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.
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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.

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Potential SEC Matchups to Watch: the NIT’s Best Games

Posted by Christian D'Andrea on March 19th, 2013

Christian D’Andrea is a SEC Microsite contributor and an editor at Anchor of Gold and Nashville Sports Hub. You can reach him on Twitter @TrainIsland.

After a down year for conference basketball, SEC fans might be paying more attention to the NIT than the Big Dance this week. That’s because two of its most traditionally successful teams, Kentucky and Tennessee, are stuck playing in March’s second-biggest tournament. They’ll be joined by Alabama, another high-profile program that ended up on the wrong side of the bubble. While mid-major darlings like Middle Tennessee State, Saint Mary’s, Boise State, and La Salle earned at-large invitations, the SEC’s weak profile helped separate these former powerhouses from the NCAA Tournament.

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Kentucky and Tennessee Were On the Outside Looking In

Instead of kicking off the second-season on Thursday and Friday’s glorious start to March Madness, half of the SEC’s postseason teams will get to work on Tuesday and Wednesday in the opening round of the NIT. However, just because they aren’t playing on the big stage doesn’t mean that all of the must-watch games in the conference are confined to Florida, Ole Miss, and Missouri. A deep NIT field means that there are plenty of high-level match-ups waiting to fill in the gaps between NCAA Tourney play. Three different SEC teams will look to redeem their seasons with a deep run in the country’s second-most-prestigious basketball tournament. Here are the potential games to keep an eye out for once NIT play begins, assuming that the basketball gods pair up these teams in the best possible manner:

  1. Kentucky vs. Providence (NIT Second Round): Two teams that were forsaken by Rick Pitino in the past three decades will try to build their case for 2014 in a second round match-up built for basketball purists. Providence will be playing its last games in the Vincent Council era, but a young core led by Bryce Cotton and Kadeem Batts has Ed Cooley’s Friars trending upward. Of course, no team may have more unrealized potential in the NCAA right now than Kentucky. The Wildcats missed out on the NCAA Tournament thanks to a late-season fade brought on by Nerlens Noel’s season ending knee injury. If Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin decide to jump to the NBA this summer, this could be their last chance to make an impact as Blue Bloods. Despite playing in the NIT, each program has a ton to prove in this potential second round game. Read the rest of this entry »
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Alabama Positions Itself to Make a Run at an NCAA Bid

Posted by David Changas on March 15th, 2013

David Changas is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from Friday afternoon’s game between Alabama and Tennessee at the SEC Tournament in Nashville.

Some called today’s SEC Quarterfinal match-up between Tennessee and Alabama a “play-in” game for the NCAA Tournament. The reality was, though, that it was more likely a play-in for Tennessee. Most observers agreed that a win by the Volunteers would put them in the Big Dance, as they would have notched their 10th win over an RPI top-100 team. Most agreed, too, that Alabama would need to do more to make itself worthy of a spot in the field. What the Crimson Tide’s 58-48 victory, which came as the result of stifling defense that held Tennessee to 32% shooting from the field, did was put them in a position to secure a bid. Alabama, which currently sits at No. 62 in the RPI and owns only one victory over a top-50 RPI team (against No. 48 Kentucky), will now get a shot at a big one.

Alabama Held On to Come Out On Top Regardless

Alabama Held On to Come Out On Top Regardless

It takes on SEC regular season champion Florida, which sits at No. 7 in the RPI, in Saturday’s first semifinal. Given the difficulty other teams firmly on the bubble have had with taking advantage of their respective positions this week, the door is open for Anthony Grant’s team to make a run. Just today, the likes of Virginia, LaSalle, and, of course, Tennessee, all considered to be in the “Last Four In/Last Four Out” merry-go-round, lost. Earlier in the week, Boise State and MTSU, also among that group, lost. Ole Miss and Kentucky have yet to play here, but Alabama’s path to the field of 68 is clearer than it could have anticipated coming into the tournament.

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Tennessee Inches Closer to NCAA Bid, Win Over Alabama Could Seal Deal

Posted by David Changas on March 14th, 2013

David Changas (@dchangas) is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from Thursday afternoon’s SEC Tournament game between Tennessee and Mississippi State.

While the SEC has endured a significant amount of well-deserved criticism for its share of mediocre (well, bad) basketball this season (the fact that Mississippi State not only didn’t finish last in the league and was even able to win a game in the conference tournament – albeit against equally woeful South Carolina – is Exhibit A of the league’s futility), perhaps no conference presents more bubble scenarios as we roll towards Selection Sunday. Thus, while the usual Kentucky-related buzz is absent from this weekend’s festivities in Nashville except to the extent the Wildcats are on the bubble themselves,  there is a lot of intrigue about which teams will emerge and land a spot in the field of 68. As of now, it is assumed that only Florida and Missouri are locks for the field, with Kentucky, Ole Miss, and Alabama, and Tennessee seeking bids.

Tennessee Bowled Its Way One Step Closer to the NCAAs

Tennessee Bowled Its Way One Step Closer to the NCAAs

Clearly,  no team is more squarely on the bubble than the Volunteers, who dispatched of the significantly undermanned Bulldogs 69-53 behind 17 points from Jordan McRae Thursday afternoon at Bridgestone Arena. The win arguably will do nothing to help the Vols’ standing in the RPI and with the committee, but a loss would have crippled Tennessee’s chances to receive a bid. Now, they must face a much tougher test on Friday, as they take on co-bubble dweller Alabama. While some view the contest as a “play-in” game of sorts, Tennessee comes in with a better resume than the Crimson Tide, which has no wins over the RPI top 50. And Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin doesn’t think the bid is in question any longer. “I said after we beat Mizzou that we’re in the NCAA Tournament, so I’ve moved past that,” Martin said, unconvincingly, after the game. Still, for Tennessee, Friday’s game is an opportunity to win another game against a quality opponent and solidify its standing with the selection committee.

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SEC M5: 03.12.13 Edition

Posted by DPerry on March 12th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. It’s been exactly one month since Nerlens Noel last suited up for Kentucky, but his time on the sidelines couldn’t keep him off ofthe Sporting News All-Freshman team. Despite playing 6-7 fewer games than most of his competitors, Noel still finished the regular season as the nation’s fifth-leading shot swatter with 106. He exhibited an unpolished (at best) offensive game, but he still scored 10.5 points per game to go along with his 9.5 boards. Marcus Smart (Freshman of the Year), Shabazz Muhammad, Ben McLemore, and Anthony Bennett join Noel on the All-Freshman team, a quintet that comprises 5 of the top 6 picks in NBADraft.net’s most recent mock draft.
  2. Just as the case may be when the real bracket is revealed, the SEC is struggling for representation in Grantland’s yearly alternate bracket. That may not be so bad though. In “The Most Hated College Basketball Players of the Last 30 Years” bracket, Florida‘s Joakim Noah is the only SEC player judged to have been loathsome enough to make the field, “earning” a 2 seed in the 2000’s region. The ponytailed, headstrong Noah didn’t endear himself to opposing fans as he led the Gators to consecutive championships in 2006 and 2007. Let’s break down his chances, based almost solely on personal biases: Noah is a heavy favorite over Aaron Craft, the bracket’s only active player, in the first round. Either Adam Morrison or Luke Walton await in the Sweet 16, but their current irrelevance will hand Noah a victory. Next, we’re in for a clash of titans as Tyler Hansbrough and Joakim Noah meet for the right to go to the Final Four. It’s too close to call for me, but if Noah advances, he’ll challenge Jalen Rose or Larry Johnson for the right to lose to the Duke representative in the final.
  3. Tennessee‘s Jarnell Stokes earned his second SEC Player of the Week honor of the season, tallying two double-doubles in must-win games. Stokes led the way for the Volunteers as they outrebounded Missouri (ranked 6th in rebound rate nationally) by a count of 40-27. He is the only SEC player to average at least 10 points and 10 rebounds in conference play. Elsewhere, Mississippi State’s Craig Sword was named SEC Freshman of the Week for his instrumental role in the Bulldogs’ regular season-ending OT win against Auburn. Sword tallied 19 points, 6 assists, and 5 rebounds and made two crucial free-throws in the extra period to keep Mississippi State out of the SEC basement.
  4. Florida looked like the SEC’s lone Final Four threat through much of the year, but Billy Donovan isn’t a fan of his team’s current trajectory. “I’m disappointed, to be honest with you, in our team’s fire,” he said Monday. “I don’t see it. I don’t see it. That’s concerning to me.” Donovan also noted that he had been far from impressed with his team’s effort in practice leading up to the trip to Lexington. The Gators limped to the regular season finish line, winning only three of their last six games. Although they remain atop Ken Pomeroy’s rankings, recent poor performances from perimeter scorers Kenny Boynton and Mike Rosario are contributing to Florida coming up short in regards to the so-called eye test.
  5. Alabama has struggled to get any production from their frontcourt for most of the season. Carl Engstrom was lost to an early injury, highly-touted frosh Devonta Pollard has failed to live up to expectations, and Moussa Gueye has zero offensive touch. Sophomore forward Nick Jacobs, however, has stepped up for the Tide when they needed it the most. “Nick has shown improvement,” says coach Anthony Grant. “His play is showing that. He’s more mentally and physically ready to handle what he needs to be able to handle.” Jacobs didn’t see many minutes at the start of the season, failing to reach double-digit points until the last game of 2012. He’s rounded into form over the past month, including a career-high 18 points against Ole Miss. Alabama will most likely face Tennessee in their first SEC Tournament game, and given Jarnell Stokes’ recent play, Jacobs will be counted on to match some of that offensive output.
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A Puncher’s Chance? Breaking Down the Teams Driving the 2013 SEC Tournament

Posted by Christian D'Andrea on March 11th, 2013

Christian D’Andrea is a SEC Microsite contributor and an editor at Anchor of Gold and Nashville Sports Hub. You can reach him on Twitter @TrainIsland.

The SEC Tournament is upon us, and thanks to the league’s new 14-team format, fans get a whole extra day of win-or-go-home basketball in the south. The 2012-13 season hasn’t been particularly kind to the SEC. The conference suffered through a plague of upset losses and a dearth of quality wins which led to speculation that Florida would be the league’s only representative at the NCAA Tournament.

That course has been corrected over the final three weeks of the season thanks to some big wins across the conference’s second tier, but there are still plenty of teams battling for postseason slots. Tennessee and Kentucky will be looking to one-up each other as they duel for what might the last at-large invitation to the Big Dance. Alabama and Ole Miss will look to re-enter the postseason conversation with legitimizing wins. Arkansas, Texas A&M, and Vanderbilt will try to rally hard and extend their seasons one day at a time.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the 14 teams that will be competing for conference honors when Wednesday rolls around.

The Prohibitive Favorite: Florida

 (Photo via John Raoux / AP)

Florida Seeks Another SEC Title in Nashville (Photo via John Raoux / AP)

Billy Donovan’s team hasn’t been perfect against a downtrodden conference, and that has cost the Gators a shot at a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Their best recourse for that will be to put together a dominant run in Nashville, and an easy Friday match-up against LSU or Georgia will give them the opportunity to get off on the right foot. Much like the rest of the season, this will be a high-risk, low-reward endeavor for Florida. They won’t face a top-50 opponent until a theoretical Sunday match-up in the title game. They’ll have to hold court and prove that they can reclaim the dominance that led them to a string of double-digit wins to open league play.

The Savvy Bet: Missouri 

Mizzou may have the richest depth of any team in the SEC, but Frank Haith’s squad has been vulnerable against the conference’s good and mid-level teams in 2013. The Tigers have struggled to play well as a team despite the wealth of experience on their roster, but they’ve been able to regroup (4-2 in their last six games) as the SEC Tournament approaches. Mizzou has the scoring, ball movement, and rebounding to push any opponent to the limit. Players like Alex Oriakhi, Laurence Bowers, and Phil Pressey can create mismatches against any team they face. Can they ratchet up the defense and come together as a cohesive unit when the pressure is on? The Tigers are just a #6 seed in the SEC bracket, but they have the potential to do so much more — especially with a relatively weak draw on the road to the conference championship game.

The At-Large Brawlers: Tennessee, Kentucky

Tennessee and Kentucky represent the conference’s best candidates for a third and possibly fourth NCAA Tournament bid, but it may be a case of one-or-the-other when it comes to the selection committee’s final bracket. Both of these teams proved that they can beat Florida over the past two weeks, but their victories came with the help of home court advantage. Now, they’ll have to prove that they can travel to a neutral court and roll that momentum into a season-sustaining run through the SEC Tournament. The Volunteers and Wildcats will be pitting their resumes against each other for a chance to make it to the Big Dance, and while either team can make a case for inclusion based on their regular season performances, another significant win would all but ensure their spot in one of the NCAA’s four regions.

Jordan McRae and Tennessee are the hottest team in the SEC. (USA Today)

Jordan McRae and Tennessee are the hottest team in the SEC. (USA Today)

The only way these two would meet in Nashville is in the SEC title game, and both teams would be likely locks for the 68-team filed at that point. Kentucky has the better collection of talent, but no team has been hotter over the past month than Tennessee. The Volunteers are at the tail end of an 8-1 run that rallied the team from CBI territory and on to the happy side of the bubble. However, they may have been pushed down to NIT status after Saturday’s UK win over the Gators and Middle Tennessee State’s surprising Sun Belt Tournament loss. Is there room for both of these teams in the NCAA bracket?

The Forgotten Bubble Contenders: Ole Miss, Alabama

Ole Miss and ‘Bama belonged in the previous group until late-season slumps effectively tanked their seasons. For the Rebels, February and March represented a precipitous fall from grace. Marshall Henderson and his teammates plummeted from a potential five-seed or better all the way off the NCAA Tournament bubble with a 6-6 record down the stretch that included losses to South Carolina and Mississippi State. Still, Henderson, Murphy Holloway, and Reginald Buckner could lead the third-seeded Rebels to a big weekend if they can regain their early-season magic.

The Crimson Tide didn’t have a bad spring, they just failed to produce any resume-defining wins. Anthony Grant’s team is solid across the court and strong enough to hang with the SEC’s best teams, but they’ve been unable to lock down an impressive top-50 victory in 2013. This rebuilding Alabama squad has the pieces in place for a big 2014 run, but they might not have the gas this week to get to the SEC title game and back to the bright side of the bubble.

Puncher’s Chances: Vanderbilt, Texas A&M, Arkansas, Georgia, LSU

The SEC Tournament occasionally fails to follow rhyme, reason, or tradition. Some years, a tornado hits the host arena and wills a 4-12 Georgia team to the Big Dance. In others, a Vanderbilt team that hadn’t known much beyond abject failure in the conference bracket wins their first postseason title since 1950. Five teams at the lower end of the Southeastern spectrum could end up adding to that legacy in 2013.

Vanderbilt, thanks in part to the emergence of freshman Sheldon Jeter, is finishing its season better than they started it. A team that can shoot from three-point range and play hard-nosed defense on the perimeter is always dangerous in tournament play, and that will give Kevin Stallings’ team a shot. Same goes for Texas A&M, a squad that could ride Elston Turner Jr.’s hot hand to a marquee match-up on Sunday.

Arkansas, with wins over Kentucky, Florida, and Missouri, may have the best resume of the group when it comes to the league’s third tier and a high-paced style that could wreak havoc in a four-day tournament setting. Georgia has been streaky all year and could be an upset of Florida away from an easy path to the SEC title game. Finally, LSU has been wholly unpredictable in 2013 and that volatility could result in a surprising run to a weekend match-up or a Thursday exit at the hands of Georgia.

Saving Money on Costly Weekend Hotels in Nashville: Mississippi State, Auburn, South Carolina

Frank Martin’s team has some young talent, but doesn’t have a path to a Friday game unless Bruce Ellington or Michael Carrera catch fire for the Gamecocks. Even with a big, slightly inexplicable win over Ole Miss, Mississippi State is still a rebuilding team with just seven scholarship players to count on in Nashville. Auburn held Alabama to just 37 points once and also beat Florida State this season, but that’s about it for bright spots in a season that’s ending on a 1-14 skid.

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SEC M5: 03.11.13 Edition

Posted by DPerry on March 11th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. In one of the best weekends of college basketball that we’ve seen this year, the SEC may be able to lay claim to the top highlight. Trevor Releford hit a half-court shot as time expired to give Alabama a 61-58 win over Georgia, keeping the Crimson Tide in consideration for an at-large NCAA Tournament berth. Bama appeared well on its way to an easy win when they took a 14-point lead into halftime, but the Bulldogs stormed back in the second. “I felt like in the second half they really picked their tempo up and really attacked us,” coach Anthony Grant said. “The zone caused us some problems.” Releford put the finishing touches on a strong regular season, adding an iconic moment to his case for SEC Player of the Year.
  2. Florida went into Lexington over the weekend looking for its first win at Rupp Arena in six years. A back and forth game had finally swung in the Gators’ favor after Kentucky center Willie Cauley-Stein was forced to bench with four fouls, but even with a seven-point lead with eight minutes to play, Florida went ice cold. The Gators did nothing with their last 14 possessions the rest of the way, committing five turnovers and missing all 11 of their field goal attempts. “In these situations, someone has to step up and make a play,” guard Scottie Wilbekin said. “Someone has to make a shot.” Florida couldn’t get that shot to fall, doing nothing to dispel the notion that they can’t deliver in close games.
  3. Kentucky’s win over Florida certainly had a do-or-die feel, but Gary Parrish believes that Kentucky shouldn’t rest easy just yet. The Wildcats’ Tournament resume remains marginal. A 21-10 overall record, a 7-9 record against the RPI top 100, and only two wins against the top 50 doesn’t exactly scream “lock.” “There’s a tendency in college basketball to react strongly to every single thing that happens,” writes Parrish, “and the byproduct is that analysts and fans are constantly punching everybody’s tickets for the Big Dance.” A win over Florida filled a big hole in Kentucky’s argument, but a loss to Arkansas or Vanderbilt in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament would cancel out a lot of that progress and put the Cats right back on the fringes of the bubble.
  4. The teams at the bottom of the SEC needed overtime to settle their season finale, with Mississippi State beating Auburn, 74-71, putting Bulldogs coach Rick Ray in a celebratory mood. “Just finding a way to gut out a win and to go in the locker room to see so many people happy,” he said after the game. “You read some things were they say we are the worst team in SEC history, so I guess we can’t be that if we finished 13th out of 14.” Touche, Rick. Mississippi State has been ridiculed all season as one of the worst power conference teams in college basketball, but thanks to a strong start and finish to the conference schedule (book-ending that 13-game losing streak), the Bulldogs finished outside of the SEC cellar.
  5. Tennessee overcame an eight-point second half deficit to beat Missouri, 64-62, on Saturday, maintaining its status as the conference’s hottest team. The Vols have won eight of nine to turn what appeared to be a lost season into a potential at-large NCAA Tournament berth. Tennessee is currently on the outside looking in according to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, meaning that the Vols are another SEC team in need of SEC Tournament success. “I feel like we’re an older group,” forward Jarnell Stokes said. “We know that we have to do damage in the SEC Tournament. I’m not going to let another one slip away like we did last year.” A year ago, Cuonzo Martin’s team was in an almost identical position. Tennessee had ended the year winning eight of nine, but were upset by Ole Miss in their first SEC Tournament game, relegating the Vols to the NIT.
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SEC M5: 03.08.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on March 8th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. Tempers flared on Tuesday night when Arkansas squared off against Missouri, but the real showdown was between coaches. Razorbacks coach Mike Anderson returned to Columbia for the first time since leaving the Tigers, and current Missouri coach Frank Haith apparently hasn’t taken too kindly to some of the credit Anderson has placed upon himself for Haith’s recent success. Anderson made no secret that he felt he left the program in great shape for Haith two seasons ago. “That was a team that probably could have contended for a Final Four. I really thought that. … So you ask me what kind of shape it was in? … It was in great shape. Most guys don’t inherit a team like that.” Did Haith take that statement personally? Perhaps he did take offense, based on the altercation during one of the timeouts of Missouri’s thumping of Arkansas.  So  it just might make you giddy to know that there is still a possibility that Missouri and Arkansas could face off once more in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament, if a couple of things go the right way for both teams this weekend.
  2. There has been a lot of bubble chatter on this site, nationally, and among anyone who follows college basketball even moderately. The stakes were clear for both Ole Miss and Alabama, two teams widely considered among the first four out or close thereafter,  going into Tuesday’s game. Win, and live to see another day. Lose, and the bubble would burst. But according to at least one opinion, all of the excitement over the bubble was for naught because ultimately, “this Alabama team is not an NCAA Tournament team. Over and out.” Alabama has wins over Villanova, Tennessee, and Kentucky, but none of those are victories are likely to impress the committee too much. With three losses in their last four games, it is probably time for the Tide to focus their efforts on the postseason, but perhaps the NIT is a more appropriate goal at this point.
  3. Auburn senior guard Frankie Sullivan finally broke out of a severe slump on Wednesday night against the Tennessee Volunteers. He scored 24 points, his largest contribution since a 26 point effort against Arkansas on January 16. Following that double overtime loss in Bud Walton Arena, Sullivan was averaging almost 18 points per game, but from that point on, he managed just 9.7 points per game on 31 percent shooting from the field. Head coach Tony Barbee thinks it’s all in Sullivan’s head. “This stretch right here is as mind-boggling as anything I’ve seen,” Barbee said. “Those are shots that are as automatic as automatic can be for a guy. He’s just struggling mentally right now.” Unfortunately, Sullivan’s resurgence against the Vols is too late for the Tigers to make an impact in the league after losing fourteen of their last fifteen games.
  4. Florida is still experiencing some gaps during stretches on offense, but the Gators continue to rely on defense to win games. “Defense got it done for us tonight,” UF forward Erik Murphy said. “We weren’t clicking on offense early and it allowed us to overcome some things before we got into a rhythm.” Coach Billy Donovan said the Gators’ level of defensive efficiency against Vanderbilt is the way it should always be. “We need to do that to all the teams we play,” Donovan said. “They were a team that, scouting them, definitely was playing better and making shots from the 3-point line. We really collectively, I thought, did a good job there and didn’t give them too many easy layups.” Florida held Vandy to just 40 points on 26.9 percent shooting from the field. If UF continues to be inconsistent on offense, its defense will be forced to lead the way.
  5. Nerlens Noel is filling up his free time by dropping rhymes for his new rap, and it was actually pretty good. The real kicker came towards the end when Noel teases Kentucky fans with the line,  “I might come back — but I don’t know yet.” Check out the video for yourself. Enjoy on this Friday morning:

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Did Black Saturday Sink the SEC’s NCAA Tournament Chances?

Posted by Christian D'Andrea on March 5th, 2013

Christian D’Andrea is a SEC Microsite contributor and an editor at Anchor of Gold and Nashville Sports Hub. You can reach him on Twitter @TrainIsland.

There’s no way around it – the SEC is having one of its worst basketball seasons in recent history. If it holds up, the conference might get lapped by the Atlantic 10, Missouri Valley, and Mountain West Conferences in 2013. Only Florida has survived as a top 25 staple as talented but unproven teams like Kentucky and Missouri fell from the national rankings as the season wore on. The Wildcats have struggled to replace the game-altering defense and efficient offense of Nerlens Noel while Frank Haith’s Tigers have failed to gel as a unit despite boasting one of the country’s most talented rosters. Behind them, Ole Miss rose to the national consciousness thanks to Marshall Henderson and a 17-2 opening record. Then, they fell back to earth nearly as quickly while the cocksure guard struggled to make more than 35 percent of his shots in deflating losses. Even Alabama, with an 11-5 conference record and a top 50 RPI, has struggled to prove that their solid record passes the smell test in 2013.

The Gators and.... Who Else From the SEC... WIll Be Dancing?

The Gators and Who Else From the SEC Will Be Dancing?

Then, on March 2, with the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee intently watching, all four teams lost. It started when Alabama, who needed a big win against Florida just to make it to the Tournament bubble, fell by a dozen points on the road. Then Tennessee, who was riding high after its own Gator upset, lost against a better-than-advertised Georgia team that was playing angry after an upset loss to Vanderbilt. Kentucky followed that up by allowing Arkansas to a 26-shot advantage in a 13-point defeat in Fayetteville. Then, most inexplicably of all, Ole Miss lost its Egg Bowl showdown with 7-20 Mississippi State, snapping the Bulldogs’ 13-game losing streak and completing the Rebels’ drop from potential NCAA Tournament #4-seed to NIT participant. There’s no sugar-coating how destructive this loss was – the Bulldogs had lost their previous two games by a combined 71 points. Marshall Henderson’s 3-of-18 performance from three-point range painted him less as a Chris Lofton-style savior and more as a late-era Antoine Walker chucker.

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SEC M5: 03.05.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on March 5th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. College basketball conversation in March is typically dominated by who’s in and who’s out, and this season is certainly no exception. This year, however, the SEC is central to the bubble conversation. Missouri and Florida appear by all accounts to be in. After that, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas and Ole Miss all appear to be heading into the final week of the season and the SEC Tournament holding their collective breath. The latest bracket projections over with our friends at College Basketball Talk on NBC Sports have the SEC on the wrong side of the bubble. Tennessee, despite a road loss to Georgia, is among the last five teams in. Kentucky, Alabama, and Arkansas are listed as among the last five teams out. And moving further and further away at this point is Ole Miss. The Rebels are now listed among the next five teams out, a spot typically reserved for at-large teams needing to win their conference tournament to work their way back into the conversation. The SEC bubble crew needs a quality win this week, or else.
  2. While the SEC may be downtrodden this year, Florida’s claim to the regular season SEC championship is still quite an accomplishment, according to the Gainesville Sun.  Prior to coach Billy Donovan’s arrival in Gainesville, Florida had won a single SEC regular season title. Under Donovan’s 17-year reign as head coach, the Gators have now won or shared five SEC regular season championships. That is an impressive feat, and as the Sun points out, “I’m not sure there has been a more impressive SEC title than this one because of all the injuries the Gators have endured.” The Gators haven’t been at full strength in quite some time, and it will be interesting to see how the committee seeds UF taking that fact into account. Is a number one seed in the cards for Florida?
  3. Yahoo Sports takes into account Florida‘s injuries throughout the year, and makes the case that the Gators lack the quality road wins needed to make their resume worthy of a number one seed. “Florida has only lost five games all season but all five of its losses have come when the Gators have gone on the road to face a quality opponent, or in the case of Arkansas, a so-so opponent. The Gators lost at Arizona and Kansas State back in December and have lost three times this month on the road in SEC to Arkansas, Missouri and Tennessee.” Florida has one remaining road game on its schedule, and beating Kentucky could give the Gators the last and necessary piece of the puzzle for a top seed.
  4. We talked yesterday about the potential for Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy to be on the hot seat after what could be another year of not making the NCAA Tournament. Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork remains supportive despite an ugly recent loss to Mississippi State. “My position hasn’t changed despite how painful it was (Saturday) night,” Bjork said after watching the short-handed Bulldogs defeat his Rebels. Then again, what athletic director expresses disgust in his head coach two games before the end of the regular season? These matters are generally best left for the offseason. Replacing the head coach in Oxford seems drastic considering the positive direction in which the Rebels have moved over the past several years. Kennedy is now the all-time winningest coach in Ole Miss history, and it is not as though he took over a program that was accustomed to annual trips to the Big Dance. The Rebels haven’t tasted the NCAA Tourney since a 22-point loss to UCLA in 2002. Replacing him now only seems to stall the progress that has been made.
  5. Two weeks ago, the SEC microsite published a piece examining the likelihood of Kentucky freshman Nerlens Noel winning the SEC freshman of the year award. The answer was a resounding yes at the time, and now Noel has been named a finalist for the Wayman Tisdale Award honoring the nation’s best freshman. Before his injury, Noel turned in one of the all-time best single season performances for a Kentucky freshman, but he also has the numbers to be competitive for the national award. As WKYT in Lexington points out, “Noel led the nation in blocks per game, while also ranking among the top-30 nationally in rebounds and steals per game. He was the only player standing 6’5″ or taller who ranked in the top-30 for steals.” Despite playing in just 24 games, his defense certainly puts him in the conversation, and it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone if he takes home the hardware.
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SEC M5: 03.04.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on March 4th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. Free throws haven’t been a source of pride for the Florida Gators of late, but success at the charity stripe sealed the win for Billy Donovan’s squad against Alabama on Saturday. Alabama coach Anthony Grant admitted Florida’s newfound confidence at the line made the game plan difficult to execute. “We weren’t able to take away the free-throw line today,” said Grant. “In the second half, their whole thing was to drive the ball and to attack the rim, and they had success with it. Twenty-two points at the free-throw line at home is going to be awfully hard to overcome.” The Gators shot just 68.2 percent from the line coming into the game, but were 22 of 26 (84.6 percent) on Saturday afternoon.
  2. Senior guard Kenny Boynton has 1,927 points in a Florida uniform, but he has had to work very hard for every point lately. “Guys project how a guy is playing or not playing based on whether or not the ball is going in the basket and certainly here the last few games he hasn’t made the number of shots that he has made,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “He had a stretch there to start the year where he really wasn’t shooting the ball, and then he went on a tear for a little bit and maybe here lately, he’s not.” In the month of February, Boynton averaged under 10 points per game and shot just 24 percent from three-point range. Boynton hasn’t scored 20 points or more since a January 12 game against LSU. If Florida is going to make a deep run into March, it will need its senior guard to return to form.
  3. One thing a coach never wants to admit is that his team got out-hustled, but that is exactly what Kentucky coach John Calipari said after Saturday’s loss to Arkansas. “We weren’t as tough as them, we didn’t play as hard as them and they wanted the game more than us, and that team usually wins,” Calipari said. A huge key to the game was turnovers. The Wildcats turned the ball over 19 times because of the Razorbacks’ press and general hectic pressure.  “We tried to make the game as chaotic as we could,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. “That was the difference in the game.” Not that a loss is ever acceptable or needed, but this was exceptionally bad timing for Kentucky as the Cats are in hot pursuit of an NCAA Tournament bid. A less than impressive showing did some damage to the Kentucky’s case, but there’s still time with a game at Georgia on Thursday and a home date with Florida on Saturday.
  4. Saturday was a big win for the Razorbacks. They are guaranteed a .500 record in SEC play for the first time since 2008. They beat Kentucky for the first time since 2011 in a hard fought overtime win. But Saturday was big for Arkansas because Kentucky is still a rivalry game, and one in which Razorback fans circle on the calendar with a strong desire to walk out victorious. As Doc Harper of Arkansas Expats writes, “there’s a part of me that always wants to beat Kentucky because of the wars of the early/mid 90s, so today was incredibly sweet.” This type of history and animosity makes the SEC better, and one can only hope that Kentucky takes a potential rematch in Nashville in a couple of weeks a little personal.
  5. Sometimes teams don’t necessarily need to excel to win, but they might just need to make fewer mistakes than their opponents. That’s exactly what the Commodores did in their win over the Auburn Tigers on Saturday. “We’re very happy to get a very ugly road win,” Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. “I don’t know if both teams had really bad offense, and I certainly don’t want to speak for their side, but it didn’t feel like either side played very well tonight for me.”  In the SEC, victories no the road are very hard to come by. Prior to their win on Saturday, the Commodores had just two road victories in the SEC. Neither of the wins were against top-tier SEC competition as they had beaten cellar-dwellers South Carolina and Mississippi State. Overall, Vanderbilt is turning the corner at the right time with four victories in its last five games.
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