Rushed Reactions: #2 Oklahoma 77, #3 Texas A&M 63

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 24th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion

Three Key Takeaways.

Buddy Hield Led His Team to Its First Elite Eight Since 2009 (USA Today Images)

Buddy Hield and Friends Move On to Oklahoma’s First Elite Eight Since 2009 (USA Today Images)

  1. Buddy Ball. When you’ve got a National Player of the Year candidate like Buddy Hield involved, one of the big questions going into a game is always how the opponent plans to slow him down. Texas A&M head coach Billy Kennedy opted to put his best defender, Alex Caruso, on Hield from the opening tip in an effort to deny him the ball. In implementing this strategy, however, it took Caruso — a defender effective at coming off his man and providing help defense — out of his normal role. This opened up the rest of the Oklahoma offense to take advantage of a distracted Aggies’ defense to find driving lanes and easy looks around the hoop. Hield didn’t exactly have his normally explosive offensive night, but the attention the Aggies paid him left a distinct mark on the rest of the game.
  2. A&M Mis-Step and Adjustment. Early in the first half, Texas A&M had the good fortune of knocking a few early threes down. This turned out to be a short-term blessing and a long-term curse. Following the discovery of that fool’s gold, the Aggies spent the remainder of the first half relying unsuccessfully on jumpshots, leading to an extended drought that allowed Oklahoma to build a lead. Over the last 14 possessions of the first half, A&M turned it over six times, missed three threes, clanked five two-point jumpers and only made one layup and one jumper — turning a game that was tied 18-all into an overwhelming 45-25 deficit at the half. A&M adjusted, however, by pounding it inside either via the post-up game (specifically freshman Tyler Davis) or the drive early in the second half. That proved much more successful, but its inability to hit free throws (11-of-22 in second half) was the ultimate killer. Of interest going forward is that this is an area that Oklahoma could potentially be taken advantage of in the next week-plus.
  3. Scrappy Sooners. Perhaps the popular conception of this Sooners team is a fun-loving bunch of three-point bombers. While there’s some truth to the notion, there’s also a little bit of junkyard dog in this team as well. Despite statistics telling the story of a team that struggles to clean the glass, the Sooners today paid special mind to it and fought the bigger A&M team almost to a draw there. Even superstar Hield grabbed 10 boards on his way to his first double-double of the season. More to the point, though, is that the Sooners were consistently first to a number of loose balls in order to add extra possessions.

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Why Each SEC team Will Advance to the Second Weekend… and Why They Won’t

Posted by Brian Joyce on March 15th, 2016

After watching five teams head to the Big Dance a year ago (including one eventual Final Four participant), the SEC managed just three bids in a disappointing 2015-16 campaign. Honestly, the league was lucky to get to three. While some teams have to feel pretty good about where they landed (Texas A&M is a #3 seed?!), others should feel happy to be invited (welcome Vanderbilt!), and still others can rest comfortably knowing that the committee didn’t have the option to send them to Alaska to face the Golden State Warriors (Hey Kentucky, Des Moines, Iowa, is supposed to be nice this time of year). Now that the brackets are set, will the SEC continue to disappoint, or might we see one of these three teams still standing in the Sweet Sixteen? Here are some quick reasons why each team will advance to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, and some equally compelling reasons why they won’t:

Kentucky's offensive efficiency under coach John Calipari

Kentucky’s offensive efficiency under coach John Calipari.

Kentucky

Why the Wildcats will advance to the second weekend: Kentucky’s backcourt is playing very well on offense right now, moving the Wildcats into the top spot for offensive efficiency nationally over the weekend. Tyler Ulis has the ability to carry the team for stretches on his 5’9” frame, but with the added marksmanship of shooting guard Jamal Murray and a front line that provide spot duty, the Wildcats are scoring better than any other team in the John Calipari era. In the first two games of the SEC Tournament, Kentucky scored at the second and third most efficient clips per 100 possessions of his tenure. The last time the Cats met up with possible Second Round opponent Indiana in the 2012 NCAA Tournament, it was a high scoring affair — Kentucky should feel comfortable in entering into a shootout with any team in the nation.

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Rushed Reactions: Kentucky 82, Texas A&M 77 (OT)

Posted by David Changas on March 13th, 2016

rushedreactions

Three Key Takeaways

Tyler Ulis and Kentucky celebrate yet another SEC title.

Tyler Ulis and Kentucky celebrate yet another SEC title.

  1. Ulis was the difference. Jamal Murray struggled more than he had in quite a while, as his 20-point game streak came to an end at 11 (he still had 17). His backcourt mate, Tyler Ulis, however, was there to pick up the slack. Ulis not only led Kentucky with 30 points, but also delivered the crucial baskets for the Wildcats. Ulis is able to penetrate and find good looks better than just about anyone we’ve seen at his size; in a game that was close the entire way, Ulis was the clear difference. Without him, it’s difficult to imagine Kentucky being in position to garner a #3 seed or making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
  2. This was a quality SEC basketball game. The hoops side of the SEC gets made fun of plenty, and often rightfully so. This is a league that could get only two of its 14 members into the NCAA Tournament — an unfathomable consideration for a power five conference. But these two teams were anything but embarrassing today. Kentucky is the SEC constant and have dealt with a revolving door of challengers through the year; the Aggies are the newest one, and their balance, experience, and overall talent that was on display this weekend should not be taken lightly in the NCAA Tournament. It’s just a shame there aren’t more such teams in the conference.
  3. Texas A&M acted like it had been here before. Despite the loss, the Aggies showed they belonged. Texas A&M is not used to being on this stage, but that certainly did not show. Senior Danuel House was exceptional for the Aggies in scoring a game-high 32 points, including the tying bucket that sent the game to overtime. Four seniors who log a lot of minutes will be gone next season, but the future is bright for Billy Kennedy’s program, as freshmen Tyler Davis, Admon Gilder, and DJ Hogg showed strong signs that they will be able to grow into more prominent roles next season. It’s quite clear why Kennedy was given a five-year contract extension yesterday.

Star of the Game. Tyler Ulis. This was a no-brainer, as was Ulis’s selection as tournament MVP. Still, it simply can’t be overstated how good the sophomore guard was today. He had several critical drives for baskets during regulation, and he helped UK begin overtime on the right track with a three after a quick move forced his defender to fall down. Ulis vindicated his selection as both conference player of the year and defensive player of the year with a tremendous final week in the SEC.

Quotable.

  • “You’ve got to give Kentucky credit. They made the big shots to win the game.” – Billy Kennedy, on the difference in Sunday’s game.
  • “He’s played three straight days without coming out and he could probably play 40 more minutes right now if he needed to.” – Alex Caruso, on one of the things that makes Tyler Ulis special.
  • “We’re still not where we want to be defensively, but this team has gotten better all year. We’re finally healthy so when guys don’t play well, you look for the next man.” – John Calipari, on the improvement of his team.

Sights and Sounds. As it always is at the SEC Tournament, this was a de facto home game for the Wildcats. Big Blue Nation accounted for at least 95% of the fans in attendance, with Kentucky superfan Ashley Judd among them. Kennedy admitted after the game that the crowd was a big advantage for the Wildcats. “We knew that we were playing in basically Rupp Arena,” he said. Some things never change.

What’s Next. Both teams will await word from the Selection Committee as to where they go next. It’s reasonable to believe both will receive a 4-seed or better. While Kentucky may have improved its seeding with the performance this weekend, it’s hard to imagine that Texas A&M did anything in defeat that would harm its standing. The SEC may only get two teams into the Big Dance, but they’ll both be very tough outs.

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Tyler Davis’ Emergence Gives Texas A&M Hope For March Run

Posted by David Changas on March 11th, 2016

Texas A&M, which had not been known previously as a destination for college basketball’s top recruits, signed one of the nation’s best classes last year in bringing in four players ranked in the Rivals top 70. On Friday, in the Aggies’ 72-66 win over Florida, one of those highly-prized recruits was critical to Texas A&M’s advancement. All season, center Tyler Davis, the Aggies’ third-leading scorer (11.2 PPG) and second-leading rebounder (6.0 RPG) has been an important part of his team’s run to a share of the SEC regular season championship. Without Davis anchoring the middle, Texas A&M would likely not be where it is today. From that standpoint, Davis’ 15 point, eight rebound performance on Friday was not only not a surprise, but it was also expected — even against Florida’s stout frontcourt defense.

Tyler Davis has been a force in the middle for Texas A&M. (Sam Craft/AP)

Tyler Davis has been a force in the middle for Texas A&M. (Sam Craft/AP)

After the game, Florida coach Mike White could not stop talking about how impressed he was with the freshman from Plano. “He is just really good. It’s hard to believe he’s a freshman. He’s enormous. He’s strong. He’s physical. He likes contact. He knows how to seal [in the post], and he has great hands,” White said. Based upon the way he performed both against the Gators and in the Aggies’ six-game win streak to close the regular season, a strong case could be made that Davis has become A&M’s best player. While most of the attention is paid to Aggie seniors Jalen Jones and Danuel House, Davis’s efficiency sets him apart. That was evident again Friday. Jones and House combined to go 11 for 35 from the field, while Davis was made six of his 10 field goal attempts. On the season he has shot over 65 percent from the field; when teammates get the ball to Davis in the post, good things happen.

At 6’10”, 265 lbs., Davis is no ordinary freshman. He has clearly been the biggest addition to a team relegated to the NIT a season ago. Pairing the talented freshman with a core of talented senior leaders has led to a successful regular season, as well as the potential for a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. Last year the Aggies were heavily reliant upon their perimeter offense. Now, however, when shots aren’t falling for Jones, House, and fellow seniors Alex Caruso and Anthony Collins, Davis has been able to afford a steadying offensive alternative. He made the difference against Florida today, and if the Aggies are to make the sustained March push many believe them capable of, expect Davis to be as prominent a figure as any.

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Texas A&M Looks to History to Take the Next Step

Posted by Nate Kotisso on March 1st, 2016

The year 1893 gives us the first known record of then-Texas A&M College’s Glee Club, originally made up of nine students and faculty from the college. As the club entered the 20th century, membership grew modestly from the original nine to a club of 21. They also began traveling across Texas and the United States trying their luck at singing competitions. (There is no record of success from said competitions.) In 1908, the director of the club left the college and involvement started to fizzle out. Two years later the college decided to hire Frank D. Steger for the task of reorganizing the club “for the development of individual talent, and for furnishing music in Chapel Services, Easter, Commencement, and other similar occasion.” Despite already having a lot on his plate (Steger was also the director of the local YMCA), the college must have been pleased with his direction. Thus, in 1911, A&M hired Steger as its first-ever head basketball coach. In the context of college basketball’s infancy, Steger had a solid career, winning 22 of his 28 games from 1912-15. However, despite that early success, the school we now know as Texas A&M University hasn’t been able to win 20 or more games, go deep in NCAA Tournaments, send players to the NBA or even keep head coaches in College Station at a consistent rate.

Then-head coach Billy Gillispie and point guard Acie Law IV went 27-7 in 2006-07. (Paul Zoeller/Associated Press)

Then-head coach Billy Gillispie and point guard Acie Law IV went 27-7 in 2006-07. (Paul Zoeller/Associated Press)

Picture college hoops during the mid-to-late 20th century. Television was taking the sport to the next level and coaches had became synonymous with their schools — Dean Smith at North Carolina; Bob Knight at Indiana; John Wooden at UCLA; Al McGuire at Marquette. The financial pressures for success were different in those days, and at a football-first school like A&M, competitive basketball was often good enough. Shelby Metcalf was certainly that in College Station, coaching the Aggies to six Southwest Conference (SWC) regular season titles, five NCAA Tournament appearances and two Sweet Sixteens in his 26+ years at the school. Despite his infamous firing midway through the 1989-90 season, Metcalf is the longest tenured coach in the history of SWC basketball. After he was terminated, the program so disastrously spiraled through most of the next 15 years that there was hardly a pulse left. Then Billy Gillispie arrived on the scene.

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Stopping at College Station: The Balance of Texas A&M

Posted by Shane McNichol on February 4th, 2016

So much has been made of the parity in college basketball this season. So-called top teams continue to lose to lesser competition; home courts haven’t been defended well; and prognosticating the future has become an exercise in futility. As we inch closer to March, it’s easy to wonder what sort of teams are capable of surviving this climate. A case can be made for any number of teams that can get hot for a month, riding good shooting to a string of consecutive wins. Oklahoma or Villanova are two such squads, for example, that could ride hot shooters all the way to the Final Four. Or maybe Louisville or West Virginia, teams that rely on pressure defense, can put together enough stops to find their way to Houston. Anything seems possible.

Texas A&M (USA Today Images)

Texas A&M Closed Out Iowa State in Impressive Fashion Last Weekend (USA Today Images)

Either of those avenues to the sport’s final weekend could work out, but the most likely survivors are usually the teams that can employ a variety of ways to win — teams with balance in their rotations and devoid of major weaknesses. There may not be a team that better encapsulates this concept than Texas A&M. The Aggies have been among the most consistent teams in America all season long, losing only three games to good competition along the way (Syracuse; Arizona State; Arkansas). They are 10-3 against the KenPom top 100 and have lost only once since early December. Their success begins with a defense that ranks second nationally, thanks to very good defensive turnover and free throw rates. Few things prove more reliable in March than the ability to generate stops, and four of Texas A&M’s last five opponents have failed to reach 65 points — most notably an Iowa State team that plays fast (37th nationally) and ranks seventh in the country in offensive efficiency.

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Freeze Frame: Scouting Texas A&M’s Defense

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 22nd, 2016

A major reason Texas A&M is 6-0 in league play is its team defense. In last week’s SI power rankings, Luke Winn wrote about the best overall defenses with high defensive turnover rates. Texas A&M just missed the cut, but moved past Wichita State and Arkansas Little Rock this week by forcing a turnover on 39.8 percent of LSU’s possessions on Tuesday night. According to Winn’s fancy charts, that gives A&M the 11th best defensive turnover percentage by a top 20 overall defense in the last eleven years, trumped this season only by West Virginia. Given the historical significance of those numbers and its consistency all year, it might be time to start giving Texas A&M credit for one of the most efficient and high-pressure defenses in the nation outside of Morgantown.

Alex Caruso is the SEC's leader in steals at 2.3 steals per game (d1nation.com).

Alex Caruso is the SEC’s leader in steals at 2.3 steals per game (d1nation.com).

The Aggies boast the SEC’s best adjusted defensive efficiency rating at 91.5 (9th in the nation) and defensive turnover percentage at 24.0 percent (5th in the nation), according to KenPom. In an effort to determine how the Aggies forced all of those turnovers, I charted all of the 19 turnovers A&M’s defense came up with against LSU on Tuesday night. It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that senior guard Alex Caruso was involved in more than his fair share of the Tigers’ giveaways.

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Alex Caruso’s Transformation Fueling Texas A&M’s Charge

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 14th, 2016

Alex Caruso is an accomplished player. The senior guard is so accomplished that it’s not a stretch to say he’s had one of the most impressive careers in Texas A&M basketball history. The active SEC leader in assists and steals has led the conference in both categories each of the past two seasons. That’s one heck of a career. But as this season tipped off, Caruso found himself playing alongside a new teammate who had dished more assists in his college career than even he had.

Alex Caruso's touches are down but he's remained productive (texags.com).

Alex Caruso’s touches are down but he’s remained productive (texags.com).

South Florida transfer Anthony Collins joined the program and brought his 569 career assists and a wealth of experience along with him. He became A&M’s primary point guard from day one and Caruso’s touches naturally dropped — as the table below shows, he’s using the fewest number of possessions and shots of his entire career. A new, reduced role would frustrate a lot of established players, but the senior has instead transformed himself into the grease on the wheels of a team charging toward March.

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SEC Quotable and Notable, Volume III: Simmons’ Big Night

Posted by Greg Mitchell on December 3rd, 2015

This edition of SEC Quotable and Notable reviews Ben Simmons’ Herculean effort, a midweek offensive explosion, an assists record in College Station, Georgia’s razor-thin roster, and some interesting warm-ups in Columbia. Let’s jump into it.

Ben Simmons is living up to the hype. LSU is not. (philly.com).

Ben Simmons is living up to the hype. LSU is not. (philly.com).

“I felt like they couldn’t stop me in the post.” — Ben Simmons on his 43-point outing against North Florida, the first time a Tiger has scored 40 or more points in a game since Tasmin Mitchell in 2009 (courtesy @codyworsham). Yes, the Tigers scored well over 100 points (119) and Simmons may have put together a statistical night that won’t be topped for the rest of the year (43 points, 14 rebounds, seven assists, five steals). By anyone. But this doesn’t remove the serious concerns surrounding this team. The Ospreys, led by Beau Beech (31 points, 8-of-12 from three), got off to a torrid start from deep and kept up the offensive onslaught for most of the game (finishing 19-of-33 from three-point land). LSU had to know that bombing from deep would be the nation-leading three-point team’s modus operandi, but the Tigers still struggled to close out and cover all the open looks. The defensive performance was reminiscent of the kind of effort that had doomed LSU against the College of Charleston. The offensive side of the equation, however, was considerably more encouraging. Simmons played off the ball while Tim Quarterman and Josh Gray typically ran the point. This allowed the Tigers to get Simmons the ball closer to the basket so that he could operate in the post, a strategy that clearly worked out very well. For a team that often relies upon its transition game to provide offense, a sustainable half-court approach involving Simmons in the post might be something to carry forward from this game.

Notable: Hanging those 100s. Several SEC offenses have had a banner scoring week already, as LSU (119 against North Florida), Arkansas (117 against Northwestern State) and Vanderbilt (102 against Detroit) all topped the century mark in midweek games. Arkansas and LSU also put together ratings above 100.0 in KenPom’s offensive efficiency metrics. All of this great offense came against inferior competition, of course, but that doesn’t prohibit those performances from creating some momentum.

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Danuel House’s Offensive Explosion Carrying Texas A&M Toward NCAA Bid

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 24th, 2015

The fourth year appears to be the charm for Billy Kennedy at Texas A&M. At 18-7 overall and 9-4 in the SEC heading into tonight’s game at Arkansas, it looks like the Aggies are headed to their first NCAA Tournament in Kennedy’s tenure. A three-game winning streak that includes wins over bubble-buddy LSU, Florida and South Carolina has Texas A&M trending in the right direction. But being in this position wasn’t a certainty for the Aggies — the media in the preseason pegged them to finish ninth in the conference, and the only A&M player to appear on an all-SEC preseason list was Alex Caruso, who landed on the coaches’ expansive second team.

Danuel House has emerged as one of the most dangerous scorers in the SEC (247sports.com).

Danuel House has emerged as one of the most dangerous scorers in the SEC. (247sports.com)

That less-than-optimistic outlook reflected a team that had been rising at a slow rate under Kennedy. His first team was 4-14 in the Big 12; improved to 7-11 in the Aggies’ first year in the SEC; and then a tick up again to 8-10 in conference play last year. Texas A&M’s future outlook certainly got a lot brighter when Kennedy locked up a star-studded class of 2015, but what has propelled the Aggies up the standings in the current season has been the star they already had waiting in the wings: Danuel House. The former five-star recruit transferred to Texas A&M from Houston after James Dickey’s firing last spring, and since his clearance to play in November, no SEC transfer has arguably had a bigger impact on his new team. Going forward, no single player in the league may have as big a say in how his team fares this March. Read the rest of this entry »

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Freeze Frame: Texas A&M’s Inbounds Plays

Posted by Brian Joyce on February 17th, 2015

A glance at the box score from Texas A&M’s one-point victory over Florida on Saturday night reveals that it was Aggies forward Kourtney Roberson as the player with the most impressive stat line. The big guy certainly put in an impressive showing, finishing with 20 points and six rebounds in leading his team to the key win, but the game’s MVP did not even play a minute. Rather, the clear star of the evening was Texas A&M head coach Billy Kennedy, who used his whiteboard to draw up a series of highly successful out-of-bounds plays that allowed his team to secure the victory. In this edition of Freeze Frame, we will examine several inbounds plays to understand how Texas A&M got its open looks. Kennedy’s play-calling resulted in a number of valuable easy buckets against the Gators, especially in the game’s final five minutes. For a team that needs every win it can get heading toward Selection Sunday, those instructions gave the Aggies just enough offense to get past Florida and move to 8-4 in conference play.

Billy Kennedy has his Aggies 17-7 (8-4) and poised to make an NCAA Tournament bid  (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner).

Billy Kennedy has his Aggies 17-7 (8-4 SEC) and poised to make the NCAA Tournament (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner).

The play shown below from the first half gives us a gauge for how Kennedy has his players lining up on out-of-bounds plays from the baseline. Alex Caruso typically inbounds the ball whenever he is in the game, as the rest of the Aggies line up in a 2-1-1 formation. In this play, Danuel House (#23) moves to set a screen for Roberson at the foul line (#14).

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The SEC Week That Was: Volume VI

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 10th, 2015

For the next six weeks or so, we’ll run down a few weekly superlatives from league play, take a look at how conference teams look in the eyes of the NCAA Tournament selection committee, and anything else that merits discussion. Here is Volume VI, including games from February 3 to February 8.

Team of the Week. This week provides several compelling candidates. Kentucky could win this award every time and this week was no exception as the Wildcats handled a quality Georgia team on Tuesday and survived a difficult environment in Gainesville afterward. Arkansas got healthy with two comfortable wins after seemingly scratching by for weeks. Even Vanderbilt tossed its name into the conversation by shaking off a seven-game losing streak and going 2-0. Despite all these worthy choices, Ole Miss gets this week’s nod after notching a big win against red-hot Texas A&M and then following it up with a road win at Auburn (which itself was coming off an impressive win at LSU). The Rebels last week showed that they can win games in different ways. They needed a solid defensive performance to get past the surging Aggies and were especially effective using ball pressure to frustrate Alex Caruso. But it was the Ole Miss offense that showed up against Auburn (57.8% FG, 40.0% 3FG) to negate a great scoring night from Bruce Pearl’s backcourt. The Rebels may not necessarily be peaking right now, but they seem to be rounding into form. Anthony Perez has emerged as a solid wing/post hybrid who can stretch the floor. Dwight Coleby has developed into a reliable rebounding and shot-blocking presence. Those two, along with Sebastian Saiz and MJ Rhett, give Andy Kennedy a solid frontcourt rotation to support his veteran backcourt.

Karl-Anthony Towns had big games in Kentucky's wins over Georgia and Florida (chron.com).

Karl-Anthony Towns had big games in Kentucky’s wins over Georgia and Florida (chron.com).

Player of the Week. You can only seek alternatives to Kentucky in this league to a certain point. Karl-Anthony Towns gets the nod after leading the Wildcats to two hard-fought victories over Georgia (KenPom #33) and Florida (#35) last week. The Bulldogs surprisingly outrebounded Kentucky in their game, but Towns stepped up to grab more than half (13) of the Wildcats’ 24 total rebounds. Against the Gators, Towns was only the Wildcat who was able to generate consistent offense at the game’s start, which quietly helped Kentucky stay within contact of the fired-up Gators. Towns’ great week (34 points, 21 rebounds, four blocks, six assists, 10-of-10 FT) is an encouraging sign for John Calipari. The freshman recently went through a four-game stretch where he didn’t score more than seven points or grab more than four rebounds in any single game. Whether it was due to foul trouble, growing pains or some combination of both, it bodes well for the Wildcats that he has now strung together a few great outings. See how Kentucky focused on getting him the ball in this week’s edition of Freeze Frame.  Antoine Mason also deserves mention here for cracking 20 points against LSU (24 points) and then following it up with 23 against Ole Miss.

Tournament Chatter. Last week’s eight-team pipe dream proved to be too much to handle, and it will be difficult for either of Tennessee or Florida to make a case for inclusion again. But we’ll always have last week. Still, Joe Lunardi’s latest Bracketology contains six SEC teams in the fold, which would double what the league received in the last two seasons. Everyone will certainly take that if it comes to pass.

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