Boost or Bite: Evaluating Non-Conference Schedules in the SEC Middle Tier

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on November 6th, 2013

It was lean times for the SEC on Selection Sunday last year, with only three teams invited into the NCAA Tournament field. This was the fewest of the “power” conferences and two fewer than the Mountain West and Atlantic 10. Had Ole Miss not won the SEC Tournament, the number very well could have been two. The bubble would have been dangerous territory for the Rebels because of a weak non-conference schedule. With that in mind, let’s take a look at several SEC teams that could find themselves on this year’s bubble (if things break a certain way), and whether their respective non-conference schedules will boost them or bite them. Kentucky, Florida, Tennessee and LSU are assumed as either locks or solid bubble teams for the purposes of this article. As discussed with Texas A&M yesterday, the expected middle tier of the SEC is wide open this season. Teams like the Aggies, Alabama, Missouri, Arkansas and Ole Miss all have question marks, and there are plenty of SEC wins to be had for the teams that emerge from this scrum.

Alabama

Anthony Grant and Alabama have chances for marquee non-conference wins in games against Wichita State and UCLA (photo courtesy nydailynews.com).

Anthony Grant and Alabama have chances for marquee non-conference wins in games against Wichita State and UCLA (photo courtesy nydailynews.com).

Helpful Games: Oklahoma (neutral), Wichita State, Xavier, @UCLA
Outlook: It’s quality over quantity for Anthony Grant’s team this season. The games against Wichita State and UCLA (in Los Angeles) would be marquee parts of any non-conference schedule. Oklahoma isn’t a Big 12 power at the moment but should continue to improve under Lon Kruger. It’ll be a minor challenge beginning the season against the Sooners and following it up six days later against rebuilding Texas Tech. The Crimson Tide have a true road game against South Florida, but the Bulls fell to 12-19 last season after a nice run in the 2012 NCAA Tournament. If Grant can split the Wichita State/UCLA games and not trip up too badly elsewhere, the Tide will be in good shape at the beginning of conference play.

Arkansas

Helpful Games: Southern Methodist, Maui Invitational (California, Syracuse/Minnesota, TBA)

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

SEC M5: 11.06.13 Edition

Posted by Justin Bridgman on November 6th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. It seems that narrowly escaping exhibition games is the thing to do in the SEC this year, as Alabama needed overtime to beat West Georgia Monday nightTrevor Releford was the star of the night, scoring 27 points including two key free throws to send the game into overtime. Releford is the type of player who could have a great scoring night and contribute heavily to an upset of one of the top SEC teams. He’s an offensive force, and his ability to draw fouls can change the game in an instant. He tallied 12 total free throw attempts on the night, and Alabama fans should expect that continue into the regular season. Releford was rightfully named to the preseason all-SEC team, and if there is one player in the conference who should scare Kentucky and Florida, it is him. Alabama is a great candidate to pull off at least one big home upset this year.
  2. Building on yesterday’s theme of weak non-conference schedules, LSU has high hopes for this season but could find itself paying the price in March for a weak slate. The SEC does not provide many opportunities for RPI-building wins, so ideally LSU would have some other strong wins to bolster its resume. Unfortunately, the Tigers’ schedule is not very strong and it could hurt them in the NCAA Tournament selection process. I mentioned yesterday that Florida can count on its strong non-conference schedule to cover up for a weak conference slate. The opposite might be the case for LSU because in January and February the Tigers are going to be desperate for resume-padding wins. In the future Johnny Jones needs to make sure he is challenging his team throughout the entirety of its schedule, and putting them in the best possible chance to be on the right side of the bubble in March.
  3. Georgia desperately needs someone to replace the void left by Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and two candidates emerged during the team’s first exhibition game. Kenny Gaines finished with 19 points and Charles Mann added 18 with four assists. Although the Bulldogs struggled overall with turnovers and offensive rhythm, having two players show the potential to be solid scorers is important. Without another NBA-level talent there to bail out the offense each trip down the floor, one or both of those guards needs to become a more consistent threat. Georgia won’t enjoy the size advantage they had Monday night in every game, which will make its perimeter scoring even more important throughout the season.
  4. Auburn was not very good last year, and might not be very good this year. Just don’t tell that to the Tigers, as they are ignoring the critics this season. With a fresh crop of new players on board, optimism is in full force right now and the pressure is on head coach Tony Barbee to win more games. His overall SEC record is a paltry 12-39, including 3-15 last season. Even at a school like Auburn, which quite frankly does not care much about basketball, that simply will not cut it. Barbee is a likely candidate to be fired after this season if he cannot bring this new crop of players together and finish the season with a better record. Nobody is expecting much from this team, but with the SEC carrying a number of bad teams, it is not unreasonable for fans to expect six or more conference victories this year. Kudos to the players and coaching staff for coming into the season with optimism, but they need to show they can start backing up that optimism up with some wins.
  5. In his massive season opening column Jay Bilas mentions Tennessee’s Jarnell Stokes as one of the top rebounders in the country. Stokes averaged 9.7 rebounds per game last season, and headed into his junior year it is likely that he is going to be an even better player this year. Tennessee has big plans for this season, and right now look like the third best team in the SEC. Stokes is a big part of that, and is one the challengers to Kentucky’s stable of freshmen for SEC Player of the Year honors. If the Volunteers are going to compete inside with Kentucky and Florida’s plethora of big men, Stokes will have to be at his best — when he is playing as well as he can, Tennessee is going to give even the best teams all they can handle down low.
Share this story

The RTC Interview Series: SEC Preview with Dave Baker, Barry Booker and Chris Dortch

Posted by WCarey on November 4th, 2013

Rush The Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you periodically throughout the offseason. If you have any specific interview requests or want us to interview you, shoot us an email at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

With the college basketball season nearly upon us, we thought it would be a good idea to gather some expert opinions on the nation’s major college basketball conferences. As part of our national preview of the SEC, we recently had the pleasure of speaking with three SEC experts in television analysts Dave Baker and Barry Booker, as well as Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook editor, Chris Dortch. (Ed. note – we spoke to each individual separately, but for the sake of expediency, combining their answers into a round table format made the most sense.)

faceprofile

Booker, Baker and Dortch Shared Their SEC Thoughts With Us This Preseason

Rush the Court: How good is Kentucky and what makes it that good? Do you expect the Wildcats to win both the SEC and the national titles?

Dave Baker: A lot of folks think that Cal can be a little blustery at times. I think he’s actually pretty frank in his assessments. Last year, he thought they were gonna be better than they were. He thought they were gonna be a good team; he didn’t they they could be a great team. But he’s really got that swagger back this year. And this team is an incredibly talented team. People can debate whether, coming into their college careers, this is the best recruiting class of all-time, but I can tell you, just in the couple of practices I’ve seen, there has been a marked difference in terms of talent level, attitude and the way these guys are working together. There are some natural leaders that have come in this class. Based on what I’ve seen, his confidence is well-placed. With what their expectations are, they certainly believe they should be in the mix at the end of the year.

Barry Booker: Kentucky has everything it takes to be extremely good. It has elite talent all over the court. I think Kentucky is the surefire favorite in the SEC and I believe it has to be considered one of the top contenders to win the national title. This 2013 recruiting class is just one of the best we have seen – by all reports. It seems like every year, Kentucky gets some of the best recruits. In a year like this, where Kentucky has an outstanding class and it has players like Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein returning, it would be hard to see the Wildcats not being a top-notch team. It is amazing what John Calipari is doing in bringing in that top flight talent to replace top flight talent every year.

Chris Dortch: This historically great recruiting class gives coach John Calipari his most talented team ever, with at least seven future NBA first-round draft picks. Kentucky is definitely favored in the SEC and will be a title threat come March, but there are a handful of teams with more experience that are capable of executing a game plan and sending the Cats home short of the championship game.

RTC: Florida lost its three leading scorers from last season’s Elite Eight team. Are this season’s Gators a legitimate challenger to Kentucky in the SEC?

Baker: I think Billy and Florida will have another really good team. He’s got a situation down there where he just finds people to replace the players who have moved on. They are just incredibly consistent year-in and year-out. I know that they would have liked to have made some deeper runs in the NCAA Tournaments since their championships, but other than that, they’re just really consistent.

Booker: Absolutely. The Gators have gone to the Elite Eight three straight seasons and they are at that level again this season. I am not sure if you can call them number two – maybe Kentucky is 1A and Florida is 1B. If Kentucky does stumble and does not get things figured out, Florida can come in and take over at the top of the league. Freshman Kasey Hill is a dynamic point guard. Even with the departures from last year, Florida is still very strong on the perimeter with Scottie Wilbekin and Michael Frazier. The Gators also return Patric Young inside – who is the best interior player in the league. This is a very solid team. It just has to stay healthy this season. The injury to Will Yeguete really hurt the team last season. It was never able to get back to the same level that it was at before the Yeguete injury.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

SEC Optimism: Best Case Scenarios in the “West”

Posted by Greg Mitchell on October 30th, 2013

Optimism. It’s what makes this an exciting time of year. You may have an idea what lies ahead for your team, but you don’t know for sure. Surprises happen. A freshman proves that the recruiting services were wrong, an underachieving group of seniors plays with new urgency, or the third-year coach’s offensive system finally clicks. In honor of this cliched “everyone has the same record” feeling, let’s take a glass half-full look at the 14 teams of the SEC. Here’s why each SEC “West” team will exceed their expectations in 2013-14.

To take a look at the SEC “East” teams’ best-case scenarios, click here.

Alabama

The Expectation: Middle of the pack SEC + NCAA Tournament bubble

Why They’ll Exceed It: Many feel that Julius Randle winning SEC Player of the Year is a foregone conclusion. Trevor Releford challenges this idea in becoming one of the top scorers in the country. As the returning SEC assists leader, he adds to this total by also setting up Levi Randolph and Rodney Cooper, both of whom become more reliable perimeter shooters. Seven-footer’ Carl Engstrom shows no ill effects from his torn knee ligaments, and uses his size to create match-up problems on both ends. Forward Nick Jacobs builds on his improved play at the end of last season, and fills the rebounding void created by Moussa Gueye’s transfer. Anthony Grant rides his star point guard off the bubble and into the NCAA Tournament.

Trevor Releford is the active SEC leader in points, assists and steals.

Trevor Releford is the active SEC leader in points, assists and steals.

Auburn

The Expectation: Bottom tier SEC + no NCAA Tournament

Why They’ll Exceed It: Yes, a three-win team replacing its leading scorer and best player (Frankie Sullivan) can exceed expectations. Virginia Tech transfer K.T. Harrell will be a big reason why. He was a 42 percent three-point shooter during his freshman year, and he recaptures his magic. Chris Denson provides a slashing counterpart and Tony Barbee finds himself with an offensively versatile backcourt. Freshman Tahj Shamsid-Deen grabs the point guard position and makes it all work. Change is inevitable with nine newcomers. Seven-foot freshman Ronald Delph and Brinas Griciunas join incumbent seven-footer Asauhn Dixon-Tatum to create a giant rotation other teams simply don’t have. Auburn fights its way to a .500 SEC record.

Arkansas

The Expectation: Middle of the pack SEC + NCAA Tournament bubble

Why They’ll Exceed It: Mike Anderson has elite talent in the form of freshmen forwards Bobby Portis and Moses Kingsley. The duo join Coty Clarke to form a shot-blocking unit that can cover for aggressive defense by Razorback guards. This leads to steals and turnovers that fuel Anderson’s up-tempo system. Upperclassmen Mardracus Wade, Rashad Madden, Kikko Haydar and Rickey Scott improve as their collective eligibility ticks away. Even if none takes a giant step forward, they all play well enough to become the effective wave of players Anderson needs to pressure opposing guards. A reliable distributor must be found, and either Madden or Wade, the top two assist percentage returnees, grab that role. Arkansas finally wins a handful of road games, and Anderson returns to the NCAA Tournament with his high-pressure system in full gear.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Welcome to the Show: Identifying the Impact Freshman for Each Team in the SEC “West”

Posted by Christian D'Andrea (@TrainIsland) on October 29th, 2013

Christian D’Andrea is an SEC microsite contributor and Managing Editor of Vanderbilt’s SB Nation site Anchor of Gold.

After suffering through one of the worst overall seasons in conference history, the Southeastern Conference is ready to rebound behind a strong group of freshman newcomers. SEC teams constituted six of ESPN’s Top 25 recruiting classes for 2013, and that includes Arkansas and LSU, two “West” programs that are looking to regain past glory after a disappointing start to this decade. Four and five-star big men like Jarrell Martin, Bobby Portis, Jordan Mickey and Moses Kingsley will join a league that seems to be shifting away from the small-ball lineups that dominated most of the conference’s rosters in 2012-13.

Mike Anderson now has an intriguing young duo to work with. (AP)

Mike Anderson now has an intriguing young duo to work with. (AP)

Last week, we took a look at the incoming players who could lift their squads to new heights in the former SEC “East.” Today, we’ll take a look at the new guys who will be cutting their teeth on the other side of the conference. Here are the true freshmen – one per team – who are slated to have a major impact for their new teams this winter.

Alabama: Jimmie Taylor. Anthony Grant had very little to rely on up front in 2012-13, but he still guided the Crimson Tide to the NIT with an unorthodox four-guard lineup last winter. Now, raw center Moussa Gueye has transferred to Valparaiso, giving 6’10” forward/center Taylor the chance to play a major role for Alabama from the outset. The in-state recruit is a long, lean player who has great instincts for shot-blocking and solid athleticism for a big man. He should provide a consistent presence in the paint and on the boards for a team that was hurting for rebounds in conference play.

Arkansas: Bobby Portis. Mike Anderson’s 2013 haul was small, but potent. The Razorbacks added two big men who combined to receive nine stars between them from both ESPN and Rivals last spring. That’s a huge boost for a team whose best rebounder was 6’7″ combo forward Marshawn Powell, pulling down fewer than six rebounds per game in 2012-13. Portis, a five-star power forward, will give the Hogs some much-needed bulk up front, and 6’10” center Moses Kingsley will provide an imposing presence next to him. Anderson was forced to play plenty of small-ball last season, but the addition of two impact players who can thrive in the paint will give Arkansas some much needed flexibility. While the team will still feel the sting of losing Powell and B.J. Young to NBA Draft declarations, the future is bright in Fayetteville.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

SEC M5: 10.23.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on October 23rd, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. The uncertainty hanging over Frank Haith from the Nevin Shapiro/Miami scandal has finally reached its end. The NCAA on Tuesday suspended Haith for Missouri’s first five regular season games for failing to “promote an atmosphere of compliance” while head coach at Miami. Haith, while publicly disagreeing with the suspension, has decided not to appeal it. This is a probably a wise decision, as it provides instant closure for himself and the Missouri program. An appeal would have stayed the suspension and kept the issue lingering in the background. If the suspension was then appealed and upheld, Haith could have missed critical late season games. Instead, Haith will miss five games in which Missouri will be a heavy favorite even without his leadership on the sideline (Southeastern Louisiana, Southern Illinois, Hawaii, Gardner-Webb, and IUPUI). The logical bet for his fill-in would be Dave Leitao, who has been the head man at DePaul and Virginia at different points in his career.
  2. Florida got a verbal commitment from 2014 guard Zach Hodskins on Monday, who will join the program as a preferred walk-on. What’s significant about a 6’4″ preferred walk-on? How about that Hodskins was born without the lower half of his left arm. Whether Hodskins ever sees big minutes for the Gators is irrelevant; a player with that kind of perseverance and commitment can only have a positive impact on the team in the long run. And after watching a Hodskins’ highlight reel, it’s not hard to envision him contributing at some point in his Gator career.
  3. Frank Martin isn’t having a relaxing fall. The second year South Carolina coach said the best thing that his team does thus far is “aggravate him.” But he also said his team, with its eight newcomers, is “trying their rear ends off” to learn his system. The Gamecocks return only six players who averaged more than 10 minutes a game last season. Martin built competitive teams at Kansas State with less than ideal talent, and he has a good opportunity to lay that kind of groundwork with so many of his own players early in his tenure in Columbia.
  4. Alabama guard Trevor Releford was named to the Bob Cousy Award watch list for the second consecutive season. This continues a string of recognition for Releford, who was also named to the preseason SEC first team last week. Releford is the active SEC leader in career points and assists, and is arguably the best returning point guard in the league, with Scottie Wilbekin also in the discussion. Freshmen Andrew Harrison and Kasey Hill are expected to vault into that category too this year.
  5. This is a bit dated, but former Kentucky stars Anthony Davis and John Wall returned to Rupp Arena for an NBA preseason game between Davis’ New Orleans Pelicans and Wall’s Washington Wizards last Saturday. The Pelicans won 93-89 in front of 14,000+ fans in attendance. Davis scored 16 points and grabbed four rebounds, while Wall scored 16 points and handed out 11 assists. This is another example of the NBA’s creativity in expanding their brand. Are there are other college heroes returning home possibilities? The Oklahoma City Thunder (Kevin Durant) and Portland Trail Blazers (LaMarcus Aldridge) playing in Austin could work. From the SEC side, perhaps Joakim Noah and the Chicago Bulls could tune up against Al Horford and the Atlanta Hawks in Gainesville next season. But to continue something like this you’d need a relatively large population area, a particularly interested fan base, and multiple guys with accomplished careers at the same school. That seems like a rare mix.
Share this story

Morning Five: 09.18.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on September 18th, 2013

morning5

  1. New Jersey’s effort to legalize sports gambling within the state took a hit yesterday as a federal appeals court upheld a prior ruling that New Jersey’s proposed legalization of sports gambling conflicted with current federal law. As we have mentioned before in this space the heart of the issue is the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act that only allows gambling on sports in any form in just four states–Nevada, Delaware, Oregon, and Montana. New Jersey has questioned the constitutionality of this law on several levels and although they lost the appeal 2-1 they appear to be encouraged (at least publicly) by the lone dissenting vote, which they claim is the first public vote against the law. We still are not sure what the overall outcome will be and what the NCAA’s response will be (it has threatened to stop allowing NCAA postseason competition in the state), but with the huge amount of money on the line we have no doubt that this case will drag on for years as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has already stated that the state will appeal the case to the US Supreme Court.
  2. The report that opposing coaches were using Billy Kennedy‘s battle with Parkinson’s Disease against him on the recruiting trail has generated plenty of criticism for the unidentified coach(es). While we understand that the approach will make almost everybody uncomfortable and would be classified as distasteful by nearly everybody we have a hard time finding it quite as offensive as many others have. Although few media members are willing to publicly acknowledge it, the health of a coach, who is theoretically going to be one of the guiding forces in your life the next four years, is something that should be under consideration for any recruit in the same way that the likelihood that the coach is going to leave the school for another job–NCAA or NBA–should be a consideration. Kennedy’s health issues, which are a private matter on some level, are made into a public one because of his job whether the fans and media like it or not.
  3. We have no idea why the Jalen Steele‘s departure from Mississippi State had to be so messy, but given the recent history of the program it should not come as a surprise. Early yesterday, the school put out a release stating that Steele would forego his senior year at Mississippi State to focus on graduating. On the surface this appeared to be nothing more than an unfortunate end to Steele’s injury-plagued college career. That is before Steele went off on the program on Twitter. Mississippi State later attempted to clarify the issue by saying it was an issue of open roster spaces for the 2014-15 season as Steele was wanted to redshirt this season and come back next season. Unfortunately, Mississippi State supposedly had already filled all of its roster spots for next season meaning that Steele was left on his own to try to move on to another school (Hello, transfer waiver!), which is a situation that clearly did not sit too well with Steele.
  4. Terry Lanier’s commitment to VCU on Monday may not have made major headlines, but it is another sign of how far VCU has come as a program since making it to the Final Four in 2011. This might seem like a fairly straightforward association that players want to play for successful teams, but as Borzello notes it has not necessarily been the case for other teams that have made surprise runs to the Final Four recently. There are multiple potential explanations for this–the most obvious one and also the most politically touchy–is that Shaka Smart, an a young, well-educated African-American, appeals more to recruits, who are predominantly African-American than his two Caucasian counterparts (Jim Larranaga and Brad Stevens), who also happened to both leave the schools they led to the Final Four. Whatever the reasons for his recruiting success are, Shaka Smart’s ability to continue to build on that Final Four run is another reason why he is among the most coveted coaches in college basketball.
  5. The NIT may have fallen off in terms of prestige for early season tournaments, but we have to give them credit for being one of the few that still requires you to win to advance to the showcase rounds. This year’s NIT field will be headlined by Arizona and Duke with the two schools hosting the opening round games along with Rutgers and Alabama. Looking through the fields Arizona, Duke, and Alabama should advance fairly easily, but the road for Rutgers appears to be much more challenging. One other interesting aspect of NIT Season Tip-Off is the fact that it includes two schools–Metro State and Stillman–that are not even Division I schools. Although we doubt that this tournament will be interesting until the championship game, we have to give them credit for making it a real tournament unlike most of the other ones out there.
Share this story

Morning Five: 06.20.13 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on June 20th, 2013

morning5

  1. Today’s biggest news in the college athletics world is likely to come down from Oakland, California, as a federal judge is expected to rule on a motion from Ed O’Bannon‘s legal team that would certify his lawsuit against the NCAA into a class action. We’ll have more on the importance of this topic later this morning, but the long and short of it is that if the motion is granted it would open the door for literally thousands of past and present athletes to sue the NCAA for the use of their likeness for, oh, the last four or five decades. The experts are mixed in evaluating what this could ultimately mean, but needless to say that the Doomsday Scenario — an end to the NCAA’s amateurism model of business — is on the table here. SI.com‘s sports law expert, Michael McCann, gives a really nice overview of what’s at stake out in the Bay Area later today.
  2. While on the subject of the West Coast, the San Jose Mercury News‘ Jon Wilner published a previously confidential email related to the O’Bannon case that outlines just how much money the Pac-12 stands to make with its television deal with ESPN/FOX. His estimate based on some number-crunching might include a tad of wishful thinking, but between the television contracts and anticipated BCS and NCAA Tournament payouts, as well as revenue from the new Pac-12 Networks, it wouldn’t surprise him if the total annual take-homes for the members approached nearly $40-50 million. Larry Scott may not be winning championships yet, but he certainly seems to be winning the business of college sports. Take that, SEC and Big Ten?
  3. Rick Pitino once wrote a book called “Success is a Choice.” Apparently he chose — or maybe it was the basketball gods he thought were promising him Tim Duncan — to not succeed in Boston as the head coach of the Celtics. Some years later, he went on to say that “the biggest mistake” he had ever made in his career was to leave Kentucky (or, as he called it, “Camelot.”). He now disagrees with himself. Last week Pitino told a group of Louisville local businessmen last week that, actually, leaving Lexington for the Celtics was the best move he ever made because his failure in Boston taught him humility. Of course, nobody knows what he really thinks about much of anything — the guy flip-flops better than the best politicians — but maybe give him a few more years and he’ll tell a group of Providence denizens that he should have never left there either.
  4. We honestly cannot imagine a scenario where Alabama forward Devonta Pollard will be allowed to return to the team next season, but there were dueling reports on Wednesday about whether he was still officially on the team. CBSSports.com reported from a source internal to the program that he was no longer enrolled in Tuscaloosa, while ESPN.com later reported (from presumably a different source) that Pollard is in fact still on the squad until his legal troubles are settled. Given the alleged fact pattern surrounding his charges — that he assisted his mother in the kidnapping of a 6-year old girl — we’re going to go out on a big limb and assume he will not be back. And frankly, if he is convicted of such an irresponsible crime, he shouldn’t get a second chance to play ball anywhere.
  5. They say that you can’t go home again, but that doesn’t stop most of us from trying to remember and, in some cases, re-live the past. New UCLA head coach and Indiana legend Steve Alford manages to find time in his busy schedule each summer to return to the Hoosier State and run a camp for elementary school children at D-III Franklin College. Although the expectations on him at his new job in Westwood are enormous, he is using this week to get back home and recharge his batteries around familiar, and supportive, faces. He won’t have a very long leash at UCLA, even next season, so this is probably a pretty good idea on his part.
Share this story

Morning Five: 06.05.13 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on June 5th, 2013

morning5

  1. In what turned out to be a rough Tuesday in terms of college basketball-related news, a federal grand jury in Alabama unsealed an indictment that alleges former Auburn guard Varez Ward of attempting to throw a game against Arkansas in the 2011-12 season. Ward, a junior at the time, is accused of two counts of sports bribery (or more commonly known as point-shaving) where he allegedly conspired with gamblers and tried to solicit other players to throw the game. (full indictment here) Ward only played 19 seconds in that contest against the Hawgs, suffering a thigh bruise very early that kept him on the bench for the rest of the game in an eventual three-point loss. Last year the FBI said that it was also looking into a February 2012 game against Alabama where Ward scored three points and committed six turnovers, but that game was not referred to in yesterday’s indictment. According to this report from last year, Ward was suspended by Auburn assistant coaches in late February after another player blew the whistle on him; another teammate originally under suspicion was later cleared. Ward never suited up for Auburn again, but he may very well be wearing the orange (jumpsuit) full-time if these charges stick. He faces five years in prison on each count. We’re not going to get preachy on this issue, but we will refer back to one of the first articles we ever wrote on this here website: This sort of thing happens a lot more than anyone cares to admit
  2. Meanwhile, more discouraging news from the great state of Alabama came out on Tuesday as Crimson Tide forward Devonta Pollard was charged by local authorities with conspiracy to commit kidnapping related to an April 30 abduction of a six-year old girl named Jashayla Hopson. The details are somewhat murky at this point, but it appears that Pollard may have been assisting his mother, Jessie Mae Pollard, in antagonizing the youngster’s mother who was caught up in a land dispute with her. But this is no trumped-up charge where someone was held against their will for a minute or two — if the allegations are true, Hopson was picked up at her elementary school and held for a full day before being dropped off on the side of a road unharmed. Pollard, his mother, and four others have been charged so far in this crime, with at least one other still pending. What a crazy world we live in.
  3. Ohio State president Gordon Gee has had himself quite a week, as reports of his insensitive comments made in December about Catholics, SEC schools, and Louisville have been making the rounds. The “pompous ass,” according to Cardinals’ head coach Rick Pitino, announced Tuesday that he is taking his volatile opinions into the sunset, choosing to retire from his post effective July 1. Gee says that he made his decision last week during a vacation, feeling that he needed time to “re-energize and re-focus.” Whether he was encouraged to retire or came to the decision on his own volition, the 69-year old president certainly has a fund-raising and bottom line resume that is unmatched within the industry, so if he chooses to continue his work elsewhere, we doubt he’ll have much trouble finding a place to land. He may not want to send any resumes out to Notre Dame, Louisville or any of those SEC schools, though.
  4. How about some better news? One of the problems with the John R. Wooden Classic played every December in Anaheim was that the stature of the lineup often didn’t seem to fit the stature of the name headlining the event. Naturally, UCLA was almost always involved, but usually the three other teams invited were a mixture of solid mid-majors (i.e., St. Mary’s, San Diego State) and some other mid-level programs (i.e., USC, Washington, Texas A&M). It was also just for one day, and it often fell during a period in the college basketball calendar in early to mid-December when viewers were getting much better match-ups during the same period (think: UNC-Kentucky or Kansas-Ohio State). The decision announced Tuesday to rebrand the event as the John Wooden Legacy and merge it with the Anaheim Classic during Thanksgiving weekend is a good one. Although the 2013 field is not great, featuring Marquette, Creighton, San Diego State and Miami (FL) as its marquee names, the four-year cycle of exempted events and ESPN’s coverage will no doubt encourage bigger-name programs to take the trip to SoCal in future years. We’d expect this to become one of the better such events during Feast Week starting in 2014 and beyond.
  5. Finally today, Andy Glockner at SI.com digs deeply through the KenPom statistical buffet and gives us what he calls “the extremists” — those returning players who are the best of the best in each of a number of key statistical categories. If you can name the top returnee in the nation in shot percentage at 40 percent, more power to you (answer: Wofford’s Karl Cochran), but certainly a couple of these names are on the short list for breakout seasons next year: Oregon State’s Eric Moreland (tops in defensive rebounding percentage at 28 percent); St. John’s Chris Obepka (tops in block percentage at 16 percent); and, VCU’s Briante Weber (tops in steal percentage at 7 percent). There’s more to the article than this, of course, so check it out on a lazy summer Wednesday.
Share this story

Season In Review: Villanova Wildcats

Posted by mlemaire on May 6th, 2013

After an incredibly disappointing 13-19 finish to last season, coach Jay Wright was starting to hear murmurs of discontent from a Wildcats’ fan base that had watched their team slowly fade into obscurity following a 2009 run to the Final Four. Entering this season the pressure was on Wright to prove that he could get the program headed in the right direction again, and he rose to the challenge… barely. The Wildcats finished 20-14 on the season and 10-8 in conference play, which was good enough to slot them eighth, but they made the NCAA Tournament on the backs of three wins over the conference’s three best teams — Louisville, Georgetown, and Syracuse — and there was still plenty to be concerned about in Nova Nation. They will be looking to take another step forward next season, but first let’s take a trip back and review Villanova’s 2012-13 season.

Preseason Expectations

Coming off that ugly season and losing their two best offensive players — Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek — the Wildcats were not expected to make a lot of noise this year. Both the coaches in the conference and our writers here at the microsite pegged Villanova as the 12th-best team in the Big East because of question marks about where the offense would come from and how quickly the new faces would get adjusted. Most who followed college basketball knew that the Wildcats had more veteran talent than some of the other squads ranked ahead of them, but after watching them falter with much of the same talent the year before, it was tough to believe that Villanova was capable of finishing in the top half of the conference.

Freshman Guard Ryan Arcidiacono Was Instrumental In Getting Villanova Back To The NCAA Tournament (U.S. Presswire)

Freshman Guard Ryan Arcidiacono Was Instrumental In Getting Villanova Back To The NCAA Tournament (U.S. Presswire)

The Good

There were plenty of positives for both individuals on the Villanova roster and the team itself, but if we were ranking them in order of their importance, the two-game stretch where they beat Louisville and then Syracuse in late January basically saved the Wildcats’ season. They had lost three straight conference games heading into that brutal stretch, and even though they were both home wins, they were still crucial to making ‘Nova believe they could hang with anyone. The team itself had its good pieces and its bad ones. The defense ranked in the top 30 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency and the offense got a boost from the fact that the Wildcats were the very best in the country when it came to free throw to field goal ratio. Wright also knew that certain players would need to step up if the Wildcats were going to be a factor this season, and luckily some players rose to the occasion. Senior center Mouphtaou Yarou (9.9 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 47.8%FG) capped a solid career on the Main Line with a dependable senior campaign, improving his free-throw shooting by nearly 10 percentage points and crashing the boards even harder in conference play (9.7 RPG). It took sophomore JayVaughn Pinkston (13.3 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 46.6 FG%) half a season to find his footing,  but once he did, he consistently scored in double figures and became a match-up nightmare for opposing teams. Freshman point guard Ryan Arciadiacono (11.9 PPG, 3.5 APG, 34.3% FG) averaged 34 minutes per game and proved he was more than capable of being a Big East point guard.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

SEC M5: 04.05.2013 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on April 5th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. Ole Miss guard Marshall Henderson stayed in the spotlight this season for rude, crude, and controversial behavior, but it never seemed that he was aware that he was acting a fool. Well, apparently he was. Henderson issued an apology to Ole Miss fans saying, “I take responsibility for my actions this season and apologize to anyone I offended,” Henderson said. “However, my edge on the court has made me the player that I am. I can’t change that, but I do understand that I can take things too far.” He also seemed to confirm that he would return to Oxford next season claiming, “With only nine hours left to earn my degree, I want to help build this program and that means I need to be a leader for my teammates both on and off the court.” Watch out SEC. Marshall Henderson is coming back and he is looking to get paid.
  2. Will Patric Young stay? Or will he go? The debate is on, and the good folks over at Alligator Army weigh in with a summary of reports. One comment from Young seems to suggest that he is staying in Gainesville. According to comments he made to the Palm Beach Posts’ Jason Lieser, Young spoke about next year saying, “to make sure we can have another spectacular season.” Next season could be special indeed for UF, especially if Young progresses in the middle with the additions of Chris Walker and Kasey Hill along with the return of Will Yeguete, Scottie Wilbekin, and Casey Prather.
  3. While much of the conversation this week has been on current student athletes who are making decisions on whether or not to return to the University of Kentucky, last night was all about the high school athletes who have signed to play in Lexington next year. The McDonald’s All American game on Wednesday night featured six future UK athletes, and Kentucky fans are excited after seeing the future backcourt in action. Projected starting point guard, Andrew Harrison scored 10 points to go along with four assists while his brother Aaron Harrison, the projected starting shooting guard, added six points and five assists. The duo connected on an alley-oop lob that resulted in a slam dunk for Aaron. The Harrison twins were impressive, but they weren’t the only future Kentucky stars doing good work. Julius Randle contributed 11 points and seven boards and center Dakari Johnson added 12 points and five rebounds.
  4. The future University of Kentucky athletes know that in order to see playing time this year, they will have to battle future NBA players for it. Several players predicted physical practices that would prepare them for the college and pro level, and they know they will be better players because of that intensity. “I think at this point it’s, ‘Who else do I want to play against in practice?’ I feel like the practices are going to be a lot harder than the games at this point,” incoming freshman forward Marcus Lee said. “Going against (Julius) Randle and all these other major players, I think it’s more, ‘Who wants to fight to be on the court?’ than it is, ‘Who are we fighting against?'” Perhaps UK should enter a second team into SEC play this year so the reserves can see playing time as well.
  5. Former standout Alabama high school star Ricky Tarrant is transferring from Tulane University and is potentially interested in returning closer to home. The sophomore point guard confirmed the news saying, “I will not be attending nor playing basketball for Tulane University next year.” Originally, Tulane was not going to allow Tarrant to transfer, but have now granted him permission to contact other schools. The rumor at this point is that the former Pleasant Grove star would be interested in playing basketball at the University of Alabama, though his father says he has not made a list of potential destinations just yet.
Share this story

The ACC in the NIT: Virginia and Maryland Poised to Square Off

Posted by KCarpenter on March 27th, 2013

Sure it’s not as prestigious as the Big Dance, but one ACC team has already punched it’s ticket to a “final four” even if it isn’t the Final Four. Maryland narrowly defeated Alabama to claim the first berth in the NIT semifinals at Madison Square Garden last night. Tonight Virginia will square off against Iowa for the privilege of challenging the Terps for a spot in the NIT Final. Of course,  for Virginia to get there, the Cavaliers must defeat Iowa, a potentially very challenging task.

It's Bedlam in College Park as the Terps Make the NIT Final Four (Yahoo Sports)

It’s Bedlam in College Park as the Terps Make the NIT Final Four — Or Not (Yahoo Sports). 

By Ken Pomeroy’s rankings, Iowa is the best team in the country that wasn’t invited to the NCAA Tournament, with Virginia a close second. The two teams are quite similar: both feature stout defenses and unbalanced offenses that primarily feature two stars.  While the Wahoos thrive on the sweet shooting of Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell, the Hawkeyes get most of their offensive mileage out of the uncanny abilities of Roy Devyn Marble and Aaron White to get to the free throw line. Together, the pair has combined for 320 made free throws this season. White, in particular, has a free throw rate of 86.6%, averaging nearly seven free throw attempts per game in less than 30 MPG. In 40 minutes, that projects to drawing 6.6 fouls per game. This doesn’t seem like a big deal for a team like Virginia, which is generally very good at avoiding fouls, but it could be a problem in terms of its front line depth. Freshmen Mike Tobey and Evan Nolte have been excellent complementary pieces for the Cavaliers, but both still foul too much.  Averaging 4.1 and 4.6 fouls per 40 minutes, respectively, the two seem likely candidates for disqualification against the savvy play of White and Marble.

Still, the Cavaliers have two things that the Hawkeyes don’t: notably, home court advantage and Harris. Harris has had only a mild showing in the NIT so far, which, unfortunately for Iowa, may portend a big game due for the versatile guard. Iowa is likely the better team and the Hawkeyes probably expect to dominate the boards against Virginia, but between the offensive wizardry of Harris and the significant edge of playing in Charlottesville, Virginia has a very good chance to get to the NIT semifinals.

Then, if the Cavaliers can get to Madison Square Garden, they can look forward to a tilt with the same Terrapins whom they swept in conference play. A strong showing in the NIT doesn’t do much for conference pride, but it sure does a lot more than losing early in the NIT.

Share this story