SEC M5: Christmas Eve Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on December 24th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. Kentucky’s clash with Louisville this Saturday might be the most anticipated game until the NCAA Tournament, and according to ESPN’s Seth Greenberg, it also might be the last realistic chance for the Wildcats to lose a game before the Big Dance. Kansas, North Carolina, Texas and even UCLA (before the game, of course) looked like potential challenges, and Kentucky easily got by them all, so Greenberg has a point here. Nonetheless, I’m betting against the undefeated season. As great as it has been, this Kentucky team has not been immune to slow starts, as exhibited in the Boston University and Columbia games. And although it’s a cliche, the Wildcats will almost certainly get everyone’s best effort in the SEC — a slow start in Tuscaloosa or Athens or Columbia could prove fatal. But the fact that we are using a magnifying glass to find one potential loss among 18 chances tells you just how well the Wildcats have played this season.
  2. Slowly but surely, Florida is working its way back towards national relevance this season. The Gators beat Wake Forest over the weekend, and while that isn’t particularly noteworthy, their roster seems to finally be taking shape. Alex Murphy made his Florida debut with an impactful nine points, four rebounds and two blocks in 29 minutes. “I thought he played great,” Billy Donovan told the Gainesville Sun. “The best part about coaching him is he has got a really good feel and he can play multiple, different positions.” Versatility in the frontcourt might turn out to be one of the Gators’ calling cards this year. Murphy joins Dorian Finney-Smith and Devin Robinson as athletic, mobile bigs who can play on the perimeter. Depth down low is also something Donovan has to work with as Jacob Kurtz (4.5 points per game; 4.9 rebounds per game) played well while being forced into action, and Jon Horford and Chris Walker have seen significant minutes this year.
  3. Johnny Jones is being careful with his LSU Tigers, and it may pay off in the long run. Josh Gray’s injured ankle kept him out of the team’s recent win over College of Charleston, but according to Jones, he could have played if it had been a conference game. Jarell Martin was also held out of the starting lineup and played eight minutes under his season average (34.0) because he missed part of Monday’s practice due to a minor car wreck. Amid all of this, Jones used the opportunity to give minutes to several players who have sparsely played this season, such as Jalyn Patterson, Elbert Robinson and Aaron Epps. Patterson played eight minutes over his average, and Robinson played 14 minutes after not appearing in the team’s previous two games. LSU desperately needs more quality depth, and it’s nice for Jones that he can work players into the rotation while still winning games comfortably.
  4. Georgia is forging its way down a novel path. Instead of letting disappointing early losses to Georgia Tech and Minnesota compound themselves in a negative way, the Bulldogs have ripped off consecutive wins against Colorado and Seton Hall in the last week. In fact, the win against the Pirates is arguably the best non-Kentucky win of any SEC team thus far. If nothing else, it’s up there with LSU’s win at West Virginia, Arkansas’ win at SMU and Tennessee’s win over Butler. The Bulldogs look viable going forward and are more than a two-man show that depends entirely on Charles Mann and Kenny Gaines. Marcus Thornton has been a low post scoring threat (14.7 points per game), and J.J. Frazier has gone from little-used freshman to a dependable lead guard (8.7 points per game; 3.4 assists per game; 4.2 rebounds per game). Frazier has also been a consistent threat from three-point range (41.4%) which was a question mark for Georgia heading into the season.
  5. Several of SB Nation’s SEC basketball writers got together for a roundtable on the state of the league. One of the questions they discussed was which team has surprised the most, and answers included Vanderbilt (good), LSU (good) and Missouri (bad). You can’t disagree with any of those three, and two weeks ago I would’ve personally submitted Auburn as a surprise on the negative end of the spectrum. The Tigers were never going to compete for an NCAA Tournament spot this year, but with their experience (KT Harrell, Antoine Mason) and Bruce Pearl on the sidelines, losses to Clemson and Coastal Carolina were unexpected. Better late than never, but the Tigers turned it around in a big way with a double-overtime win over Xavier last weekend, showing the type of team it can become. Part of what has helped is the emergence of Trayvon Reed, who in his just his fourth college game helped cover the Tigers’ hole in the post with five rebounds and five blocks in 25 minutes. Auburn did, however, nearly undo that good will with a loss to a two-win Texas Southern team last night, but Pearl’s team was able to survive that one by the slimmest of margins.
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SEC M5: 12.22.14 Edition

Posted by David Changas on December 22nd, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. When a team starts a game on a 24-0 run and leads 41-7 at the half, people will take notice. When that team is a Kentucky squad that had people already wondering if anyone could beat it, even prior to its dominant performance against UCLA, the college basketball world’s collective head will be left spinning. We could provide links to an endless number of columns that offer takes on just how good this Kentucky team can be, but this piece from FoxSports.com‘s Reid Forgrave will suffice. As he points out, if the Wildcats can survive next Saturday’s test at Louisville, it really is reasonable to think that this team could be the first to go undefeated in 39 years. At this point, the biggest problem John Calipari may have the rest of the way might be keeping his team focused and blocking out any distraction from its pursuit of perfection.
  2. As if Tennessee wasn’t thin enough on the front line, it was confirmed Friday that freshman forward Jabari McGhee will miss six to eight weeks after having surgery to repair the fifth metatarsal in his right foot. McGhee suffered the injury in Wednesday’s loss to North Carolina State. McGhee averaged 4.4 points and 3.8 rebounds per game in the team’s first eight games, and while those numbers may not seem like much, with the recent departure of center Dom Woodson, McGhee’s injury leaves only fellow freshmen Willie Carmichael and Tariq Owens as true post players. While Carmichael has been more productive, and played 27 minutes in Friday’s win over Tennessee Tech, both are raw. The team will now have to rely even more on do-it-all senior Josh Richardson as they draw near to SEC play.
  3. The end of the first semester means that players who transferred at mid-season last year are now eligible. At FloridaAlex Murphy made his debut against Wake Forest Saturday, and it was a successful one. The former Duke Blue Devil scored nine points in 29 minutes, and it is clear that Billy Donovan was pleased with his performance, saying that Murphy played “great.” Donovan is also pleased that Murphy can play so many positions. Given the team’s struggles thus far this season, as well as its lack of frontcourt depth, the addition of Murphy could help the Gators in their quest to return to the NCAA Tournament.
  4. Auburn got its first big win of the Bruce Pearl era Saturday when it toppled Xavier 89-88 in a double overtime thriller. The win moved the Tigers to 5-5. In the bigger picture, however, it was the SEC’s first win over the Musketeers, which had beaten Alabama at home and Missouri on the road. After the game, Pearl talked about how the win not only was big for his team and the goals it has set, but also for the conference’s profile. While Pearl should be applauded for being such a cheerleader for the league he coached in previously, and followed closely while working as an analyst at ESPN, it’s hard to imagine this game mattering much come Selection Sunday. Certainly, the win will help the league’s RPI, etc. to a small degree, but beyond that, it appears to be little more than a nice boost for his team and program.
  5. At the start of the season, we speculated that Rick Ray potentially could be on thin ice if things didn’t start to get better at Mississippi State, and, well, things clearly are not getting better at Mississippi State. On the heels of a home loss to Arkansas State on Thursday, the Bulldogs fell to South Carolina-Upstate in Jackson on Saturday. The loss was their fifth in a row, and though lowly McNeese State and Jacksonville come calling before year’s end, things do not appear to be getting better for Ray, whose team dropped to 5-5. While this is only Ray’s third year at the school, Mississippi State won a total of seven conference games in his first two seasons, and it doesn’t appear the team is well-positioned to add much to that total. Though he still has time to turn things around with this club, another woeful performance in the league may mean lights out for Ray.
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SEC Season Preview: Florida Gators

Posted by David Changas on November 14th, 2014

The SEC microsite will preview each of the league teams over the next week, concluding today with Florida.

Florida Gators

Strengths. Florida lost four starters from last season’s Final Four team that ran through the SEC with 21 consecutive wins. Still, as long as Billy Donovan is roaming the sidelines in Gainesville, his teams will compete at a high level. And even though the Gators watched as seniors Scottie Wilbekin, Patric Young, Casey Prather and Will Yeguete departed the premises, there is anything but a dearth of talent on the roster. The Gators are led by their only returning starter, guard Michael Frazier II, the team’s third-leading scorer who made 44.7 percent of his three-point attempts last season. They also return Dorian Finney-Smith and Kasey Hill, who were both solid contributors. But the biggest X-factor for Donovan’s team is forward Chris Walker, the enigmatic sophomore who missed 19 games last season with NCAA issues. Walker’s return was a boon for Florida, but he will need to make a massive leap if the Gators look to make another deep run in March.

Billy Donovan will need to be patient with his young team. (secsportsinsider.com)

Billy Donovan will need to be patient with his young team. (secsportsinsider.com)

Weaknesses. As with many college basketball teams in this era, there are a lot of unknowns with this group. The Gators’ roster is heavy on transfers, and thus there is very little returning experience. Alex Murphy is a Duke castoff, and Jon Horford, whose brother Al starred on the back-to-back national championship teams of the last decade, should start, along with former Rutgers transfer Eli Carter, who saw limited action early last season. If Walker does not develop as quickly as hoped, and the defense, which is a big preseason concern for Donovan, does not improve as the season progresses, the Gators could be in for a bit of a rough ride. And with the strong leadership of those seniors all graduated, someone else will need to step up and take charge on the floor.

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One on One: An SEC Preview With Chris Dortch

Posted by Walker Carey on November 4th, 2014

RTC interviews one on one

Rush the Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you throughout the preseason with previews of each of the major conferences.

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 with the SEC, RTC correspondent Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) recently had the pleasure of speaking with an SEC expert in Blue Ribbon College Yearbook editor Chris Dortch (@cdortch).

Rush the Court: How good is Kentucky and what makes it that good? The Wildcats begin the season as the overwhelming favorite to win the SEC title. Do you expect them to win both the conference title and the national title?

Chris Dortch: It would not surprise me at all if Kentucky wins both the SEC title and the national title. I think the team is so good that you can rank both its first five and its second five in the Top 25. The team has nine McDonald’s All-Americans and more talent than I can remember any team in the SEC possibly ever having. Having said that, the Wildcats do have a weakness or two. They have to prove that, other than Aaron Harrison, they have someone who can make outside shots. If they cannot do that, teams are going to try to pack it in the lane and negate their size and dribble-drive. I have said this a few times on some radio shows: If Kentucky shoots 35 percent or better from the three-point line for the season, I think the Wildcats will be undefeated going into the Final Four.

It's Gators and Wildcats at the Top of the SEC, Again

It’s Gators and Wildcats at the Top of the SEC, Again

RTC: Florida’s personnel losses are notable with Scottie Wilbekin, Patric Young, Casey Prather and Will Yeguete all moving on from Gainesville. However, Billy Donovan’s squad seems primed to have another impressive season. What is it about this year’s Gators that will make them a force to be reckoned with in the conference?

Dortch: I think Florida has some experienced personnel and some young guys who I believe are ready to step. Someone like Kasey Hill, who understudied Wilbekin last season, seems poised to take over the point guard position. I think Michael Frazier is one of the best shooters in the country and he is ready to take the next step in his development. Dorian Finney-Smith, who was eligible last season after transferring from Virginia Tech, is so versatile that he was used at the point a few times. He is going to be a guy who is going to be asked to do a lot more than he was last year. There are also a couple transfers who will help. Jon Horford comes over as a fifth-year eligible from Michigan and Alex Murphy comes over from Duke. I think those two will help fortify the team’s front line.

RTC: Arkansas is still waiting on its breakthrough campaign in the Mike Anderson era. With a talented team featuring star big man Bobby Portis, will this finally be the season that the Razorbacks find a way back to the NCAA Tournament?

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SEC M5: 10.20.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on October 20th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. The ability to recruit was (and still is) a big question mark surrounding first year Missouri head coach Kim Anderson. To address this expected deficiency, Anderson added Huntington Prep coach Rob Fulford to his staff, and that decision has already paid immediate dividends in landing four-star wing Montaque (“Teki”) Gill-Caesar from – you guessed it – Huntington Prep. Fulford told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the time Gill-Caesar spent playing with Andrew Wiggins at Huntington was invaluable. “Teki would never back down from Andrew. Now, there were points in practice where Teki would get the better of Andrew until Andrew decided, ‘OK, enough’s enough.’” The Tigers will need that kind of confidence from Gill-Caesar as they replace Jordan Clarkson, Jabari Brown and Earnest Ross, three players that accounted for virtually all of the team’s scoring last season.
  2. Luke Winn and Dan Hanner continue their intricate, raw number modeling at SI.com, this time predicting which transfers will have the biggest impact at their new schools. Texas A&M’s Jalen Jones (SMU) lands the second spot on the list as the model predicts he will score 13.9 points per game for the Aggies. This infusion of scoring talent is vital for Billy Kennedy since his team was at times difficult to watch offensively last season. The addition of Jones and a healthy Davonte Fitzgerald should give Texas A&M the offensive boost that it needs. Florida’s Alex Murphy (#70) and Jon Horford (#90) check in pretty far down the list, but each will be heavily relied upon in the frontcourt while Chris Walker serves his three-game suspension, and they could shoot up this list if Walker’s off-court problems persist into the season.
  3. LSU junior guard Joseph Gray checked in at #12 on the SI.com list, and his journey to Baton Rouge has been tumultuous and at times heart-breaking. The Louisiana native, whose mother passed away while he was in high school, was spurned as a prep recruit by former Tigers coach Trent Johnson and ended up Texas Tech. He left the Red Raiders after one productive season (9.3 PPG, 3.2 APG) for Odessa Community College, where he averaged 34.7 PPG in his single season of JuCo action. New LSU head coach Johnny Jones gave Gray the chance to return home and he has a massive opportunity in front of him. He should be in position to earn a lion’s share of the minutes at point guard with Andre Stringer (graduation) and Anthony Hickey (transfer to Oklahoma State) now out of the picture. And despite all the movement in his young career, Gray has two years of eligibility to establish himself as a star at LSU.
  4. Unfortunately for Alabama, one of its transfers won’t see the court at all this season. Christophe Varidel, a graduate transfer from Chaminade, will miss the season because of a pre-existing knee injury, thus ending his collegiate career. Varidel was a part of Florida Gulf Coast’s Sweet Sixteen team in 2012-13, but transferred to the Islands when Andy Enfield left for USC after that season. First and foremost, it’s a sad situation for Varidel, as he will miss out on his only chance to play basketball in a power conference. It’s also an early blow for Anthony Grant since Varidel, a career 38.5 percent three-point shooter, would have played a part in trying to replace the scoring production that left with Trevor Releford.
  5. Frank Martin is angry — this time about criticism leveled at the lack of fan support for basketball at South Carolina. “It’s hard to tell me people don’t care, and yet you’re in the top 40 in the country in total attendance, you’re fifth in the SEC, and there’s an opinion that people don’t care,” Martin told the Charleston Post and Courier. The article points out that South Carolina was actually 41st in attendance with an average of 10,074 fans per game last season, but Martin’s argument is still well-taken. It’s rather impressive that a team without much success in recent history can post that kind of attendance figure, because winning leads to crowds no matter the sport and no matter the level. If Martin can turn the Gamecocks around, Colonial Life Arena and its 18,000-seat capacity will become a daunting challenge. For his part, Martin is about determined as a person can be to reach that point. “I’m not going to stop until the good Lord either takes me, or we put 18 [thousand] in that building when we play,” he said. Touche.
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Morning Five: 12.19.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on December 19th, 2013

morning5

  1. Late on Tuesday night a video of Southern Illinois coach Barry Hinson ranting went viral. By now, most of you have seen it. If you haven’t, we posted the clip on our Tumblr account. Outside of the amusing aspect of seeing Hinson rant, the one thing that caught our attention was the universal applause that Hinson has received. When we say universal we mean we have not seen a single media member criticize Hinson for his comments. We are not contrarian enough to go against that tide, but we do find it curious how coaches are able to go to the media and criticize the effort of a player (or group of players). However, when those same players exceed expectations the coach is praised for getting the best out of those players. If being able to motivate your players is a trait that generates applause, then failing to do so should also lead to an equal degree of criticism. Now, this is hardly the first time that a coach has gone off on his players (Pat Knight at Lamar comes to mind) so the long-term narrative around Hinson’s rant will probably be determined by how his players react to it.
  2. North Carolina has been one of the most confusing teams in the country so far this season. They have without question the three best wins in the country so far knocking off preseason #1-2-3 (Michigan State-Kentucky-Louisville), but also have a pair of home losses coming against Belmont and UAB. The most common excuse for the Tar Heels has been that they have had to adjust to playing without P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald. Yesterday one of those problems was solved when the NCAA cleared McDonald to play. That announcement by itself is interesting on some level, but the most interesting aspect of the release was that UNC only submitted their request on December 11 and it is the only request from the school meaning that the school has not even approached the NCAA about a ruling on Hairston. Late last night the school said it hoped to have the Hairston issue resolved by the end of the week, but based on what we have heard we would not expect Hairston to return this season. It is also worth pointing out how long it took UNC to submit since many individuals–fans, media, and coaches–have been critical of how long the NCAA took to reach a decision when in fact it was UNC that took a long time.
  3. We saw it coming as soon as Alex Murphy announced that he was transferring from Duke and yesterday Murphy confirmed that he would be transferring to Florida. Murphy, who entered Duke a year early at the behest of Mike Krzyzewski, never became a regular in the Blue Devil rotation and although the Gators aren’t that far behind Blue Devils in terms of talent the change of venue and system might give Murphy a better chance to play. One of the more interesting aspects of Murphy’s transfer is that he was essentially pushed by the Duke coaching staff to leave high school a year early to help bolster the team’s depth, but it may have hurt his development as a player.
  4. While many of the early season made-for-TV events have fallen apart as the gimmicks that they are one event that appears to have staying power is the Armed Forces Classic, which is played at US military bases across the country. Yesterday, ESPN announced some of its schedule for the games for the next three years. The 2014 game will be played in Puerto Rico and will feature a father-son match-up when Rick Pitino (Louisville) will face-off against Richard Pitino (Minnesota). The 2015 event is completely up in the air both in terms of location and teams, but the 2016 event promises to be a particularly special one as it will be held in Pearl Harbor less than a month away from the 75th anniversary of the attack that propelled the US into World War II.
  5. It might be a little late for Christmas this year, but if you have at least $100,000 lying around and a Duke fan that you want to impress then Christian Laettner‘s jersey from the 1992 East Regional Final against Kentucky might be the perfect gift. According to Leland.com, they are auctioning off Laettner’s jersey from that game, which they claim to have authenticated through a variety of methods. The owner of the jersey reportedly had a relationship with Laettner and was given the jersey at the end of the 1991-92 season. Laettner has not commented on the auction yet, but given the reputation of the auction house we won’t question its authenticity. We will be interested to see just how high the final sale price will be as we can imagine there are plenty of Duke graduates who would love to hang that somewhere in their office.
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ACC M5: 12.06.13 Edition

Posted by mpatton on December 6th, 2013

morning5_ACC

  1. Duke Chronicle: Unsurprising news out of Durham as Duke’s student newspaper was the first to report that redshirt sophomore Alex Murphy will be transferring at the end of the semester. Despite starting his first two exhibition games last season, Murphy never found a consistent spot in the Duke rotation. Rumors are that he may head to Florida (his brother’s alma mater) or back to New England (he’s from Rhode Island). Murphy’s departure might open a few more minutes for Semi Ojeleye, though we are talking about very limited minutes.
  2. The Sporting News: Speaking of Duke, I don’t understand Mike DeCourcy’s grade for the Blue Devils after the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. He docks the Blue Devils half a letter grade because of Rasheed Sulaimon‘s DNP. Call me crazy, but if we are evaluating a team’s performance–which was by far its best of the season–maybe there’s good reason for the DNP. I definitely agree Duke with Sulaimon has the potential to be more dangerous than without him, but that doesn’t take away from Duke’s dominant performance against Michigan. Speaking of bones to pick, Boston College isn’t good, but it’s also not anywhere close to winning the “worst major team” title–or even the “worst ACC team” title (assuming Miami and Virginia Tech are still in the league).
  3. Alaska Dispatch: Your somewhat regular reminder that Devon Bookert is from Alaska (and the first non-Duke Alaskan ACC star). Bookert is an efficient shooter (and was incredibly so last season)–largely thanks to his shot selection–but sounds like he wants to continue making strides forward. But the increased offensive load has hurt his overall efficiency this season, as his three-point field goal percentage and assist rate have fallen significantly, while his turnover percentage remains high. All that said Bookert is one of the best players people tend to overlook in the ACC, and his play has a lot to do with Florida State’s early season success.
  4. BC Interruption: And everyone off the Steve Donahue bandwagon. While I stood up for Boston College’s pride earlier, this team is still a big disappointment. It’s offense improved compared to last season, but it’s defense is truly abysmal. Combine the slow start with an underwhelming early signing period and what do you get? Hot seat talk! I’m all for this proposal, which calls for Boston College to hire alumnus Bruce Pearl to turn the program around despite his show-cause, which remains in effect through next August. Though, I think there’s little downside giving Donahue one more year (so you can get the un-sanctioned Pearl immediately).
  5. Chronicle of Higher Education: Looking for more insight into the initial backlash to Maryland‘s move to the Big Ten? Freedom of Information Act requests have you covered! It’s interesting how when the initial rumors leaked out, Maryland fans were up in arms, as it feels mostly the opposite at this point (the PR firm may have paid off). It’s also amusing that John Swofford fired off a quick “we need to talk” email from his iPhone. Together with this article from the Baltimore Sun, we now have a good feel for Maryland’s actions and tone leading up to and immediately following its announcement to leave for the Big Ten.
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Morning Five: 12.06.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on December 6th, 2013

morning5

  1. We have not heard of many players deciding to transfer so far this season, but it is getting to the point in the season/academic year where we would expect to start hearing a lot more about that. Alex Murphy is the first player from a major program this season to announce his intention to transfer as he plans to leave Duke at the end of the semester. Murphy, a redshirt sophomore, reclassified from the class of 2012 in his final year of high school and entered college in the class of 2011 so even though he is a redshirt sophomore he is only 20 years old. We would expect that Murphy, who averaged just 2.1 points in 6.3 minutes per game as a freshman, will have plenty of suitors although Florida (where his brother Erik played) or Providence/Rhode Island (his home state) would be the favorites.
  2. It seems like this ridiculous conference realignment period will never end. After seeing what seems like nearly every school change conferences we are starting to see some schools go back to their former conference. Yesterday, Oral Roberts that it will be rejoining the Summit League after leaving it for the Southland Conference in 2012. The Oral Roberts administration cited the Southland’s more recent expansion as being opposed to the school’s goals of reducing travel costs and strengthening rivalries. Although we hesitate to praise anybody for changing conferences (admitting that we understand the economic realities of college sports) it is nice to see Oral Roberts do this if their stated reasons were the actual reasons for their move.
  3. Apparently George Mason officials take a different view of stepping on an opposing player’s chest than college basketball historians. Yesterday, the school suspended forward Anali Okoloji indefinitely after he was called for stepping on South Florida’s Anthony Collins during their game on Wednesday night. The move should not effect the team too much as he was only averaging 2.4 points and 1.6 rebounds per game this season although their next two games are against Oklahoma and Iowa State so they could probably use all the help that they can get. For his part, it appears that Okoloji is taking the right approach publicly by agreeing with Paul Hewitt’s decision.
  4. With all of the focus on Duke’s current freshman star Jabari Parker, many media members have been comparing him to former Duke star Grant Hill. While Hill’s NBA career was derailed by a series of unfortunate injuries it appears that he is doing well based on his interview with Ryan Fagan that touches on a variety of things including his thoughts on his alma mater, some of the current stars, and his philanthropic work. It also appears that Hill has been active working on a financial career as he has an interesting post-basketball career path in front of him.
  5. Finally, it is hard to believe that Dick Vitale has been working at ESPN for 34 years as a college basketball analyst. Yesterday was the 34th anniversary of his first ESPN telecast and the people at ESPN dug into their vault to pull out his first telecast. While we understand that he has become a polarizing figure to some because of his loud personality and his perceived favoritism of some teams it is hard to argue with his impact on the game and how he has helped popularize it with a national audience. For those of you who may not be familiar with his older work the video shows a little bit about how he has changed (hair isn’t that different though) although we did find Joe Boyle’s facial expressions when Vitale started to talk amusing.
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ACC M5: 01.10.13 Edition

Posted by mpatton on January 10th, 2013

morning5_ACC

  1. CBSSports.com:The biggest news of yesterday was that Ryan Kelly‘s foot injury is significant. It’s the same foot he hurt at the end of last season, requiring surgery and a lengthy layoff. Sources told Jeff Goodman that Duke hopes Kelly will be back in two weeks, but it’s more realistic that it will be closer to four weeks. While the exact impact on Duke and its rotation remains to be seen, it will be significant. Last year with Kelly out, the mighty Blue Devils offense sputtered to a stop (it doesn’t help that Kelly was playing his best ball of the season before re-injuring the foot). The only real silver lining is that the young guys on the team (namely Alex Murphy and Amile Jefferson) should see a few more minutes.
  2. The Sporting News: As the saying goes, “hindsight is always 20/20.” Unfortunately, Ryan Fagan didn’t have hindsight when he wrote this article. Fagan acknowledged that it was possible the Cavaliers would lose to Wake Forest Wednesday night. Even if North Carolina is down, there’s often a pretty big emotional crash after beating Duke or UNC (see: Virginia Tech in 2010-11). Also, Virginia is going to lose some head-scratchers when the shots aren’t falling just because fewer possessions make each brick more important than in a faster-paced game.
  3. Baltimore Sun: Mark Turgeon is currently using two point guards, and it’s working out pretty well (the Terps’ home loss to Florida State notwithstanding). Pe’Shon Howard distributes, Seth Allen scores. Allen is clearly the point guard of the future, but his forced three in the waning seconds against Florida State show he’s still got a ways to go. In the meantime, Turgeon can rely mostly on Howard as Allen matures. My guess is Turgeon would love some of Allen’s aggressive nature to rub off on Howard too.
  4. Duke Basketball Report: Barry Jacobs took a look at the longest winning streaks (against a single conference opponent) of the ACC in light of Duke beating Wake Forest for the sixth straight time last week. The longest streak ever was Duke over Virginia, which Duke won 16 straight times following the beatdown that the Cavaliers and Ralph Sampson gave the Blue Devils in the 1983 ACC Tournament. But North Carolina is knocking on the Blue Devils’ door, as the Tar Heels currently hold a 10-win streak over Miami and a 13-game win streak over NC State (both of which, it says here, will likely come to an end this season).
  5. NC State Technician: Speaking of NC State, the student newspaper at the school put together midseason grades for the Wolfpack. Rightfully, Andrew Scheutt gives major props to Richard Howell, who hasn’t necessarily been NC State’s most valuable player, but he’s improved dramatically even since his huge leap in production last season. He’s shooting outrageously well, rebounding even better, and he’s quit fouling (his Achilles’ heel last season).
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Ryan Kelly’s Foot is the Most Important Foot in the ACC

Posted by KCarpenter on January 9th, 2013

Ryan Kelly injured his right foot in Duke’s easy win last night over Clemson and didn’t play at all during the second half. Mike Krzyzewski noted that Kelly would not undergo x-rays or any other scan until today. So here are the bald facts: Ryan Kelly hurt his foot and we have no idea how badly it is injured.  He’s hurt this foot before. Right now, anything beyond this is just in the realm of speculation. Kelly could very well be perfectly fine at the moment of this publication. However, if the injury is serious and Kelly misses significant playing time, this could also be a serious blow — a season-changing one — to the top-ranked Blue Devils.

Kelly's Possible Absence Really Hurts Duke's Depth (credit: fayobserver.com)

Kelly’s Possible Absence Really Hurts Duke’s Depth (credit: fayobserver.com)

During his tenure at Duke, Kelly’s ability to play stretch power forward has been a difficult match-up for just about any team in college basketball. This year, the 6’11” Kelly has made over half of the nearly 50 three-pointers that he has taken. He leads his team in offensive efficiency, rarely turns the ball over, and is an excellent passer for his size. He’s a good (though not great) rebounder, and his ability to get to the foul line on a regular basis and shoot a high percentage from there has given his already versatile offensive game another deadly dimension.  While early in his career Kelly was often criticized for poor defense, the vastly improved senior has helped lead the team to a top-three mark this season in defensive efficiency. The long story made very short is this: Kelly is really good.

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Night Line: Mason Plumlee’s Post Dominance Keying Duke’s Phenomenal Start

Posted by EJacoby on November 29th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @EJacobyRTC on Twitter. Night Line runs on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.

Plenty of elite teams have impressed in the opening month of this season, but Duke is in a tier by itself when it comes to a complete resume. After exacting revenge on Ohio State from last season’s drubbing with a 73-68 victory over the Buckeyes on Wednesday night, Mike Krzyzewski’s team has now defeated three top-five teams in November. That doesn’t even include victories over Minnesota and VCU, as well, two other likely NCAA Tournament squads. In Wednesday’s win, Duke trailed by eight points at halftime to a tougher-looking Buckeyes squad while itself looking fatigued, and it needed a significant second half spark to change the tone of the game. That’s where it turned to Mason Plumlee, who turned momentum back on Duke’s side with two monster alley-oops from point guard Quinn Cook. Blue Devil fans have waited three long years for Plumlee to become a dominant post force who successfully harnessed all of his athletic potential, and tonight’s 21-point, 17-rebound effort in a comeback win over an elite opponent shows just how far the big man has come.

Mason Plumlee has Duke soaring up the rankings through victories over elite opponents (AP Photo)

We knew Duke had the depth, shooting, and coaching to remain an ACC contender this season, but Plumlee’s transformation into a dominant, All America-caliber forward gives the team a chance to reach greater heights than almost anyone imagined. Through seven games, the 6’10” senior is now averaging 19.9 points, 11.0 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks per game on 65% shooting from the field; all good for top-five rankings in the ACC. But what’s most astonishing about Plumlee’s stats is his free throw percentage, which at 79% is an exponential improvement over his career 50% shooting coming into this season. Never mind the massive 8.8 PPG  jump; an increase of 30 points on a go-to player’s free throw percentage is enough to change the entire dynamic of an offense. As Jay Bilas consistently pointed out during Wednesday’s ESPN broadcast, Plumlee plays with improved aggressiveness near the basket this season now that he’s not afraid to get fouled. The senior converted 9-12 freebies tonight while also producing a game-high in scoring and rebounding.

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Duke’s Ryan Kelly: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Posted by mpatton on November 26th, 2012

Ryan Kelly may be Duke‘s most important player. Just look at the Blue Devils’ tailspin last season when he went down with an injured foot. In Duke’s losses last year Kelly averaged five points a game (not including the two Ls he missed due to injury). In Duke’s wins he averaged over 13 points a game. That’s a striking difference. Kelly’s averages from last season are identical to this season (11.8 points per game and just over five rebounds per game), though he’s seen a dramatic drop in his efficiency from beyond the arc and at the charity stripe. The free throw problem is probably a short-term slump and his three point percentage will also likely rise but remain below last season’s excellent 41% mark. But don’t let identical output and depressed percentages confuse you: Kelly is an improved player whose game has evolved a lot even since last season.

Duke really missed Ryan Kelly at the end of last season. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

The most quantifiable change has come in his shot selection. Last year over 40 percent of Kelly’s shots were threes; this year just over 30 percent of his attempts come from distance. Rather than taking low-percentage contested twos, Kelly’s mid-range game is flourishing. At 6’11”, he’s virtually impossible for more athletic wings to guard, instead drawing power forwards to the perimeter where he has the advantage. Instead of settling for threes this season, he’s taken one or two steps inside the arc, where he’s nearly automatic. Kelly also appears to be more comfortable operating out around 12-16 feet from the basket, as his turnovers are down this year, potentially because he isn’t forcing things as much.

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