SEC’s Six Losses: Will Any Of Them Haunt The League?

Posted by Greg Mitchell on November 15th, 2013

Avoiding the bad loss. It’s as important right now as it is at the end of the season, and given the lower level of most non-conference opponents in November, the traps are ugly and plentiful. ESPN.com‘s Eamonn Brennan writes that despite solid metrics and wins against Duke and North Carolina, Virginia found itself in the NIT last season because of early losses against George Mason, Delaware and Old Dominion. Is the SEC already in trouble with six losses before the first week of the season is done? Alabama, Tennessee and LSU are trying to take the next step and make the NCAA Tournament but have they already stubbed their toes with a loss each on their resumes? No. Not yet. Despite the large number of early losses, it appears no SEC team has suffered a crippling loss that could haunt it on Selection Sunday. In fact, each of the six could be characterized as a “good” loss at this point. Here is the KenPom rating for each team that has beaten an SEC squad:

Billy Donovan and the Gators already have a loss, but it's not one that will haunt them.

Billy Donovan and the Gators already have a loss, but it’s not one that will haunt them.

  • Michigan State: #2
  • Wisconsin: #12
  • Baylor: #30
  • UMass: #44
  • Xavier: #48
  • Oklahoma: #57

This loss was “A-OK”

It almost goes without saying that Kentucky’s loss falls into this category. Yes, there was talk of perfection before the season even began and that bubble burst early. But the Wildcats lost a game to a perennially-elite team, and were able to bring the game down to the final minute despite a sluggish start, a lot of turnovers and bad play from the Harrison twins. There’s no shame in that. Florida is in the same boat. Injuries and suspensions made the Gators short-handed in one of college basketball’s toughest road environments. South Carolina played a good team on the road too, and nearly won a game many thought would be a mismatch.

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SEC M5: 11.15.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on November 15th, 2013

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  1. NOLA.com‘s Randy Rosetta had a brief LSU basketball chat yesterday and mentioned a couple of interesting Tiger nuggets. Rosetta said Johnny Jones has been vague on the timetable for Jarrell Martin‘s return, but given the iffy, inconsistent nature of ankle injuries, that isn’t too surprising. He also suggests that seven-foot Australian freshman Darcy Malone may be in line for a redshirt because he didn’t see the floor against UMass despite injuries and foul trouble in the frontcourt. This would make sense, as the Tigers’ training staff is desperately trying to get Malone bigger and stronger, and a year of conditioning would benefit both player and program in the long run. Finally, Rosetta suggests that this LSU team is more talented than the 2006 version. That’s a big statement: the 2006 Tigers made the Final Four behind the services of future pros Glen Davis and Tyrus Thomas. Garrett Temple and Chris Johnson have also bounced around the NBA, and Tasmin Mitchell was on that team too. That’s a lot of talent, and a pretty high and likely unrealistic bar for the current team.
  2. Don’t tell Frank Martin that South Carolina’s close call against Baylor was a moral victory. “Let one get away the other afternoon,” Martin said to open his Thursday afternoon press conference at the Colonial Life Arena. “We did some things well, but we also are not anywhere near who we need to be in order to win high-level games here. We’ve got to find a way to be a little more disciplined.” But the fact is that the Gamecocks should feel good about what happened in Waco. A win would’ve obviously been ideal, but competing on the road against a good team this early in the season is an encouraging sign for a rebuilding program. Last season, the Gamecocks lost by 10 or more in six of the their 10 road games. It’s an important sign that they established a competitive road precedent this early. If nothing else, the Gamecocks enter their rivalry game on the road against Clemson with some confidence.
  3. SI.com‘s Luke Winn discussed some interesting defensive metrics from the Kentucky-Michigan State game in his weekly power rankings. Winn writes, “On the Kentucky side, Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein combined to force 16 misses, but there was little-to-no turnover creation, and starting guards Andrew and Aaron Harrison had negative defensive impact. Perimeter and transition D are the areas where the Wildcats have the most room for improvement.” This looks like the rare time experience was in Kentucky’s favor, as their sophomores contributed the most defensively against the Spartans. As Winn notes, Kentucky certainly needs to get better on the perimeter, but with Cauley-Stein’s ability to clean up a lot of mistakes,  even a small amount of improvement over the course of the season can go a long way.
  4. Mississippi State picked up its second win of the season against Kennesaw State last night, a team that has already played an ironman-like five games by virtue of an opening weekend tournament. A couple of things stand out from this game, both from the Bulldogs’ backcourt. First, Craig Sword led the league in turnovers last season, partly offsetting an otherwise promising freshman year. This problem has carried into his sophomore season as he turned the ball over six times in Mississippi State’s first game against Prairie View A&M, and another three times last night. Second, I.J. Ready has indeed been ready to contribute as a freshman, and has shown the ability to adapt in his first two games. Fred Thomas was suspended for the opener and Ready looked to score more, with 14 points on 10 shots. With the scoring-minded Thomas back in the lineup (17 points on 14 shots), Ready assumed more of a distributor role, attempting only two shots and handing out six assists with only one turnover.
  5. Welcome back, Trevor Releford. After a quiet opening game against Oklahoma, the Alabama senior roared back with 29 points on only 14 shots in the Tide’s win over Texas Tech. This included 5-of-7 from the three-point line. Also impressive was that Releford only committed one foul in 33 minutes, a game after he was stuck to the bench with foul trouble against Oklahoma. The Tide in general avoided the referee’s whistle, only getting called for nine fouls. Anthony Grant’s Big 12 week is over, and the Tide can now tune up against lower division teams before a December 7 game against rebuilding South Florida, and a December 17 match-up with Wichita State.
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SEC M5: 11.12.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on November 12th, 2013

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  1. The lone blemish for the SEC on opening weekend was Alabama‘s loss to Oklahoma on Friday. “Obviously disappointed with the loss, but you have to compliment Oklahoma,” Anthony Grant said. “I thought they did a really good job attacking when we had a big lead in the first half, and I thought they did a good job on the offensive glass all night.” That big lead makes the loss especially disappointing, as the Tide went up 26-10 out of the gate. Trevor Releford was stuck to the bench with the foul trouble for a good portion of the game, and ended up with a ho-hum 12 points. It would probably be irresponsible to point the finger at the new hand-check rule because Releford, the active SEC steals leader, is an aggressive player by nature. This was a missed opportunity for the Tide, but they still have games against UCLA, Wichita State, and Xavier to put together a solid non-conference resume.
  2. LSU is one three SEC teams yet to play a game, and travels to Amherst to play Massachusetts to kick of its season this evening. Among all the talent Johnny Jones has brought in, reigning SEC first-teamer Johnny O’Bryant III is the player most game plans will be built around. O’Bryant took a risk by not entering a weak 2013 NBA draft class. As talented as he is, he isn’t the top 10 lock that fellow returnee Marcus Smart is in the upcoming historically strong draft class. But O’Bryant is a raw athlete and his game will certainly benefit with another year in Baton Rouge. The SEC is better for it too, and it will be interesting to see how grows and leads a LSU team looking to return to the NCAA tournament.
  3. NBCSports‘ Rob Dauster listed Julius Randle and Casey Prather among his top performers of the opening weekend. Randle became the first freshman since Michael Beasley to score at least 20 points and grab at least 10 rebounds in his first two games. Prather scored a career-high 28 points in Florida’s opener against North Florida, and was aggressive getting to the basket for easy baskets. Prather was a talented role player last season averaging 6 points in 17 minutes per game last season. Billy Donovan must be pleased the senior forward was able to take control of a game where Patric Young was struggling and numerous contributors were out.
  4. Randle picked up some official accolades as well, as he was named this season’s first SEC Player of the Week. Missouri point guard Wes Clark was named Freshman of the Week for his 13 point, 7 rebound, 4 assist effort against Southeastern Louisiana. Clark was certainly a bright spot for the Tigers, showing the ability to set up Earnest Ross and Jabari Brown from three, and get his own shot when needed. He also flashed defensive and driving potential with his stockier frame. Clark was good, but shouldn’t Randle, the Player of the Week and a freshman, also have been the Freshman of the Week? This logical oddity will likely be around the entire season, but this isn’t a call to flood the SEC offices with angry e-mails. If the SEC applied these awards literally Randle would probably end up monopolizing them both.
  5. Arkansas guard Michael Qualls has already put himself in the running for “dunk of the year” with this slam against Southern Illinois-Edwardsville. The dunk is exciting enough, but Mike Anderson must also be pleased with Qualls overall play in the team’s first game (6/10 FG, 16 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist). The Razorbacks have a handful of guards with experience, and having numbers is important in Anderson’s fast-paced, pressure system. But he needs one or more of his guards to step up and shoulder more of the offensive load. Getting 16 points from Qualls, 18 points from Anthlon Bell, and 11 points for Mardarcus Wade on a combined 15-23 shooting is encouraging. 
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Big 12 M5: 11.11.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 11th, 2013

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  1. USA Today’s Eric Prisbell wrote an interesting column on Saturday in which he indicated that there’s more than meets the eye in the top-heavy Big 12. We may be biased, but we can easily get on board with that opinion. You need not look any further than Friday night when a pair of teams outside of the two getting the most pub had already secured important wins against power-conference foes (Oklahoma topping Alabama and Baylor getting the best of Colorado). Throw in a promising Iowa State team and some of the game’s best coaches at this level and you’d be unwise to limit your opinion to what you see from Kansas and Oklahoma State.
  2. Speaking of the Jayhawks, you wouldn’t know it by looking at the box score from Kansas’ 80-63 victory over Louisiana-Monroe, but heralded freshmen Andrew Wiggins wasn’t as involved as many expected, even given some recent tempering of expectations regarding Wiggins by many in the media. It’s way too early to hit the panic button on either Wiggins specifically or Kansas as a whole, but given how easily Duke disposed of Davidson and that the Jayhawks didn’t pull away against a worse opponent until midway through the second half, it’s reasonable for fans in Lawrence to sense a little bit of concern heading into Tuesday’s match-up with Duke. Just don’t go too far.
  3. Iowa State sophomore Naz Long stepped in and scorched the nets for the Cyclones, hitting eight of 11 shots from beyond the arc as his team dismantled UNC Wilmington Sunday afternoon. Long’s eight makes yesterday matched his output in that category from all of last season. While there’s plenty of firepower up and down the Cyclones’ lineup (transfer DeAndre Kane nearly had a double-double at halftime), Fred Hoiberg may have found a designated gunner to replace the departed Tyrus McGee.
  4. Perhaps no team in the Big 12 had a more disappointing opener than the Kansas State Wildcats, who fell to Northern Colorado at Bramlage Coliseum Friday night. Bruce Weber’s team was without the services of big man Thomas Gipson, who is recovering from a concussion, but while depth isn’t KSU’s strong suit (and with all due respect to the Bears), it’s hard to find a legitimate excuse for Kansas State dropping this one. As it is, the Wildcats will look to recover tomorrow night against Oral Roberts.
  5. The Colorado Buffaloes were just the first in a long line of tournament-caliber teams that will line up against Baylor over the next two months. Head coach Scott Drew is excited to see what his experienced team can do in the Maui Invitational and against Kentucky, and so are we, though we aren’t sure we would sing the same tune if Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson had entered the 2013 NBA Draft rather than return to school.
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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)

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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.
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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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SEC M5: 10.23.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on October 23rd, 2013

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  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.
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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.
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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.
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