Handicapping the SEC POY Race Heading Into February

Posted by Christian D'Andrea on January 29th, 2013

Christian D’Andrea is a microsite contributor and an editor at Anchor of Gold and Nashville Sports Hub. You can complain about his terrible oddsmaking in the comments, or find him on Twitter @TrainIsland.

The first three weeks of conference play have come and gone in the SEC, and we’ve uncovered some revelations about the league. Ole Miss, for example, showed that a weak non-conference schedule camouflaged an emerging team. Florida, who hasn’t played a league game that it hasn’t won by 17 points or more, is every bit the beast they were expected to be. Missouri and Kentucky, on the other hand, have struggled despite talented rosters. What’s less clear is who the best player in the conference is. Several athletes have stepped up this year, some big men like Nerlens Noel and Reginald Buckner to guards like Phil Pressey and Kenny Boynton. They’ll all have their chance to join legends like Shaquille O’Neal, Charles Barkley, Bernard King, and Dan Langhi in earning SEC Player of the Year honors. So far, a surprising player leads the pack as January winds to a close. Ole Miss is 6-0 in conference play, and a big part of that revival has been thanks to Marshall Henderson’s shooting. He’s not the only one with his eyes on the SEC POY hardware, though. Let’s take a look at who is gunning for league honors, and where their odds stand nearly 20 games into the season.

The Frontrunners

As If Enough Hadn't Been Written About Him Already This Week... (AP)

As If Enough Hadn’t Been Written About Him Already This Week… (AP)

  • Marshall Henderson, Ole Miss (5:1 odds to win POY)  - Well this is certainly surprising – at least to people not named Marshall Henderson. Henderson has been the catalyst behind Ole Miss’ surprising season by leading his team in scoring and swagger. The cocksure shooter has willed Mississippi to a 6-0 start in conference play. He leads the SEC in scoring and his shooting touch has pulled the Rebels out of tight games against Auburn, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt. Henderson has plenty of negatives, though. He’s shooting less than 40 percent from the field and a big function of his game is having players like Reginald Buckner and Murphy Holloway up front to clean up his mess. He’s also an unreliable passer who averages more turnovers than assists from the backcourt. Still, he’s been the focal point of Mississippi’s 2013 revival, and his scoring and ability to come up big in the clutch have made him the POY front-runner as January winds down.

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Uncertainties About Guard Play Remain After Kentucky Escapes LSU

Posted by Will Tucker on January 27th, 2013

Will Tucker is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Saturday’s Kentucky-LSU game in Lexington.

The name on the lips of everyone in Rupp Arena on Saturday was that of Alex Poythress, after his Wildcats dispatched a slumping LSU team, 75-70. The mercurial forward, whose production and motor had yet to match the expectations set by his high draft stock, notched his first college double-double with 20 point and 12 rebounds in 30 minutes. The performance absolved him of the forgettable 15 minutes he logged before fouling out in last week’s loss to Alabama. It also discouraged much discussion of the somewhat perplexing showing from Kentucky’s backcourt trio of Ryan Harrow, Julius Mays, and Archie Goodwin. While John Calipari’s guards each put together efficient stat lines and rebounded from a (generally) dismal game in Tuscaloosa, their disjointed half court execution left several lingering questions about Kentucky’s guard play.

(Credit Clay Jackson)

The backcourt is still a source of headaches for Calipari (Credit Clay Jackson)

While there was plenty of blame to go around after Kentucky’s ugly 59-55 loss to Alabama, much of it laid with Harrow and Goodwin for shooting their team out of the game. The two combined to score 13 points on 5-24 shooting (20.8%), and dished out as many turnovers as assists (4). For his part, Mays hit four of his five three-point attempts and was the only Wildcat with a positive +/- rating in what was only the second time he had scored in double digits since mid-December. John Calipari’s backcourt triumvirate was as much of a wildcard heading into yesterday’s game as Poythress. That former Kentucky Mr. Basketball Anthony Hickey would be looking to exact revenge on his home turf for two losses against Kentucky last year placed even more pressure on his would-be defenders.

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SEC M5: 01.22.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 22nd, 2013

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  1. The NCAA’s investigation of the University of Miami program is expected to be released as early as this week, and it doesn’t sound like good news for one of the SEC’s newest coaches. Missouri coach Frank Haith is expected to be charged with “unethical conduct and failure to promote an atmosphere of compliance,” according to a report by Jeff Goodman of CBS Sports. Haith has been linked to well-known Miami booster Nevin Shapiro, who sold out the program while currently serving out a prison term for a $930 million Ponzi scheme. According to Goodman, “Haith will be charged with unethical conduct because the NCAA did not believe his story that payments to his assistants intended for camp money did not wind up going to repay Shapiro.” Haith is also linked to impermissible benefits because of airline tickets given to family members of players. He could potentially receive a show-cause penalty similar to the three-year ban former Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl received in 2011, but will have 90 days to respond to the allegations once they are released by the NCAA.
  2. The fellas over at A Sea of Blue have the good, the bad, and the ugly for their beloved Wildcats in UK’s four SEC games thus far. ASoB mentions Ryan Harrow’s excellent assist-to-turnover ratio (also Julius Mays with just two turnovers in the previous four games), as he has just five turnovers over the last two games compared to 13 assists, but the Cats have struggled overall with a 20.7 percent turnover ratio in conference play. If not the point guard Harrow, who is coughing up the ball? That honor would go to, well, everybody else. Archie Goodwin leads the way with 13 turnovers over the last four games, for an average of 3.3 turnovers per game. Alex Poythress is averaging 2.3, Kyle Wiltjer with 2.0, and Nerlens Noel also with 2.0 turnovers per game. Kentucky’s primary ball-handler is taking care of the rock, but everybody else needs to follow suit for the Cats to be successful. The Wildcats’ next three opponents rank no lower than 63rd in defensive turnover percentage.
  3. We all knew Nerlens Noel had big shoes to fill when he replaced the number one pick in the NBA Draft in Kentucky’s starting lineup, but he’s only worried about his own development. “I’m not trying to live up to him,” Noel said, referring to former Wildcat center Anthony Davis. “I’m trying to be my own player and set my own mark and play for my team.” And his development is going better than expected, even with incredibly high expectations in the offseason. “Defensively, I think I’ve got a lot better,” Noel said. “Coach Cal has made sure I’ve stayed disciplined defensively, staying on my feet. It’s helped me. I’m not going after every ball like I was earlier in the season. I’m blocking a higher (percentage) of shots. Offensively, just Coach Payne, just everything on the block, just working on my touches and things like that.”  Noel’s work is paying off, as he was named SEC freshman of the week on Monday and is among the nation’s leaders in blocks, rebounds, and steals.
  4. Mississippi State‘s lack of depth is continuing to prove difficult in practice situations, as the Bulldogs are attempting to simulate Arkansas’ famous full-court pressure. “It’s going to be difficult for us to simulate what Arkansas is going to bring with their pressure defense with all their different presses,” Mississippi State coach Rick Ray said. “We’re trying to find a way with managers, athletic trainers, coaches and things like that just to get bodies out on the court to try to simulate that. Even with those guys being out there, the problem is still simulating what Arkansas does with their length and athleticism with those pressures.” Mississippi State is one of the worst teams in the nation in turnover percentage at 25.2 percent (339th in the country). On the flip side, the Razorbacks force turnovers on just over 24 percent of opponents’ possessions. If you thought Kentucky’s freshmen turnover averages were bad, Mississippi State guard Craig Sword is averaging four turnovers a game in conference play, including seven miscues against South Carolina. So with all these factors in play, it could be a long night on Wednesday for the Bulldogs.
  5. The Rowdy Reptiles got their groove on during a timeout of the Missouri-Florida game on Saturday. Though I’m not a fan of the flash mob or synchronized dance movement, there wasn’t much else for the student section to do in the wake of an almost 30-point blowout. But seriously, can we move on from this horrendous point in American history when we feel like we have to do jazz fingers in perfect harmony with hundreds or thousands of our closest friends for an event to be meaningful? Enough already. Turn down your blasted pop music. And get off my damn lawn while you’re at it, you good-for-nothing kids. If you’re still reading at this point, here’s a video of the flash mob routine in the O’Connell Center from Saturday:

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SEC M5: 01.21.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 21st, 2013

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  1. Ole Miss‘ win over Arkansas gives the Rebels a 4-0 beginning to SEC play marking its best conference start since the 1936-37 season. That’s 76 years since the Rebels have began this well in league games. It may feel like it’s been about the same length of time since Andy Kennedy’s club has been to an NCAA Tournament (never under Kennedy; the last time was 2002), and the Rebels are hoping to break that streak too. And while they’re at it, they may even try to break into the Top 25 rankings, a faraway land that Ole Miss hasn’t seen since 2001. The players sense that something special is brewing in Oxford as well. “Anybody can see it,” said senior Nick Williams. “It’s been a long time since we’ve been able to do something great here, and we understand what we need to do because me, Murphy (Holloway) and Reg (Buckner) — we have been here for a while and we’ve been so close for so long.” Could this finally be the year that Ole Miss breaks through?
  2. Florida’s 83-52 thrashing of Missouri on Saturday led to a number of questions. Is Florida that good? Yes, especially at home. Is Missouri that bad? I really hope not. Does Laurence Bowers really make that much of a difference? No. But it’s undeniable that the Tigers are on a downward spiral. They’ve lost two of their last three games, and dropped three of their last six. To make matters worse, guard Keion Bell adds that Missouri simply wasn’t prepared. “I just think that we, as a team, we underestimated the amount of pressure that their full-court press would put on us,” Bell said. “Although the coaching staff has embedded it in our brains throughout the whole week, we just didn’t take heed to the things that they were saying about Florida’s pressure, and we weren’t ready at the beginning of the game.” Missouri needs to regroup before things get worse, and perhaps listen to the coaching staff during its preparation. A softer upcoming schedule of South Carolina, Vanderbilt, at LSU, and Auburn should help.
  3. It was a homecoming of sorts for Mississippi State Bulldog Jalen Steele, who always dreamed of playing in Thompson-Boling Arena. Steele grew up in Knoxville as a Tennessee Mr. Basketball, but then-Volunteers head coach Bruce Pearl went for two recruits you may have heard of instead — Aaron Craft and Josh Selby. Even though his basketball career didn’t work out exactly as planned, Steele finally heard his name called in Thompson-Boling Arena on Saturday. “To hear my name called and it said ‘Knoxville,’ that felt good,” Steele said. Steele showed he was good enough to play with the Vols too, as he added 15 points in a losing effort for the Bulldogs. I imagine it was a surreal moment, even in defeat, for a player who has been through a lot in Starkville.
  4. When you’re playing as well as Florida is right now, four points probably won’t matter, but it might one day. Gators center Patric Young isn’t satisfied with his free throw shooting after a 4-of-8 performance against LSU. “It’s huge because I’m leaving points on the board whenever you miss free throws,” Young said. “You go 4 for 8, that’s four points that help you with your draft stock or your average on the year. I mean, it doesn’t really matter but when it comes down to the line in a game-winning situation, you need to be able to step up with confidence.” For the sake of his draft stock, Young hit the practice courts to shoot 500 free throws a day, and the hard work is paying off. He entered the Texas A&M game shooting 50 percent from the line, but went 4-of-5 against the Aggies and 1-of-1 against Missouri.
  5. Kentucky has struggled against quality teams this season, but John Calipari’s Wildcats have a surplus of NBA talent on the roster. However, during an ESPNU telecast of the Kentucky vs. Auburn game on Saturday night, Charles Barkley said none of the current Wildcats were ready for the NBA. “John Calipari’s a friend of mine. I love him as a friend. There ain’t one player on this Kentucky team who should go pro early. I hate the one-and-done rule in college basketball. Just ’cause there’s a rule does not mean you have to do it. Listen, Anthony Davis played well enough for him to go pro. … I wish some of these parents would talk to their kids.” Though Cal’s younger Cats will excel in the pro game one day, Chuck has a point for the here and now. Archie Goodwin is probably the most pro-ready of the three freshman Wildcats most likely to be selected in the first round. Nerlens Noel is ready defensively, but his offensive game has a ways to go. But Alex Poythress is the biggest question mark in terms of making the jump. He has tendencies to disappear for long stretches offensively, and did you see his defense on Elston Turner?  The issue is not just directed towards Kentucky’s freshmen but the entire college game. The one-and-done mentality has watered down the talent level, enabling and pushing players like Noel and Poythress who could both benefit from an extra year of development to make the jump after just one year.
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Night Line: A Productive Kyle Wiltjer is Necessary For Kentucky to Succeed

Posted by BHayes on January 16th, 2013

nightline2

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

It wasn’t supposed to be this hard. Youth and inexperience weren’t supposed to matter to John Calipari, to Kentucky. After all, there was still a lot of talent in Lexington, and it felt quite natural when nobody doubted the defending national champions in the preseason. But the two and a half months since have created a college basketball specimen that has been as rare in recent years as a senior superstar – the Kentucky skeptic. Their arrival is understandable, as Kentucky has already dropped five games here in 2012-13, the talented youngsters having yet to find the cohesiveness of UK’s past Calipari teams. There’s still plenty of time to get there, and all four of the key freshmen (Archie Goodwin, Nerlens Noel, Alex Poythress, and Willie Cauley-Stein) will surely need to display growth for the wins to roll in, but the player who serves as the finest barometer for UK success is not a newcomer. Kyle Wiltjer has been about as consistent as his team this season (i.e., not very), and his off nights have frequently coincided with Kentucky failures. But when Wiltjer has it going like he did Tuesday night against Tennessee, the Cats looked a lot closer to being a complete team.

wiltjer

Kentucky Fans Agree That The “Three Goggles” Are A Good Look For Kyle Wiltjer

Wiltjer finished with a team-high 17 points in the 85-75 victory over the Vols, also chipping in with five rebounds and a pair of blocks. Quite a dramatic shift for both sophomore and team from a game ago, when Texas A&M walked into Rupp Arena and knocked off the Cats, holding Wiltjer scoreless in the process. Wiltjer struggling in a UK loss is not a new storyline this year; he is averaging just 5.6 PPG in losses, about half of his season average. He has also only scored seven or fewer points in six of the Cats’ 16 games this season, but four of the five UK losses have also happened to occur on those nights. One final measure of the value of Wiltjer’s involvement: He has gone for 19 and 17 points, respectively, in Kentucky’s sole two victories over top-100 teams (two top-100 wins, yikes!).

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Resetting the SEC Race: A Look at the Seven “East” Teams

Posted by CNguon on January 4th, 2013

Christian D’Andrea is an SEC Microsite writer and can be found @TrainIsland on Twitter. 

Non-conference play is wrapping up in the Southeastern Conference, and that means that the battle for SEC supremacy is about to begin. We’re two months into the college basketball season, and several teams are vying to be crowned as the SEC’s king. Florida and Missouri have carried the banner early in the season, but a talented program lies in wait in Lexington. Behind them, quietly successful squads like LSU, Ole Miss, Tennessee, and Texas A&M are also waiting to prove that their inflated records aren’t just the products of careful scheduling. This week, we’ll break down how each member of the SEC has started its 2012-13 campaigns, who their key players may be going forward, and whether they can carry their current pace into conference play. Today, we’ll start by looking at the conference known during football season as the SEC East:

Florida – Flaws May be Surfacing; The Gators are 2-2 after a 7-0 Start

  • The Good: The Gators have shown off a balanced attack and are playing great team defense to start their season. Opponents are shooting woefully against them, averaging just 52 points per game through Florida’s first 11 match-ups. No team has scored more than 67 points against UF so far in 2012-13. Kenny Boynton is still around and doing Kenny Boynton things. This can be recorded as either as positive or a negative for the Gators. He’s leading the team in scoring and swagger, but like a 6’2” Antoine Walker he’s shooting over six three-pointers per game and making fewer than 30 percent of them. He’s regressed since a strong junior season, but he’s still clearly this team’s general when it comes down to on-court leadership.

    Erik Murphy has come into his own as a senior (US Presswire)

    Erik Murphy has come into his own as a senior (US Presswire)

  • The Bad: Florida’s balance comes at the expense of not having an alpha dog to take over in tight situations. Boynton’s poor shooting tempers his status as a go-to player, while Erik Murphy and Patric Young have yet to prove themselves as consistent threats when the pressure is on. This is something that could fluster coach Billy Donovan when conference play brings more high-pressure situations.
  • Player to Watch: Erik Murphy. Murphy, the pride of South Kingstown, Rhode Island, has come into his own as a senior, shooting a stellar 57 percent from the field and 45 percent from long range. The 6’10” forward is an inside-out presence who can stretch opposing defenses and use his length to provide passable defense in the interior. His ability to draw defenders away from the hoop helps provide openings for a strong backcourt led by Boynton and Rosario. If he can maintain this level of play, he’ll give the Gators plenty of options on offense.
  • Can it Last? Yes, but… the Gators have been solid and have the talent to make a deep postseason run, but recent losses bring this team’s makeup and stability into question. Florida gave up the comeback of the 2012-13 season so far when turnovers and a missed Boynton free throw helped Arizona overcome a six-point deficit with 57 seconds left in the game. Two games later, they couldn’t get past a sneaky-good Kansas State team in Kansas City. The Gators have all the strength they need to get past the SEC’s lower-level teams, but they’ve still got to prove that they can handle the best the conference has to offer. Their reign at the top of the conference may be short lived.

Missouri – Their Talent Has Led to a 10-2 Record, But Can They Continue to Play as a Team?

  • The Good: Laurence Bowers has returned stronger than ever from last season’s ACL tear, and a Missouri team filled with transfers have helped place the Tigers among the NCAA’s elite in 2013. Jabari Brown (Oregon), Alex Oriakhi (UConn), Earnest Ross (Auburn), and Keion Bell (Pepperdine) have all played well in their new hometown of Columbia, Missouri. The Tigers have nine players that have earned 10 minutes per game or more this year; of those, only Phil Pressey suited up for Mizzou in 2011-12. Point guard Pressey has proven to be an excellent distributor, leading the SEC with 7.3 assists per game. He sprung for an insane 19-of-19 line against UCLA in an overtime loss and has stepped forward as this team’s leader out of the backcourt. Oriakhi has been just as good at Mizzou as he had been at UConn, and Brown has shown off the chops that made him a five-star recruit coming out of high school. A talented roster has given this team a potent inside-out attack and the depth to hang with any opponent they’ll face in 2013. Additionally, they lead the NCAA in rebounds through a dozen games this season, pulling down 47.4 per game. Read the rest of this entry »
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SEC M5: New Year’s Day Edition

Posted by DPerry on January 1st, 2013

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  1. If I told you before the season that Kentucky would lose to fierce rival Louisville but the Big Blue Nation would be generally happy with the performance, you would call me crazy, right? Well, that is exactly what has happened. The Wildcats have not lived up to preseason expectations through non-conference play, but their effort at the Yum! Center on Saturday revealed a different team, and a new level of offensive efficiency was the impetus. The Cardinals boast one of the most fearsome defensive units in the country, allowing only 81 points for every 100 possessions (good for 6th nationally), but the Wildcats exposed them, tallying a single-game offensive efficiency of 107.1.
  2. The biggest negative to come out of the loss for Kentucky fans is the worrying play of freshman Alex Poythress. The talented forward has a polished post game for such a young player, but he’s come up very small in some big spots for the Wildcats. Against Louisville, he played just 15 minutes, giving way to classmate Willie Cauley-Stein, who, despite struggling from the free-throw line, exhibited a much higher work rate. Coach John Calipari revealed yesterday that Poythress might have to get used to watching the game from the sideline if he didn’t increase his intensity. Point guard Ryan Harrow’s work ethic was widely questioned early in the season, but his recent play has quieted those concerns, and Calipari will hope his young post player will follow suit.
  3. The SEC continued their awful season over the weekend, with Alabama’s home loss to Tulane standing out as the worst of the bunch. “Tonight, what cost us the game was our inability to have success on the offensive end,” coach Anthony Grant said after the loss. The Crimson Tide shot under 40% from the field and converted only 3 of their 15 attempts from long range. Early in the season, Alabama emerged as a surprise contender to save the SEC from a down season, starting 6-0, but they have won only one game in six tries in December. Hopefully, January will bring back the Tide’s shooting stroke, a necessary improvement for a team with so little inside depth.
  4. Jeronne Maymon remains on the bench, but Tennessee got an infusion of size over the weekend in the form of Derek Reese. The freshman tore his labrum lifting weights before the season started, and there were questions over whether he could return to help the Vols in 2012-13. Reese was not highly recruited, but with a guard’s skill set in a 6’8″ frame, coach Cuonzo Martin is confident that he can contribute. “In our offense, when you run motion, guys like Derek at the four position and Jeronne Maymon, you can facilitate your offense through those guys,” Martin said. “Because Derek can make shots and make plays off the dribble and Jeronne can make plays off the dribble, and your offense flows. When you don’t have guys like that, things can become stagnant on offense.” For a team ranked 166th in the nation in offensive efficiency, they’ll take help in any way they can.
  5. Auburn nearly pulled off one of the conference’s most unlikely results of the season over the weekend, taking 12th-ranked Illinois down to the wire in Chicago. “There is no such thing as a moral victory,” said Auburn head coach Tony Barbee. “We came in here to get this job done, and we didn’t. We gave ourselves some opportunities. Like I told the guys, we have one game left in the first stage of the season in the non-conference schedule. We have to move on past this, and we have to go get that, but the first thing we have to do is address why we didn’t get this one today.” That sort of reaction is expected from a coach of course, but the close loss the Illini is easily Auburn’s most impressive effort on the season. It does not change their disappointing season, but in the tightly packed basement of the SEC, performances like this indicate that the Tigers might finish closer to the middle of the pack than the conference cellar.
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SEC Freshmen Report: Volume I

Posted by CNguon on December 21st, 2012

Christian D’Andrea is an SEC microsite contributor. He can be reached on Twitter @anchorofgold.

The SEC has always been home to some of the NCAA’s most talented newcomers. Much of that has to do with Kentucky’s one-and-done superstars, but Lexington’s five-star recruits aren’t the only players making an impact for Southeastern Conference teams. Several under-the-radar prospects – and some of them big names – are starting to get the feel for the NCAA game and bringing value to their programs early in their careers. As a result, teams like South Carolina and Auburn can put a little extra confidence behind their rebuilding efforts.

Nerlens Noel,

Nerlens Noel (Ken), Michael Carrera (SC) and Negus Webster-Chan (Missou) are just three of many freshmen making an impact this season in the SEC East

So who should SEC basketball fans be looking out for with conference play looming? Every week, we’ll look at how the best freshmen in the SEC have performed in their inaugural seasons. We’ll break the league down football-style into East and West divisions to provide an in-depth look at the young guns that may end up dotting all-SEC teams for years to come. This week, we’ll start with the East by introducing you to the most talented first-year players that the conference has to offer. While a team led by newcomers has carried Kentucky through an up-and-down first two months, teams like South Carolina, Vanderbilt, and Missouri are also leaning on rookies to carry them to the postseason. Here’s a breakdown on those fresh faces in the (former) SEC East and how they’ve impacted their teams so far.

SEC East

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Kentucky: Kentucky, a team replacing all of its starters in 2012-13, has easily gotten the strongest return from its freshman play-makers this winter. Nerlens Noel has been as good as advertised, and Willie Cauley-Stein has shown a combination of size and skill that suggests that he’d be a starter for almost any other team in the SEC this winter. The two have combined for 18 points, 14 rebounds, and nearly six blocks per game as the Wildcats’ primary big men. Archie Goodwin and Alex Poythress have carried the ‘Cats offensively. Both have shown well-rounded offensive play, while Poythress in particular has shown some defensive chops that could make him a nightmare matchup (a 7’1” wingspan and the size and strength to cover both forward positions) as the season wears on. However, both have struggled with turnovers early in the year, and their talent hasn’t been enough to cover up UK’s relative inexperience in three early losses. Kentucky may have gotten off to an unexpected start thanks to those losses, but they’re also playing on a steeper learning curve than most teams in the SEC. The development of their freshman class will be one of the conference’s biggest stories to watch once league play unfolds.

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Whats Wrong With Kentucky? An Expert Weighs In…

Posted by CNguon on December 18th, 2012

Christian D’Andrea is an SEC microsite contributor. He can be reached @anchorofgold on Twitter.

Kentucky ran through a storybook season in 2011-12, mashing together the country’s most talented freshman class and riding their skills to a NCAA title. John Calipari’s follow-up hasn’t been as successful. After losing all five starters from last year’s national championship team, the Wildcats are banking on players like Nerlens Noel and Alex Poythress to carry them back to great heights. So far, that’s resulted in a 7-3 record and a tumultuous plunge out of the national rankings. The ‘Cats have righted the ship with three straight wins, but a big showdown with #6 Louisville looms later this month before SEC play starts. So what are the expectations in Lexington for the rest of this year? To learn more about Coach Cal’s latest freshman project, we went straight to the expert.

Glenn Logan is the Managing Editor of A Sea of Blue, one of the most comprehensive and well-written Kentucky Wildcat blogs out there. He was gracious enough to sit down and exchange some emails with me to discuss this team’s prospects for 2013 and beyond.

Rush the Court: First things first – Kentucky hasn’t lived up to expectations this season, losing games to Notre Dame and Baylor in November and December. What has been the biggest factor behind the slow start? Is it a lack of cohesion, the adjustment to an entirely new starting five, a lack of talent, or something else?

Glenn Logan, A Sea of Blue: Mainly, Kentucky has suffered from defensive lapses against better teams. In their three losses, they have allowed both Duke and Notre Dame to be offensively efficient and shoot a high effective FG%. Against Baylor, they simply could not score, because they did not communicate and play solid basketball. Kentucky at the moment is a team that is still figuring out how to play the college game. Each team is different, and learns how to play at a different pace, and we’ve seen this at Kentucky for three years. Back in 2009-10, the Wildcats should have been 10-4 going into conference play instead of 14-0, and that team was pretty bad until midway through the conference season. But they won the SEC anyway, and by that time, they were very good. This team is a lot like that one, or like 2011, where Kentucky was 4-4 at one time in the SEC. Both 2010 and 2011’s teams made deep runs in the NCAA Tournament despite their early struggles.

Things are still a work in progress so far for John Calipari and company (AP)

Things are still a work in progress so far for John Calipari and company (AP)

RTC: Nerlens Noel, Archie Goodwin, and Alex Poythress have all gotten off to great starts in their college careers. Of these three, which freshman do you see having the greatest impact for the ‘Cats in 2012-13?

GL: I think overall, Nerlens Noel will have the most overall impact. That’s because he really brings it on the defensive end and is a very good passer out of the post. Goodwin and Poythress will be the primary scorers, but I think Noel will have the most overall impact on the Wildcats’ success.

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Award Tour: Anthony Bennett is the New No. 1 Freshman, the Five Worst D-I Teams, and an Ode to the Big East Conference…

Posted by DCassilo on December 14th, 2012

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David Cassilo is an RTC columnist who also writes about college basketball for SLAM magazine. You can follow him at @dcassilo.

Farewell, Big East. As a Villanova grad who grew up in New Jersey, you were always close to my heart. I’ll miss the prime time Saturday night final. I’ll miss the coaching legends. I’ll miss the physical play that would be called for a foul in any other league. I’ll miss the afternoon games of the Big East Tournament. I’ll miss being sponsored by Aeropostale. I’ll miss record crowds at the Carrier Dome. I’ll miss seeing Carnesecca and his sweater sitting behind the St. John’s bench. I’ll miss Mick Cronin being displeased with his team. I’ll miss West Virginia fans throwing stuff. I’ll miss looking at the newspaper and saying, “Wow, DePaul won.” I’ll miss Madison Square Garden. I’ll miss the weird dimensions of the RAC. I’ll miss Seton Hall thinking its good. I’ll miss Providence’s mascot. I’ll miss UConn breaking the rules. I’ll miss Pitt’s illegal screens and 30-year old point guards. I’ll miss Boston College, Virginia Tech and Miami. I’ll miss Pitino’s press conferences. I’ll miss people saying Villanova is Guard U when it rarely sends a guard to the NBA. I’ll miss Georgetown running the Princeton offense. I’ll miss the overachievers at Notre Dame and Marquette. I’ll miss that time South Florida was good. I’ll even miss the double bye, Burr and Higgins. Now let’s end this league in style.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR

10. Brandon Paul – Illinois (Last Week – NR)
2012-13 stats: 19 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 3.5 APG

Illinois is going to need a big effort out of Brandon Paul at Indiana. (Joe Robbins/Getty)

Brandon Paul tore apart Gonzaga. (Joe Robbins/Getty)

With 35 points at Gonzaga last Saturday, Paul officially declared his candidacy in the Player of the Year race. The major improvement in his game this year comes down to his shooting. He never cracked 40 percent from the field in his first three years but is up to 46.8 percent this season.This week: December 16 vs. Eastern Kentucky

9. Michael Carter-Williams – Syracuse (Last Week – NR)
2012-13 stats: 12.4 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 10.4 APG, 3.8 SPG

There’s no doubt that Carter-Williams does more to fill up the stat sheet than any player in the country, but it’s his passing that has been second to none. He leads the nation in APG and has 37 dimes in his last three games. A high turnover rate (3.8 per game) and poor three-point shooting (22.2 percent) hold him back from challenging for the top spot. This week: December 15 vs. Canisius, December 17 vs. Temple

8. Jeff Withey – Kansas (Last Week – 7)
2012-13 stats: 13.8 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 5.6 BPG

After blocking five shots against Colorado last Saturday, Withey has swatted the ball at least that many times in six of his team’s eight games. His defensive dominance coupled with the rise of freshman Ben McLemore has the Jayhawks thinking of a return to the title game. This week: December 15 vs. Belmont, December 18 vs. Richmond

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SEC M5: 12.10.12 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on December 10th, 2012

  1. Camp Cal, as coach John Calipari affectionately termed his boot camp with the Wildcats, is more about thinking than it is conditioning. “For the next two weeks, we’ll be going at least five of the days three times a day,” Calipari said. “I’m fine. I’ll be exhausted, but what the heck. The whole point is to help these young people think differently. They’ve got to think differently than they’re thinking.” The change in thinking hasn’t yet made its way into the full 40 minutes of game play, although the Cats were victorious over Portland by 28. “I had to coax them into playing,” Calipari said. “I shouldn’t have to. I shouldn’t be on a guy, ‘Play, scramble, stay down.’ What? What is that, strategy? I mean, that’s basically how I’m coaching right now.” The Cats are still making mistakes made by inexperienced teams, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has reviewed the Wildcats’ roster. They have two more home games over the next two weeks before meeting Louisville in the Yum! Center on December 29. Three weeks is a long way away, so expect Kentucky to look significantly improved by the time its intrastate showdown with the Cards roll around.
  2. Another SEC guard has been suspended, and this time it’s LSU’s Anthony Hickey. LSU coach Johnny Jones cited a violation of athletic department and university rules as the reason for the suspension. “We will cooperate fully with the Athletic Department and University on the matter,” said Jones. “There is a responsibility that comes with playing college basketball. If a player doesn’t take care of his responsibilities, then he loses the privilege of being able to play. We look forward to continuing to focus on our upcoming game Tuesday and our three-game road trip that follows.” At this point, there is no timetable for Hickey’s return to the court. The Tigers are 5-0 with Hickey in the lineup, fueled by his 10.2 points, 5.2 assists, and 4.0 rebounds per game. However, this is not the first time the point guard has found himself in trouble.
  3. The Arkansas media is calling for Mardracus Wade to be more aggressive on offense after the Hogs lost to Michigan in Ann Arbor by 13 points. Wade scored five points on just five shots from the field despite playing 34 minutes. Wade has the third best effective field goal percentage on the team, but is ninth in percentage of shots and is 10th in percentage of possessions. The Razorbacks could have used his help on Saturday. Wade is extremely effective at getting to the free throw line (76.3% free throw rate), but Arkansas didn’t shoot a free throw until six minutes left in the game. Mike Anderson’s squad has lost four of its last five contests, with three of those losses away from home. The Hogs are typically very strong at Bud Walton Arena, and they begin a five-game home stand on Saturday. That should give Anderson time to work out a few of the kinks.
  4. Who loves statistics? We do! And so does John Clay of the Lexington Herald-Leader who provides us with 20 stats you need to know from Kentucky’s win on Saturday. A lot of good information here about the Cats’ recent performances including a snippet about the play of freshman Alex Poythress. Poythress has scored in double figures in seven of the first nine games of his college career, including his 15 points on Saturday. Most importantly, he is 13-of-17 from the field in the last two games, including three of four from beyond the arc. Poythress’ efficient play has put him as an early member of a prestigious grouping that Luke Winn often refers to in his power rankings called the 70/50/20 club. Only four players possess membership at this point in the season. The club is reserved for players who shoot an effective field goal percentage of at least 70 percent, play in at least 50 percent of available minutes, and take at least 20 percent of his team’s shots when he is on the floor. Poythress is shooting 72.2 percent, playing in 73.1 percent of available minutes, and shooting 21.5 percent of the Wildcats’ shots. He joins Belmont’s Ian Clarke, UC Davis’ Ryan Sypkens, and Syracuse’s James Southerland as the only current members. With efficiency numbers like that, Poythress can’t shy away from the basketball as he did against Notre Dame.
  5. Tennessee’s Skylar McBee’s jersey will hang in the rafters at Grainger High School after he scored 2,362 points during his high school career. McBee was honored Saturday when his number four jersey was retired. “I’m very proud of where I come from,” McBee said. “And it’s an honor that all these people back home think that highly of me that they want to retire my number. It’s very humbling, and it means a lot to me.” McBee started as a walk-on for Tennessee, but was given a scholarship by previous coach Bruce Pearl. The guard is averaging 7.3 points per game for the Vols this season in his senior year.
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Award Tour: The Struggles of Ranking Cody Zeller

Posted by DCassilo on December 7th, 2012

David Cassilo is an RTC columnist who also writes about college basketball for SLAM magazine. You can follow him at @dcassilo.

What do we do about Cody Zeller? That’s what we’re asking after his second game this season with fewer than 10 points. The preseason pick for Player of the Year has simply not been the monster in the middle that was expected, but he hasn’t been a disappointment either. We’ll start with the bad. He’s scored 20 or more points just twice in eight games and is averaging a pedestrian 15 PPG and 7.6 RPG this season. You’ll find about 100 players with numbers like that. Now the good. He’s shooting 63.2 percent from the field and his numbers are almost identical to his stellar freshman season. To be honest though, Zeller is likely staying as high as he is on this list based on expectation. But now we’re giving him one final chance. If he doesn’t break out by the end of December, he’ll be off the top 10 list.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR

10. Elias Harris – Gonzaga (Last Week – NR)
2012-13 stats: 16.8 PPG, 8.1 RPG

Harris has Gonzaga thinking national title. (AP)

As a senior, Harris is finally coming into his own in all areas of the game. That has especially been true for his offense. After a slow start, he’s scored at least 16 points in five of his last six games. As Gonzaga continues to win, his candidacy will pick up steam. This week: December 8 vs. Illinois

9. Isaiah Canaan – Murray State (Last Week – 7)
2012-13 stats: 21.4 PGG, 3.7 RPG, 3.9 APG

With one game this past week against an NAIA opponent, Canaan essentially had an off week. His slight fall down the rankings has more to do with the other players on the list than with himself. Canaan’s biggest challenge for the rest of the season will be playing well enough to overshadow his weak competition. This week: December 8 at Evansville

8. C.J. McCollum – Lehigh (Last Week – 3)
2012-13 stats: 24.4 PPG, 5.0 RP, 3.2 APG

We’ve said all season that if a player from a conference like the Patriot League is going to win this, he needs to be beyond spectacular. McCollum has been close to that, but performances like the 13 points he put up against Fordham in his last game won’t cut it. Chances are we’ll see another 30-point game from him soon enough, though. This week: December 8 vs. St. Francis (Pa.)

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