof that Tyndall knowingly violated NCAA rules would add another headstone to the creamsicle-colored graveyard in East Tennessee. But Tyndall won’t be the only qualified head coach to fall victim to the KnoxVegas curse. A look at Tennessee’s recent history suggests that this team cycles through coaches as though they were leasing Acuras instead of running one of the SEC’s powerhouse programs.

Before Tyndall, there was Cuonzo Martin – now head coach of the California Golden Bears. Martin took over a team that was under investigation by the NCAA and reeling from the early departures of Tobias Harris and Scotty Hopson to finish 19-15 in 2012; the same record as the embattled, departed Bruce Pearl before him. Despite facing the recruiting handicaps that followed Pearl’s ouster, Martin built the Vols back into an NCAA Tournament team by 2014 and showed the Knoxville faithful that a little patience can go a long way in college basketball.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

SEC M5: 11.05.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on November 5th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. The preview train rolls on at CBSSports.com, and this time Matt Norlander gives his list of the top 20 transfers for the upcoming season, with Auburn’s Antoine Mason, Florida’s Jon Horford and Tennessee’s Dominic Woodson all making the cut. This is an interesting group because each player finds himself in a different position on his team. Mason will be heavily-relied on to score and help Bruce Pearl set a competitive tone for the Tigers in year one. Conversely, Billy Donovan isn’t looking for superstar numbers from Horford, but he’ll need him to be a complementary piece up front. Woodson, as Norlander points out, is a wildcard for Donnie Tyndall because it’s not hard to envision him either as a load on the block or a player glued to the bench for large chunks of time (more on him below). No matter the situation, each of these transfers should have an impact in the SEC this season.
  2. College Basketball Talk released its preseason All-America teams and only two SEC players popped up among the three teams and group of honorable mentions: Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns (third team) and Aaron Harrison (honorable mention). I don’t think this particular lack of an SEC presence deserves an outcry, though. The article points out that Towns is extremely talented but may not get the minutes to rack up All-American numbers. That numbers crunch may also hurt the individual statistics of someone like Dakari Johnson, who at most any other school would probably be getting more preseason hype. The closest non-Wildcats to this list are probably Arkansas’ Bobby Portis and LSU’ Jordan Mickey, but even with my SEC bent I can’t make an argument for their inclusion.
  3. The first Bob Cousy Award watch list, on the other hand, had plenty of SEC flavor. The annual award given to the best point guard in the country included Kentucky’s Andrew Harrison and Tyler Ulis, Texas A&M’s Alex Caruso, Florida’s Kasey Hill and Ole MissJarvis Summers on its initial list. Duke also had two entrants on the 50-man list, and I’d be interested to know if two teams have ever had multiple lead guards on the list before. All the choices make sense, though, and I can’t come up with any omissions. Caruso is a deserving selection since he led the SEC in assist rate last season (36.7 percent), even if he should get more time off-the-ball now with the addition of freshman Alex Robinson. Billy Kennedy needs to put a better offense on the floor and that means having his best players out there regardless of position.
  4. If SEC commissioner Mike Slive has a doghouse for basketball coaches compiling soft non-conference schedules, there is no way Anthony Grant is in it. For the second year in a row, Alabama has one of the more challenging pre-SEC slates. Last season the Tide’s games against Oklahoma, Wichita State, Duke and UCLA fueled the 11th best strength of schedule nationally, according to KenPom. This season the Tide gets return games against Wichita State and UCLA, as well as Xavier, Iowa State and either Maryland or Arizona State. The challenge of course will be winning one of those marquee games, which would be a big stepping stone in what needs to be a bounce-back year for Grant.
  5. You always have to pump the brakes before delving too far into exhibition games, but as Will Shelton at Rocky Top Talk writes, it’s hard to not pay attention at Tennessee given all the new faces vying for playing time. The Vols beat NAIA opponent Pikeville, 80-62, in their exhibition opener, and there were stats galore. One interesting tidbit is that Tyndall started the immediately-eligible Woodson (mentioned above) at center, suggesting his level of conditioning may not be as big an impediment as some thought. Another notable statistic is that Armani Moore, who is coming into his junior year with a 3.1 PPG career scoring average, led the Vols in scoring with 17 points.
Share this story

SEC Season Preview: Alabama Crimson Tide

Posted by David Changas on November 4th, 2014

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

Alabama Crimson Tide

Strengths. As with prior Anthony Grant teams, this year’s version should be able to defend at a high level. Alabama has always featured athletic teams that will guard its opponents and make it difficult to score, and as usual, the Crimson Tide will do so without an abundance of size inside. In his preseason ratings, Ken Pomeroy ranks Alabama at #32 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency. With big guards like Levi Randolph and Rodney Cooper patrolling the perimeter, Alabama has an ability to make things very difficult for its opponents to run offensive sets. And though they do not have any shot-blocking presence to speak of, there is no question that the Crimson Tide will make their opponents work to get good shots. In each of Grant’s five years at the school, his teams have been stellar at halfcourt defense, and this year should be no exception to that trend.

Levi Randolph is Alabama's top returning scorer. (AL.com/Vasha Hunt)

Levi Randolph is Alabama’s top returning scorer. (AL.com/Vasha Hunt)

Weaknesses. As well as Grant’s teams defend, they often have just as much trouble putting the ball in the basket — there is significant concern about what his team will produce from its halfcourt offense. The Tide lost their only double-figure scorer from last season, Trevor Releford — also the team’s only reliable outside shooter — but they do return four other starters. Alabama shot only 44.4 percent from the field and 33.4 percent from three-point range, though, and there is little reason to believe those numbers will improve significantly with virtually the same cast. In particular, perimeter scoring will be a problem, as no returning player shot better than 35 percent from beyond the arc. Grant will try to supplement his backcourt with the best freshman class he has had in his six seasons in Tuscaloosa. In addition to point guard Justin Coleman, Alabama added shooting guard Devin Mitchell and wing Riley Norris. Each will have to contribute early on the offensive end for the Crimson Tide to compete in the SEC. Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

SEC M5: 11.03.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on November 3rd, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. SI.com released its SEC preview last week, and it’s worth a read to get ready for the upcoming season (in addition, of course, to all the content on this microsite). The only thing that’s ripe to nitpick is the prediction that Georgia will finish seventh in the conference with an 8-10 league record. It could be that I’m too high on the Bulldogs, but Mark Fox returns the core of a team that went 12-6 and finished tied for third in the SEC last season. Charles Mann and Kenny Gaines are two guards with upside who should be one of the more difficult-to-stop scoring duos in the conference. The Dawgs’ frontcourt may be thin, but Marcus Thornton and Nemanja Djurisic are still quality players, so seeing Georgia fall that far back just doesn’t seem likely.
  2. Scrimmage highlights should always be taken with a grain of salt, but it’s hard not to like what Karl-Anthony Towns showed at Big Blue Madness and during a recent scrimmage. His footwork and mobility for a guy that size are impressive, and his versatility could be a great asset for John Calipari and his cramped roster. Towns looks like he’ll be a threat away from the basket in addition to on the low blocks, whether facing up and driving to the rim or knocking down the occasional long jumper. That should allow him to play well with Kentucky‘s rim-centric players like Dakari Johnson and Willie Cauley-Stein without stifling the offense.
  3. Marshall Henderson is gone from Oxford and no longer available for our college basketball viewing pleasure, but shocking as it may be, there will be basketball at Ole Miss this season, and as the Associated Press’ David Brandt points out, this may be Andy Kennedy’s deepest team yet. The Rebels return five of their top six players in minutes per game, and they could have the deepest SEC frontcourt in the league outside of Kentucky and LSU. Aaron Jones is a solid senior big man who can clean up the defensive glass, and sophomore Sebastian Saiz (20 points against LSU on January 15) and junior Anthony Perez (21 points against Kentucky on February 22) showed flashes with big offensive nights against strong frontcourts in 2013-14. This is a far cry from the beginning of last season, when Kennedy was trying to replace his two primary big men in Reginald Buckner and Murphy Holloway.
  4. Florida freshman guard Chris Chiozza is learning that playing for Billy Donovan is no walk in the park. “Got to run, every play, sprint,” Chiozza told GatorCountry.com. “If you stop sprinting, he’s going to make you run on the side, probably.” Donovan will need his freshmen ready to go this season because he no longer has the luxury of a senior-laden lineup. Junior Devin Walker (knee injury) and freshman Brandone Francis (academically ineligible) are out for the year, leaving Chiozza as the Gators fourth option at guard behind Kasey Hill, Michael Frazier and Eli Carter. It’s likely Chiozza and freshman forward Devin Robinson will be called upon to contribute right away, making every sprint worth it.
  5. CBSSports.com’s Matt Norlander has Kentucky’s backcourt ranked as the fourth-best in the country, and it’s hard to find a beef with putting Duke, Arizona and North Carolina above the Wildcats. The development of Andrew and Aaron Harrison will be one of the more compelling SEC storylines this season, after their up-and-down freshmen years were capped off with solid performances (and big shots from Aaron) leading up to appearance in the national championship game. What makes the backcourt even more interesting, as Norlander points out, is the presence of 5’9’’ “passing wizard” Tyler Ulis. He’ll be an absolute change of the pace from the big-bodied Harrisons, and it’ll be fun to see him create looks for the all Kentucky big men.
Share this story

Eminently Watchable: Assessing Year Three of the Frank Martin Experience

Posted by Christian D'Andrea on October 31st, 2014

Under Frank Martin, South Carolina has quietly become one of the most interesting teams in the SEC. Not flashy, not high-scoring, maybe not even specifically “good”… but interesting? Absolutely. Martin’s blueprint for a turnaround in Columbia isn’t written in ink; it’s been sculpted in malleable clay. The veteran coach has been tasked with taking the under-appreciated spoils of the disastrous Darrin Horn regime and fusing them with the flashier products of taking a Big 12 Coach of the Year title on the recruiting trail. Those pieces are slowly coming together, cobbling the foundation for a return to big time basketball in the Palmetto State.

Frank Martin (USA Today)

Frank Martin Feels Like He’s Turning the Corner at South Carolina (USA Today)

Martin’s team can be divided into two camps. The most prominent one is filled with the high-flyers that Martin brought to South Carolina despite his team’s underwhelming recent history. Top 100 recruits Sindarius Thornwell and Demetrius Henry chose Columbia a year ago thanks to their coach’s reputation rather than the program’s results. Four-star guard Tyrone Williams took his talent south after one year in Villanova’s rotation. Similarly rated point guard Marcus Stroman joined the team for his first NCAA season this fall. Suddenly, the Gamecocks have the personnel to throw elite athletes at their opponents at nearly every position. The key to the program’s success, however, may lie in the guys from the other camp – the overlooked players who pledged to a first-year coach. The guys who committed to a veteran leader whose primary duty was to put out the dumpster fire that had been left in front of him. That includes Lithuanian bangers Laimonas Chatkevicius and Mindaugas Kacinas. It also includes the linchpin that holds this team together – Michael Carrera.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story