SEC M5: 02.04.15 Edition

Posted by David Changas on February 4th, 2015

SEC_morning5

  1. For the fourth consecutive week, Kentucky freshman Devin Booker was named the SEC Freshman of the Week. The 6’6″ guard averaged only 10 points per game in the team’s wins over Missouri and Alabama, and while those numbers somewhat paled in comparison with previous weeks, his run is nonetheless remarkable. He was not the most heralded of the Wildcats’ class of elite freshmen, but it would be difficult to argue that he hasn’t been the best of the group. Despite going only 1-of-6 from beyond the arc in Kentucky’s 69-58 win over Georgia Tuesday night, he is still shooting better than 50 percent from three-point range on the season.
  2. Speaking of Kentucky’s win over Georgia, the Bulldogs kept things close in Rupp Arena despite playing without senior forward Marcus Thornton, their leading scorer and rebounder. It was the second straight game Thornton has missed, as he also did not play in the Bulldogs’ weekend loss at South Carolina. Coach Mark Fox hopes to get Thornton back soon, and the team clearly needs him in the lineup. Georgia is in the hunt for an NCAA Tournament bid, and has a favorable stretch coming up that includes home games against Tennessee, Auburn, and South Carolina sandwiched around a trip to Texas A&M. If the Bulldogs are eventually going to punch their ticket to the Big Dance, they need to take care of business against the SEC’s bottom-feeders over the next two weeks.
  3. Thornton wasn’t the only player to miss his second straight game in last night’s match-up between Georgia and Kentucky. Wildcats freshman Trey Lyles was out once again due to an undisclosed illness. It is unclear exactly when he will return, and coach John Calipari is not giving any specifics about what is wrong with him. Kentucky is obviously a very deep team that can overcome these losses, but given that they are already playing without Alex Poythress — who tore his ACL earlier this season — small forward is the one position at which they are not overly deep. At this point, however, it is too early to assume that Lyles’ absence will be a major cause for concern for the Wildcats.
  4. After missing the season’s first four games with an injury and struggling to find his way after that, Mississippi State‘s Craig Sword has regained his form, and the Bulldogs, which looked like a team that would struggle to win any games in SEC play, are now 4-5 after winning at Tennessee. Over his last five games, Sword has scored in double-figures, after doing so only once in his first 13. Against the Volunteers, Sword was a sizzling 7-of-8 from the field, including 4-of-5 from three-point range. The Bulldogs have now won four of their last six games, and are no longer the also-ran they were for the season’s first two months.
  5. Texas A&M has won six straight SEC games and is in sole possession of second place, sitting at No. 31 in the RPI. The team’s turnaround began when the Aggies took Kentucky to double-overtime in their second conference game, and though they ended up losing, they have used it as a springboard to success. Other coaches in the league have taken notice too, and believe that the Aggies are in fact the real deal. They are led by transfers Jalen Jones and Danuel House, who was named SEC Player of the Week on Monday after averaging 17.5 points per game in the team’s wins at Auburn and at home against Vanderbilt. Texas A&M faces a tough test at Mississippi on Wednesday, but after that, the schedule sets up favorably, and the possibility that the Aggies will make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since joining the SEC is very real.
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The SEC Week That Was: Volume V

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 3rd, 2015

For the next seven weeks or so, we’ll run down a few weekly superlatives from league play, take a look at how conference teams look in the eyes of the NCAA Tournament selection committee, and anything else that merits discussion. Here is Volume V, including games from January 26 to February 2.

Team of the Week. I want to preface this by saying that Kentucky could – and probably should – be the team of the week every week. You don’t get to 21-0 without that being the case. But the Wildcats get plenty of praise from all corners of the web, so why not challenge ourselves with this week’s selection? The nod goes to Florida, the same team that Billy Donovan declared as being dead in terms of the NCAA Tournament a little over a week ago. The Gators’ long-term resurrection is still something of a pipe dream, but if the miracle occurs, last week is where it all will have started. Florida enjoyed a perfect week in knocking off solid opponents Alabama (KenPom #44) and Arkansas (#43) in ugly fashion. These were probably the Gators’ two best wins of the season, which with an overall record of 12-9 overall underscores how much work they still have to do. From a bid perspective, Florida is 1-5 against the RPI top 50 and 4-3 against the next 50; contrast this with fellow bubble team Kansas State  — which is 12-10 overall but 4-6 against the RPI top 50 — and you can see that Florida’s resume may not have the requisite depth to compete for a bid. Despite the pair of victories, last week highlighted some of the Gators’ inconsistencies that have plagued them all year long. After a 27-point outburst against Ole Miss, Michael Frazier scored just 11 points on 2-of-13 shooting. Similarly, Chris Walker followed up one of the best games of his career against the Tide (12 points and four rebounds on 6-of-8 shooting) with a dud against the Hogs (one point, two rebounds). Still, Florida is trending in the right direction as it approaches the ultimate chance for a quality win: Saturday in Gainesville against Kentucky.

Alex Caruso is the SEC's leader in assists and third in steals (d1nation.com).

Alex Caruso is the SEC’s leader in assists and third in steals (d1nation.com).

Player of the Week. Danuel House was the SEC’s pick as Player of the Week, but we’ll give it to his slightly less-heralded junior teammate, Alex Caruso, as Texas A&M ran its winning streak to seven games with victories over Auburn and Vanderbilt. In both games Caruso was his usual stat-stuffing self, racking up averages of 10.0 points, 7.5 assists, 6.0 rebounds and 2.0 steals in 33.0 minutes per game. I firmly believe that the transitions of transfers House and Jalen Jones to their new team has gone so smoothly in large part because of Caruso’s play-making. He’s a bona fide SEC star who does not command the ball, and that is extremely valuable for a team looking to make the leap from also-ran to the NCAA Tournament. We may also be witnessing the rise of one of the great players in recent Texas A&M basketball history. Since 2009-10, no player in the conference has held as high of a career assist percentage (33.9%) or steal percentage (4.4%) as Caruso. LSU’s Jordan Mickey deserves mention in this space solely for his ridiculous 25-point, 20-rebound game in the Tigers’ loss to Mississippi State.

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Freeze Frame: How South Carolina Broke Georgia’s Zone

Posted by Brian Joyce on February 3rd, 2015

The Gamecocks entered Saturday having dropped six of their last seven games, including the last four. Georgia came in on the opposite end of the spectrum, riding into Columbia on a five-game winning streak and feeling good about its NCAA Tournament chances. So it stands to reason that South Carolina’s defense (11th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency) completely shut down the surging Bulldogs, holding Georgia to 22 percent shooting for the game. After an early 13-9 deficit, Georgia turned to a 2/3 zone with 11 minutes remaining in the first half. Frank Martin’s squad lacks a legitimate outside shooting threat, but he used screens and quick ball movement around the zone to propel his offense to its most efficient output (1.04 points per possession) since January 13 (a win over Alabama). In this edition of Freeze Frame, we review how South Carolina was able to break down the Bulldogs’ zone and notch an important conference win.

Frank Martin picked up a big win over Georgia with an efficient zone offense.  (rantsports.com).

Frank Martin picked up a big win over Georgia with an efficient zone offense. (rantsports.com).

The first play we will examine came with 9:42 left in the first half. Georgia had recently switched to the 2/3 zone and the Gamecocks used screens on the perimeter to free up their shooters off the dribble. In this play, South Carolina’s Sindarius Thornwell works the ball into the middle of the zone where Michael Carrera has set up shop.

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SEC M5: The Super Bowl Hangover Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on February 2nd, 2015

SEC_morning5

  1. John Calipari is on a never-ending assignment to poke holes in his Kentucky team. After cruising by Alabama on Saturday he told the Kentucky.com, “”One thing this team is not doing: Putting teams away when they have that opportunity.” Never mind that Kentucky has closed out three straight games to win by at least 15 points. On a micro level though, the Wildcats did struggle a bit handling the ball against Missouri, turning it over 14 times. They flipped the script against the Tide, turning it over just five times against a team that has turned over its opponents 11 times per game. Devin Booker showed the biggest improvement, as he didn’t turn it over at all after coughing it up four times in Columbia. At this point, however, it’s all nitpicking as the Wildcats are the last of the unbeatens left standing.
  2. Georgia’s five-game winning streak came to an end in Colonial Life Arena after a lackluster offensive performance against South Carolina. Marcus Thornton missed the game because of a concussion, and the Bulldogs were at a big disadvantage without their leading scorer and rebounder. Georgia actually won the rebounding battle by nine, but likely missed Thornton’s inside presence taking pressure off the guards. Kenny Gaines, Charles Mann and JJ Frazier combined to go seven-for-28, and after the game Gaines said that the Gamecocks “out-toughed” the Bulldogs. Thornton is easily the Bulldogs most physical player, and they’ll be in an even tougher spot heading to Lexington if he is still out. Concussions are a serious and tricky thing, and his status looks uncertain for the Super Tuesday match-up.
  3. The SEC may get a lot of action outside the lottery of the upcoming NBA draft. Bobby Portis, Jordan Mickey, Jarell Martin and any slew of Kentucky Wildcats could hear their names called. Another somewhat unexpected name could be joining the fray: Damian Jones. NBADraft.net has the Vanderbilt sophomore going 20th in its latest mock draft, and Bleacher Report’s has him going 29th. Losing Jones would obviously be a big blow to a Commodores team that figures to take a big step forward next year given how many young players are seeing major minutes. Still, Kevin Stallings has six other freshmen or sophomores averaging at least 19 minutes per game, and the sheer amount of experience should allow Vanderbilt to survive the potential loss of Jones and still be competitive next season. Ideally, however, the 2015-16 Commodores are anchored by Jones, and if that’s the case they could be smart pick to vault into the upper third of the SEC.
  4. Signs of progress. That’s what Mississippi State fans would need to spend the rest of the year searching for after a 2-9 stretch that bled into SEC play. For the last three weeks, signs of progress haven’t been hard to find. The Bulldogs are 3-3 over their last six games after taking care of LSU at home on Saturday. In that span they have ended a 22-game conference road losing streak and been in each game until the final minutes. And the team seems like they have learned from close losses to Ole Miss, Georgia and Texas A&M, as they looked unphased after the Tigers took a 57-54 lead at the Hump with under four minutes left. Their zone did a nice job forcing the Tigers into difficult shots from their guards, instead of high percentage looks for Jordan Mickey. Two late fouls on made shots were inexcusable, but Mississippi State had built enough of a lead that it didn’t matter. The win was a nice culmination of what has been a positive few weeks for Rick Ray and his program.
  5. The season is beginning to spiral out of control for Missouri. A loss to Ole Miss was expected, but the Tigers got very little from their freshmen, and Tramaine Isabell missed the game after being suspended indefinitely. Kim Anderson didn’t mince words or hide behind coachspeak in saying that Isabell’s behavior towards teammates and coaches has been “unacceptable.” That doesn’t sound like a situation that will resolve itself quickly. It’s incredible in hindsight to think that this was a team some thought could compete for a NIT bid, even with its youth. The losses are now mounting (7-14) and none of the freshmen seem to be trending in the right direction, at least not consistently. To get some positive momentum the Tigers will need Montaque Gill-Caesar, Namon Wright or Jakeenan Gant to string together a few solid outings.
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SEC Stock Watch: 01.30.15 Edition

Posted by David Changas on January 30th, 2015

It’s time for our weekly look at which SEC teams, players, and coaches are trending up, down, or somewhere in the middle. This is SEC Stock Watch.

Trending Up

  • Texas A&M. It is hard to imagine that the future has looked any brighter at this school since the glory days of Billy Gillispie. The Aggies lost their first two SEC games — played without second-leading scorer Jalen Jones — but have since reeled off five in a row in league play. They already have three conference road wins and a favorable schedule going forward. With an RPI that sits at #34, this team is a legitimate contender for an NCAA Tournament bid, something that certainly didn’t seem very likely a few short weeks ago.
Alex Caruso and Texas A&M have hit their stride (Paul Abell- USA Today)

Alex Caruso and Texas A&M have hit their stride (Paul Abell- USA Today)

  • Dorian Finney-Smith Dunks. In what was likely the most emphatic game-winning basket we’ve seen this year, Finney-Smith put away Alabama and got his Gators a key road win last week. Florida is still sitting squarely atop the bubble and has a lot of work to do to overcome it, but this was the type of win that will serve handy on Selection Sunday.
  • Mark Fox’s Job Security. It’s looking more and more like Georgia has a legitimate chance to emerge as the SEC’s second-best team, as the Bulldogs have bounced back nicely from two losses to open conference play. Georgia has moved into the RPI’s top 25 and appears very well-positioned to secure its first NCAA bid since 2011.
  • Jordan Mickey’s Draft Stock. If there is a more consistent player in the SEC this season, we haven’t seen him. Mickey is averaging 15.9 points, 10.4 rebounds, and 3.7 blocks per contest and has propelled LSU to a nice 5-2 league record. The only bad news associated with Mickey’s play is that he likely won’t be around to play with Ben Simmons and Antonio Blakeney next season, as the NBA Draft’s first round is well within his sights.
  • Kentucky’s Chances of an Undefeated Season. This stock trends up with every passing week that the Wildcats don’t lose a game. According to KenPom, the best chance Kentucky has of losing in the regular season is when it travels to Georgia on March 3. There, the Wildcats have an 84 percent chance of winning, according to the advanced stats guru’s latest projections.

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SEC M5: 01.30.15 Edition

Posted by David Changas on January 30th, 2015

SEC_morning5

  1. The Big 12/SEC Challenge, which has been played in early December over several days the last two seasons — and has not garnered anywhere near the exposure or interest of its ACC/Big Ten counterpart — will move to a single blockbuster Saturday in late January next season. Each of the 10 games to be played will be broadcast on the ESPN family of networks. The move is a bold one given that conference play will be in full swing for both leagues when the event takes place. While some coaches surely won’t like that, we think it is wise — especially in SEC country — to bring greater exposure to the sport after college football has wrapped up. Whether the event will be more successful in this new spot on the schedule remains to be seen, but we bet it will be.
  2. Tennessee head coach Donnie Tyndall had no comment about news that two of his Southern Miss recruits, Rasham Suarez and Jeremiah Eason, were dismissed from the team on Thursday for issues related to their academic standing. While the exact reasons for their dismissals were not made known, they relate to an ongoing NCAA investigation into Tyndall and his previous school. Tyndall has done a nice job this season with an undermanned Tennessee roster and he seems to have much of the Volunteers’ fan base on his side. But those same fans remain skeptical about whether, in light of his uncertain status, he will be around Knoxville for the long haul.
  3. Speaking of Tyndall, his Vols welcome their former leader Bruce Pearl into Thompson-Boling Arena on Saturday. Pearl, who coached at Tennessee from 2005-11 and went to the NCAA Tournament in all six of his seasons at the school, will be making his first trip to Knoxville as the visiting coach. While it remains to be seen what kind of reception he will receive upon his return, odds are that it will be a good one. Many of the fans who pined for Pearl to return to Knoxville as recently as last year have moved on now that he is coaching at another SEC school. For his part, Tyndall thinks Pearl deserves a warm welcome for his many accomplishments in his tenure at Tennessee.
  4. SEC basketball has received more than its fair share of criticism over the past several years, and most of that conversation has been deserving. The league has been very inconsistent aside from Florida and Kentucky and its low number of NCAA Tournament bids has accurately fit the conference profile. But according to The Sporting News’ Mike DeCourcy, things are finally looking up. His article points out that league teams have beefed up their non-conference schedules to the point that it is the best among the Power Five conferences. Such strong scheduling in addition to improved play in those games has resulted in better conference-wide RPI and KenPom numbers, which should translate into more NCAA bids. And while the league still has a ways to go to improve its overall perception, the future holds promise with several schools like LSU and Texas A&M recruiting well and building competitive programs.
  5. Alabama travels to Lexington to face Kentucky for the second time in 15 days on Saturday, and if things don’t go better than the Crimson Tide’s first game against the Wildcats, they will be looking at their fourth loss in five games and a 3-5 conference record. That is certainly not good news for Anthony Grant, who came into the season on the hottest of hot seats after receiving a reprieve from athletics director Bill Battle last spring. As AL.com‘s Kevin Scarbinsky writes, Tuesday’s disappointing home loss to Florida was symbolic of Grant’s entire tenure at the school. Since he arrived six years ago, people have expected things that Grant has been unable to deliver. Against the Gators, the Crimson Tide shook off a rough first half to have a chance to win before, once again, falling just short. Given the regularity with which this kind of result has occurred throughout his career in Tuscaloosa, it stands to reason that there is a very good chance Grant will not be back for a seventh season at the school.
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SEC Quotable & Notable: Volume I

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 29th, 2015

Periodically throughout the rest of the season, we will use this column to take a look at who’s making history and who’s saying what around the SEC. Here’s Volume I of what’s Quotable and Notable right now in college basketball’s Southern reaches.

“I just went strong to the hole.” Florida’s Dorian Finney-Smith on his game-winning dunk against Alabama.


No player in the country will have a minute as impressive and unlikely as Finney-Smith did in the final 60 seconds of Florida’s recent win against the Crimson Tide. His fierce drive and dunk ended up being the game-winner, and it was sandwiched around two crucial blocks: a body-straight-up rejection on Michael Kessens to keep the game knotted at 50, and a help defense block of Levi Randolph’s potential game-tying shot as time expired. This all coming after the junior had gone scoreless to that point.  Finney-Smith’s magical minute, which helped end Florida’s three-game losing streak, should be one of the highlights of Gators’ season.

Georgia is probably the second best team in the league and, by far, the most physical team.” Mississippi State head coach Rick Ray after his team’s loss to Georgia last weekend. “I thought they hurt us on the boards in the first half, but then you look down and see they hit 50 percent from the field in the second half and over 90 percent from the line… you can’t beat anybody like that.” Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings after Georgia hit 23-of-25 free throws and outrebounded the Commodores by 10 in an eight-point victory.

Georgia is taking on the feel of a team that can grind out wins, and in this league, that can be the key to a shiny conference record. Just take care of business. The Bulldogs squeaked by Mississippi State because of a Herculean effort from J.J. Frazier (37 points), and against Vanderbilt, they were sloppy with the ball (16 turnovers) but did enough elsewhere to control the game throughout. Neither win is all that impressive alone, but SEC teams have perfected the art of losing winnable games. The Bulldogs will end up in the NCAA Tournament if they have finally bucked that trend.

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SEC M5: 01.28.15 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 28th, 2015

SEC_morning5

  1. SI.com’s latest NCAA Tournament bracket projection is a welcome sight for SEC basketball fans. Four teams make the cut, including Kentucky (#1 seed), Arkansas (#7), LSU (#9) and Georgia (#10). There were times this year that when just getting two bids looked like a real possibility, so four bids (sad as it may be) right now looks very nice. The danger is that the non-Kentucky selections are far from locks and consecutive losses could easily knock any of those teams on to the wrong side of the bubble. The flip side is that with other teams like Texas A&M and Tennessee still within shouting distance of the bubble, five teams (gasp) doesn’t seem completely out of the question either. All joking aside, if the league were to get five bids it would be a nice step forward from the last two three-bid years, and confirm what we’ve been saying on this site all year: Even though it doesn’t show up in the rankings and Florida is down, the depth of the conference is in fact improving.
  2. There are a number of reasons why Florida has struggled this year, but transfers are not one of them. Billy Donovan recently defended the number of transfers on his current roster when asked if the Gators would be better off with more four-year players. “The transfers have been the ones that have really made sense for us because we know what we’re getting in terms of the kind of kids they are,” Donovan told the Gainesville Sun. Alex Murphy and Jon Horford are truly unique cases since both players had a brother who previously starred for Florida, but over-reliance on transfers can bite a program despite Fred Hoiberg’s seemingly endless pool of redemption stories at Iowa State. Just look at Missouri, which is largely in the situation it is now in because Frank Haith didn’t bring enough high school players into the program. But Florida doesn’t fall into that category because Dorian Finney-Smith and Eli Carter both brought three years of eligibility with them to Gainesville, and the Gators have plenty of potential four-year players in contributing roles – like Chris Chiozza, Kasey Hill and Devin Robinson.
  3. Marshall Henderson’s graduation left a big hole in the Ole Miss program. The Rebels lost a lot of scoring, and a lot of must-see-TV. But at least in terms of production, Andy Kennedy has replaced the void left by Henderson quicker than anyone would’ve thought with Stefan Moody. “Everyone in this league was going to be excited when Marshall Henderson left because you didn’t feel like they could get a guy who could shoot it as well as him,” Georgia coach Mark Fox told the Jackson Clarion-Ledger. “But lo and behold they’ve done it as well added an element of athleticism to the position.” With comparable usage rates, Moody (23.7 PER, 55.7% true shooting, 48.6% effective field goal) is exceeding Henderson’s (19.5 PER, 52.5% true shooting, 48.6% effective field goal) offensive output from last year, and adds more athleticism to the team. Considering Moody hasn’t made headlines for the wrong reasons, the Rebels have clearly upgraded at the off guard position.
  4. Texas A&M is in the midst of its longest conference (Big 12 and SEC) winning streak since 2011, and Billy Kennedy thinks his team’s maturity is a big reason why. “We start three juniors and two seniors and they’ve all played high-level Division I basketball. Their consistency and maturity is why we’re enjoying some success.” Yesterday we pointed out that the Aggies’ influx of new players could mean they are yet to hit their peak. But the two most important players from that group, Jalen Jones and Danuel House, have high major experience, which has helped create that consistency. They’ve also pushed senior starters Jordan Green and Kourtney Roberson into complementary roles, which suits both players very well and makes for a strong all-around team.
  5. At 7-12, Missouri is smack dab in the middle of a rebuilding year, but Kim Anderson has not relaxed his rotations and played guys just to play them. “It’s not like if you’re in a high school situation where like seventh grade basketball gets to play because that’s what the superintendent says. It’s not like that. You’ve got to play — the guys that are playing the best get to play more,” he told the Columbia Tribune. One notable omission has been freshman Jakeenan Gant, who has lost his starting spot and played just 14 minutes in the last two games. The 2013-14 Georgia Mr. Basketball has not developed as expected, or at least in the way his 13 point debut against Xavier suggested he might. Still, it is important for Anderson to establish a culture even if it means one of his more talented freshmen sitting on the bench.
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The SEC Week That Was: Volume IV

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 27th, 2015

For the next nine weeks or so, we’ll run down a few weekly superlatives from league play, take a look at how conference teams look in the eyes of the NCAA Tournament selection committee, and anything else that merits discussion. Here is Volume IV, including games from January 19-25.

Team of the Week. Welcome to the party, Texas A&M. The Aggies are riding a four-game winning streak after beating Missouri (home) and Tennessee (road) last week. It’s their longest conference winning streak since joining the SEC, and the win over the resurgent Vols in Thompson-Boling Arena was a nice exclamation mark. Tennessee’s match-up zone had frustrated Arkansas, Missouri and South Carolina, but the Aggies – which have generally struggled to score in the Billy Kennedy era – were able to shoot 48 percent from the field in the victory. That’s obviously a good sign. Texas A&M’s development potential is also something to keep an eye on. Five key rotation pieces are playing their first year in College Station: Jalen Jones (transfer), Danuel House (transfer), Alex Robinson (freshman), Peyton Allen (freshman) and Tony Trocha-Morelos (freshman). Alex Caruso is again leading the conference in assists per game (5.3) and assist rate (36.7%), and the Aggies’ offense should continue to improve as he gets more experience playing alongside primary scorers Jones and House.

JJ Frazier had the self-described best game of his career in scoring 37 points against Mississippi State (ajc.com).

JJ Frazier had the self-described best game of his career in scoring 37 points against Mississippi State (ajc.com).

Player of the Week. Quick, who is Georgia’s best player? If you didn’t say J.J. Frazier than you’re probably wrong, at least as far the previous week is concerned. The Bulldogs’ point guard gets the nod almost solely for what he did in staving off Mississippi State last Saturday. The sophomore scored 37 points, including a blistering seven-for-seven from three. He told the AP that it was the best game of his career, and it came at a big moment for surging Georgia. The Bulldogs got just 24 points combined from Kenny Gaines, Charles Mann, Marcus Thornton and Nemanja Djurisic. That kind of production, or lack thereof, from a team’s main horses almost always results in a loss. And a loss to Mississippi State would’ve been bad for Georgia’s tournament hopes. But Frazier didn’t let it happen, and he may be battling Armani Moore for the title of most improved player in the conference. He is second in the league in true shooting percentage (65.3%), and is taking care of the ball very well (1.4 turnover per game) despite seeing his role as primary ball handler drastically increased over what it was last season.

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SEC M5: 01.26.15 Edition

Posted by David Changas on January 26th, 2015

SEC_morning5

  1. Kentucky got some good recruiting news when it picked up its first commitment of the class of 2016, and it didn’t come from one of the typical locales. Ty Wynyard, a 6’9″ power forward from New Zealand, gave his pledge to John Calipari over the weekend. The Kiwi will be the first from his country to suit up for the Wildcats, and more interesting than the fact that he’s considered to be a good rebounder with a strong inside game, is that he is the son of world champion woodchoppers. As ESPN.com‘s Jeff Borzello points out, although Wynyard is currently a member of next year’s class, there is a good chance he could reclassify to the class of 2015 and end up in Lexington as soon as next fall.
  2. When Auburn made the quick move to dismiss Tony Barbee and hire Bruce Pearl last March, many in the state and around the SEC wondered if Alabama, historically a better basketball job, could have instead landed the former Tennessee coach if it had jettisoned Anthony Grant following his very disappointing fifth season. Athletic director Bill Battle instead chose to give Grant a sixth season, and we will never know if the Crimson Tide could have outbid its archrival for Pearl’s services. On Saturday, Grant’s team edged Pearl’s Tigers in a thrilling two-point game that Auburn appeared in prime position to win when it led by eight points with just over seven minutes remaining. As al.com‘s Kevin Scarbinsky writes, the hoops version of the Alabama-Auburn rivalry will certainly heat up now that Pearl is on the Plains and Grant is not quite ready to let Pearl have control of the state without a fight.
  3. The road was the place to be in the SEC over the weekend, as five of the seven games played on Saturday were won by the visitor. Only Ole Miss and Alabama won at home, and both did so on the game’s final possession. Oddities such as this happen from time to time, and considering Kentucky and Arkansas were heavy favorites at South Carolina and Missouri, respectively, the results shouldn’t be too surprising. Still, it may also reflect that some of the teams from which good things were expected this year — notably, LSU, Georgia, and Texas A&M — are getting better and starting to reach their potential. That trio each finished the week at 2-0, and all three of them rank in the five-way second place logjam.
  4. Georgia head coach Mark Fox earned a few chuckles on Twitter over the weekend when he said after the Bulldogs won a close game at Mississippi State that SEC basketball is “like SEC football.” Few things will ruffle feathers in the South more than comparing something, anything, to SEC football, and when that comparison is made between a basketball league that is widely considered to be mediocre and the highest form of sport in existence, well, you can imagine the backlash. In reality, while Fox was likely only making the point that winning games in league play is tough, there is simply no comparison between the league’s football and basketball products. SEC basketball is clearly getting better, but it has a long way to go before it can be mentioned in the same breath as its gridiron counterpart.
  5. Texas A&M won its fourth consecutive SEC game over the weekend when it took out a hot Tennessee team by six points in Knoxville. The Aggies are now 4-2 in league play and making a push to be considered the second-best team in the league. It is no coincidence that the team is undefeated in the conference when junior forward Jalen Jones is in the lineup. Jones missed the team’s first two SEC games – losses to Alabama and Kentucky – but has averaged 17 points per contest in the four he has played since. Jones is a transfer from SMU who has clearly been a key find for Billy Kennedy this year. If Jones decides to return next season along with a top 10 recruiting class headed to College Station, the future appears to be very bright at Texas A&M.
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Three Takeaways from Kentucky vs. South Carolina

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 25th, 2015

When you take in a live game, sometimes you can sense that the home team thinks it can win. Everything about the aura in Colonial Life Arena on Saturday told me the Gamecocks felt they had a chance to beat the top-ranked Wildcats. The crowd was into it; the team gave 100 percent effort; and after a three-pointer from Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina led by one with just 4:31 left in the first half. That was where it all ended, though. A big-time victory wasn’t meant to be for a Gamecocks squad that looked much improved from their last couple of times out, but there were several key takeaways that we will see play out through March for Kentucky and the rest of the SEC.

Frank Martin was proud of his team's effort on Saturday against the number one team in the country (Bruce Thorson/US Presswire).

Frank Martin was proud of his team’s effort on Saturday against the number one team in the country (Bruce Thorson/US Presswire).

  1. “Stop saying the SEC isn’t any good” -  South Carolina coach Frank Martin was emphatic in making sure the assembled media knew his stance on the legitimacy of the conference. As he was answering another question, he couldn’t let the moment pass: “By the way, stop saying the SEC isn’t any good,” he said to the room. He has a point. At the time of this writing, the SEC has eight teams ranked among the top 60 of the RPI. Kentucky (#1), Arkansas (#24), Georgia (#26) Texas A&M (#32), LSU (#44), Alabama (#52), Tennessee (#54), and Ole Miss (#59) all are in position for consideration for an NCAA Tournament bid. Additionally, according to Ken Pomeroy, the SEC is the fourth-best conference in the country, behind only the Big 12, Big East and ACC. The SEC has proven its worth this season, and Selection Sunday should assist in shedding the unfair label that the league is just Kentucky and everybody else. Read the rest of this entry »
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Veterans Lead Tennessee’s Unexpected Success

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 23rd, 2015

Missouri and Tennessee spent this past offseason as kindred spirits, and not in a good way, as both Frank Haith and Cuonzo Martin bolted for new jobs. The pair left for different reasons — Haith was likely staying one step ahead of the mob, while Martin was looking for more job security — but both left their former schools in the same position. And both schools were already going to be facing challenges in 2014-15. The Tigers lost essentially all of their scoring with the early departures of Jordan Clarkson and Jabari Brown as well as Earnest Ross’ graduation. The Vols’ Sweet Sixteen squad was also decimated, as Jarnell Stokes left early and Jordan McRae and Jeronne Maymon ran out of eligibility. All of this turnover on the court and sidelines seemed to launch both programs into full-blown transition years, and transition years can be ugly.

Armani Moore has tripled his scoring and rebounding averages from last season (tricitiesports.com).

Armani Moore has tripled his scoring and rebounding averages from last season (tricitiesports.com).

Except that’s not always the case. The two programs that seemed destined for lockstep this year are now trending in very different directions. In some ways, the Vols’ win over the Tigers last Saturday was a microcosm of this notion. Knotted at 46 with under four minutes to play, Missouri turned over the ball on three straight possessions while juniors Armani Moore and Derek Reese made consecutive tough baskets at the rim to lead the Vols to their second conference road win. On Tuesday night, it was senior Josh Richardson and junior Kevin Punter who shined offensively as Tennessee notched its third SEC road win at South Carolina. At the risk of oversimplifying, that has essentially been the story of both teams’ respective seasons. Tennessee finds itself on the fringes of the NCAA Tournament discussion because its veterans have stabilized what could have been a very difficult rebuilding year. Missouri, on the other hand, does not have any returning upperclassmen playing significant roles, and the freshman and sophomore-heavy Tigers have struggled as a result.

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