The Best Basketball (Only) Conference in the NCAA? You Bet– With the departure of Temple (to the Big East) and Charlotte (to CUSA), A-10 fans knew the conference would not “make due” with a 12-team configuration. The question was which candidates would match best with the conference profile and mission and not in the chase for football money? The A-10 could afford to focus on candidates with high quality basketball programs, thereby offering regional rivalries to the Midwestern and Washington D.C. metro area members. Virginia Commonwealth and Butler were the logical choices as both have had recent Final Four appearances, are high quality programs, and boast two of the hottest young coaching names in Division I. Both schools accepted and the existing circumstances of member departures and arrivals means that the A-10, with 16 members and an 18-game conference slate, will have a superconference look and feel this season.
Veteran St. Joseph’s Coach Phil Martelli Has Garnered Plenty Of Media Attention Over The Years. Now Thanks To A New TV Deal, The Entire Atlantic-10 is Going to Get a Dose Of Camera Time (AP)
The New TV Deal – The conference announced an eight-year partnership with ESPN, the CBS Sports Network and the NBC Sports Network, worth an estimated $40 million dollars ($5 million per year) to run from 2013-14 through 2021-22. The three media outlets will televise 64 regular season men’s games (CBS and NBC Sports Network will televise 25 apiece and the ESPN outlets will televise 14). These three outlets will divvy the responsibilities for the conference tournament with NBC televising the men’s (and women’s) quarterfinals, CBS televising the men’s (and women’s) semifinal games, and ESPN/ESPN2/ESPNU televising the men’s championship game. Though financial details were not disclosed, the conference’s 14 members are expected to collect about $400,000 apiece each season.
Brooklyn, Here We Come – A quiet affirmation that the move to lock up the Barclays Center in Brooklyn came with Hurricane Sandy. The superstorm swamped Atlantic City, New Jersey, and the Boardwalk Hall, previous site of the conference’s championship tournament. The Barclays Center has garnered positive reviews for its architecture, facilities and amenities. The brand-new facility will work out the kinks with a number of invitational tournaments (Barclays Center Classic, Coaches vs. Cancer, Legends Classic, Brooklyn Hoops Winter Festival and Brooklyn Hoops Holiday Invitational) and be ready to host the conference tournament next March.
Reader’s Take I
Predicted Order of Finish
Signs that the A-10 is in for a wild ride this season are everywhere. CBS Sports’ five basketball experts (Jeff Goodman, Doug Gottlieb, Gary Parrish, Matt Norlander and Jeff Borzello) tabbed four different schools (Butler, Massachusetts, Saint Louis and Virginia Commonwealth) to take the regular season crown. The A-10 coaches named a fifth school – Saint Joseph’s – at the conference’s Media Day earlier this month. Note that nobody in that group is named Temple or Xavier – the two schools which have passed the regular season crown back-and-forth for the last five seasons.
Early Season Performances – The Oooh Aaaah Variety (Teams & Individuals)
The A-10 evened the record versus the six power conferences again last week, largely on the strength of performances by Xavier and Richmond. Xavier needed overtime to beat Vanderbilt in Nashville. Down by two with just under four minutes in regulation, Xavier held Vanderbilt scoreless and managed to tie on a Mark Lyons jumper with six seconds remaining in regulation. In overtime the Musketeers took the lead for good 68-66 on two Dezmine Wells free throws and Tu Holloway put a large enough margin between the teams (about eight points) when he hit two threes in successive possessions to absorb a Commodore mini-run. Vanderbilt chipped the Musketeers’ lead down to four, but could get no closer. Forced to foul, Holloway and Travis Taylor went a perfect 6 for 6 from the line to stretch the lead to 10 and suck the life out of the Commodore comeback.
Hosting Purdue five days later, Xavier again went down early, allowing Purdue to take the lead at the 18:49 mark of the first half and hold it for the next 37 minutes of play. The Boilermakers took an 11-point lead into the intermission and stretched it to 15 in the first 6:30 of the second half. Over the next 12:24 Xavier outscored Purdue 29-13 to take the lead for only the second time in the game. Once in control, the Musketeers did not let the Boilermakers back in, pushing their lead out to three in the last minute of the game.
Those numbers are more interesting, however, when you break up the game. For example, with 3:30 left in overtime against Vanderbilt, Holloway had just 14 points on 4-17 shooting. That stat line looks much more impressive after he hit back-to-back threes on the next two possessions and four straight free throws down the stretch to seal the win. Likewise, against Purdue, Holloway had just 10 points and six turnovers in the first 38 minutes of the game, but in the final two minutes he hit a three on three consecutive possessions (video of the last two below) and followed that up with two free throws, completing the most impressive comeback of the young season…in the final three minutes against Vanderbilt and the last two minutes against Purdue, Holloway had 21 points, went 5-6 from beyond the arc and knocked down all six of his free throws attempts.
The Richmond squad had to replace 59% of their minutes and 68.6% of their scoring from the squad that won the A-10 conference tournament and ran to the Sweet Sixteen last March. Freshman point guard Kendall Anthony, three times designated Rookie of the Week by the conference, has picked up a load of time and scoring responsibilities for the Spiders so far. Richmond leaned heavily on Anthony along with sophomores Cedrick Lindsay and Derrick Williams for offense. Both chipped in double digit points to complement Anthony’s production. Lindsay was a serviceable back-up to senior point guard Kevin Anderson last season, but Williams, who has started all eight games for the Spiders, saw very little action as a freshman.
Overlooked Temple off guard Aaron Brown turned heads the summer before coming to North Broad, but had few opportunities to show Temple fans and the A-10 what he could do. Brown scored 21 points in 22 minutes in a display during Temple’s 86-74 win over Central Michigan. Ken Pomeroy would find hard to ignore his performance, as he hit 7-11 (4-7 from three point land, 3-4 from inside the arc) shots from the floor while getting to the line for five free throws, of which he hit three. That computes to an 81.8% eFG% with a 1.57 points per weighted shot, an outstanding outing for the sophomore, who was pressed into action due to the injury-depleted squad.
Early Season Performances – The What the !@#!@@!# Variety (Teams & Individuals)
After winning their early season invitational tournaments, beating four power conference opponents (two each) during the tournament, both Dayton and Saint Louis stumbled in post tournament games. The losses are puzzling because for both teams, the games were winnable. Saint Louis took an “and-one” game with Loyola Marymount of the West Coast Conference, losing by seven with a performance that had team observers scratching their heads. Dayton compounded the first post tournament loss (by 29 to Buffalo of the MAC) with a second loss, this one by 17, to Murray State of the Ohio Valley Conference. The opponents were beatable, making the scoring margins downright consternating. Dayton was pegged to finish in the middle of the conference, but the two unexpected losses (albeit the Racers will most likely contend for the OVC title this season) could damage the Flyers chances for a post season NIT bid. Other inexplicable losses go to Saint Bonaventure’s home loss to Arkansas State of the Sun Belt Conference, a 3-4 team no one expects to make noise this season. The Bonnies were not helped by a lackluster six-point, nine-rebound effort from Andrew Nicholson.
The Power Rankings are shuffled again this week in response to the Ooohs, Aaaahs and What the heck games listed above. For the Atlantic-10 the post season margin for error is exceedingly slim. Three losses going into the first or second week of December can take a school off the RPI short list pretty quickly.
1. Xavier (6-0) #8 AP – Xavier took down two more power conference programs last week in fashion impressive enough to climb three more spots in the AP poll. I listed many of the impressive details in the impressive performances section above, but in addition to the video link below that shows two of Tu Holloway’s three “last two minute” three point field goals below (h/t to Dana & Victory Blog for the link). I should also mention that in Nashville Mark Lyons (19 points) and Travis Taylor (11 points) chipped in more than 10 apiece to go with Holloway’s 24 point performance, while Antoine Walker collected 14 rebounds in his return to Vanderbilt where he played for three years. Versus Purdue three Musketeers, Lyons (14 points), Walker (10 points) and Kenny Fraese (10 points) chipped in double digit points to complement Holloway’s 21 point outburst.
Xavier will travel to Indianapolis Wednesday for a game with Butler, then return home to host this season’s Crosstown Shootout versus Cincinnati on Saturday. Win these next two and Chris Mack’s squad deserves something special, like Christmas in Hawaii…wait.
2. Saint Louis (7-1) –Their top 25 ranking proved surprisingly short, the penalty for stumbling against the Lions last Tuesday. St. Louis recovered to beat another WCC team, Portland by 20, 73-53 at the Chaifetz. The Billikens’ defense limited Portland to 0.90 points per possession, much as they had Boston College and Oklahoma. Scoring centered on Brian Conklin and Cody Ellis, with Kyle Cassidy and Mike McCall providing efficient long-range scoring. They will host Vermont on Wednesday and Division II Illinois-Springfield on Saturday.
Xavier's Tu Holloway Is A First-Team All-American Candidate And One Of The Nation's Best Seniors
A-10 to Barclays in 2013: Barclays Center, under construction in the New York City borough of Brooklyn, is in the market for multi-day sporting events while the Atlantic 10 is looking for a bigger stage for their post season tournament — a perfect match perhaps? The two announced a deal late last month that will move the 2012-13 A-10 Conference Tournament to the 675,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art sports and entertainment venue that will feature an 18,000 seat arena for basketball. The Atlantic 10 has vacillated between rotating campus sites and a “permanent neutral” site since the first conference tournament in 1976-77. The current location since the 2006-07 tournament, Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, is a 10,500 seat amphitheater. While technically neutral, the attendance is up when one or more of the Philadelphia contingent (La Salle, Saint Joseph’s and/or Temple) advances to the quarterfinal round and beyond, and down when they do not. The conference will return to Boardwalk Hall for their 2011-12 tournament, then move over to Barclays Center the following season.
With the completion of the NBA Draft and the annual coaching and transfer carousels nearing their ends, RTC is rolling out a new series, RTC Summer Updates, to give you a crash course on each Division I conference during the summer months. Our latest update comes courtesy of our Atlantic 10 correspondent, Joe Dzuback. You can read more of his in-depth writing and analysis at Villanova By The Numbers.
Reader’s Take I
Bobinski to Chair NCAA Selection Committee: While the conference again sent seven teams, half of its membership, to the postseason — three to the NCAA, one to the NIT and three to the CBI, the Final Four runs by Butler (Horizon League) and Virginia Commonwealth (Colonial Athletic Association) overshadowed a showing, Xavier’s loss to Marquette excepted, that exceeded 2010’s NCAA results. The NCAA announced that Xavier Athletic Director Mike Bobinski will succeed Connecticut’s Jeff Hathaway as Chairman of the 2012 NCAA Tournament Selection Committee. Bobinski just completed his third year of a five-year term on the Selection Committee. While the Atlantic 10 has been the most successful non-BCS conference in placing teams in the tournament field (with 20 NCAA bids allotted to six teams since 2004), its representatives have tended to draw the short straw when it comes to seeding, and Bobinski will likely lobby hard for that cause.
The Coaching Carousel: The conference had two coaching vacancies during the early phase of the coaching carousel. If the 2010 offseason saw coaching turnovers due to firings, the 2011 offseason saw suitors come to call on the Atlantic 10 coaching fraternity. Tennessee, having fired Bruce Pearl on March 21, made its first call to Xavier to talk with Chris Mack. Mack reportedly turned aside an offer of $2 million per year to coach the Volunteers in favor of staying in Cincinnati with the Musketeers. Richmond’s Chris Mooney signed a 10-year contract extension, his second extension in two years, ending Georgia Tech’s courtship. Mooney’s decision triggered a spate of articles (see “Old coaching assumptions are fading” by Dana O’Neil for example) about non-BCS coaches who pass on BCS offers to stay with their programs. The Yellow Jackets turned their attention to Dayton’s Brian Gregory, who succumbed to the lure of the BCS and packed his bags for Atlanta on March 28. Dayton conducted a six-day search and hired Archie Miller, brother of former Xavier head man Sean Miller, away from Arizona to succeed Gregory. In late April, George Washington’s Athletic Director, Patrick Nero, fired 10-year veteran Karl Hobbs. Nero, who succeeded retiring AD Jack Kvancz on June 30, was hired on April 20, and wasted no time in turning over the men’s basketball staff. Nero reached into his old stomping grounds, the American East Conference, and hired the league’s premier head basketball coach, MikeLonergan of Vermont, on May 6 to replace Hobbs. The resignation of Penn State head coach Ed DeChellis on May 24 (DeChellis took over the Navy program) triggered a few tense days among the Duquesne faithful as coach Ron Everhart landed an interview for the Happy Valley position. The Dukes exhaled on June 1 when Everhart withdrew his name from consideration in favor of staying with the Pittsburgh school next season.
Media Coverage: The Atlantic 10 and ESPN renewed their deal to have eight games (selected by ESPN) televised on either ESPN or ESPN2 in each of the next two seasons. The ESPN networks are committed to broadcasting the Women’s Championship and up to 32 appearances in each of the next two seasons.
***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game
Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.
We told you last night’s games would be very interesting and boy were they ever. Louisville and Tennessee were upset victims at home but neither upset was shocking given the matchups we discussed in this space yesterday, plus both teams were due for a letdown. Tonight’s slate is not good at all so don’t expect much action this evening. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.
Akron @ #19 Minnesota – 8:30 pm on Big Ten Network (*)
Akron was blasted by Temple in their last game and really struggles offensively. The Zips don’t stand much of a chance in this game so one strategy may be to live or die by the three as Minnesota’s opponents get a lot of points courtesy of the trifecta. However, Akron is not a good three point shooting team to begin with, #221 in the country, but taking a page out of Virginia’s playbook could make this game somewhat competitive, at least for a while. The Cavaliers bombed away from the arc in a stunning second half turnaround against the Golden Gophers en route to a surprising win at the Barn. Akron’s Brett McClanahan and Darryl Roberts are the biggest threats but McClanahan is just seven for his last 23 (30%) from deep. The senior Roberts shoots it well at 42% and also connects 92% of the time at the foul line. Minnesota will look to take advantage with their superior size and skill inside led by Trevor Mbakwe (14/10). Mbakwe is shooting 61% overall, scoring in double figures each game so far and is clearly the most athletic of the Minnesota big men. Akron opponents get 58% of their scoring from two point range so expect Tubby Smith to exploit this early and often to build up a lead. Minnesota also has an outside threat with Blake Hoffarber at 41% from three, now hot after a little slump to start the season. Akron is also a poor rebounding team with only one major contributor taller than 6’8, center Zeke Marshall. Even without point guard Al Nolen (probably won’t play), Minnesota is too deep and too talented for Akron to compete with. The Gophers should win this game easily.
Jared Quillen is the RTC correspondent for the SEC.
A Look Back
The biggest story out of the SEC this week is the Southeastern Conference’s suspension of Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl for the first eight games of conference play. Pearl hosted recruit Aaron Craft at his home contrary to NCAA rules and misled investigators about a picture that was taken with Craft during the visit. Pearl also admitted to making excessive recruiting phone calls. For his sins, the Tennessee will reduce Pearl’s pay by a total of $1.5 million over the next five years and he is not allowed to recruit off campus for one year. Pearl got a pretty stiff punishment here, but this should come as no surprise. The NCAA is still considering the matter and may impose additional penalties in December when it releases its findings.
Tennessee has no desire to let Pearl go despite his misdeeds. He has won a lot of games in Knoxville and he is a great recruiter. The problem now is that there is a question mark as to how good he is at recruiting if he plays by the rules. Pearl is on a short leash and the university has made it clear – any more violations, and he’s out.
Pearl should have known better from previous incidents and it is likely the NCAA will impose additional punishments. There are two universal truths in this life: one, the NCAA hates being left out of the punishment game when a violation has occurred, particularly for repeat offenders, and two, the NCAA hates recruiting violations. If you want to get your team in a heap of trouble, the fastest way to do it is through recruiting violations. Indiana is still suffering from the Kelvin Sampson disaster, a fellow repeat offender. Indiana is likely to miss the NCAA Tournament for a third straight year due to Sampson’s cheating. Time will tell if the NCAA’s sanctions will have such an effect on Tennessee. The moral of the story, keep it clean out there, coaches.
In other news, Georgiais playing well despite the loss of star Trey Thompkins who is out with a high ankle sprain. The Bulldogs got a good win against a talented Colorado team that should make the NCAA Tournament this year. The Bulldogs are currently 4-0, but Thompkins was recently cleared to practice.
In the preseason primer, I predicted Enes Kanter would be eligible for Kentucky. Seeking to make me look the fool, the NCAA saw otherwise. While the NCAA and Kentucky do agree on the facts of the case, that Enes Kanter received payment for play while in his native Turkey, they disagree on the interpretation of NCAA rules, Kentucky obviously believing Kanter deserves to play. The NCAA ruled that he received benefits over and above necessary expenses and declared him “permanently ineligible,” a big blow to the Wildcats’ plans to win a second straight SEC crown and an eighth National championship. John Calipari stated that he was not happy with the NCAA’s decision but that he respected it. Following Kentucky’s 88-65 win over East Tennessee State, Alan Cutler, a Lexington sports reporter, opened the press conference by asking Calipari’s opinion on the matter. Calipari was noticeably frustrated and responded, “Didn’t we just play a game?” The school will appeal the decision.
Kentucky (3-0) opened the season with a pasting of East Tennessee State 88-65 in which freshman Terrence Jones recorded a double-double scoring 25 points and collecting 12 rebounds. On Monday night against Oklahoma, Jones recorded his second double-double by scoring 29 points and pulling down 13 rebounds to go along with 3 assists, two steals, and four blocks. Apparently, Jones doesn’t like to see anyone else’s name on the stat sheet. In between those two games, Kentucky trounced Portland 79-48 in a game in which the Wildcats scored the first 15 points of the game and were never challenged. After three games, Kentucky leads the SEC in three-point field goal percentage and assist/turnover ratio, both weak points on last year’s squad.
Arkansas (2-0) While I don’t expect the Razorbacks to remain at number two for very long, it’s hard to drop them lower than number two when they won their first two games against Grambling State and Florida Gulf Coast by an average margin of 33 points per game. That’s the highest scoring margin in the SEC, and it’s not even close. Guard Rotnei Clarke picked up right where he left off last year making five three pointers in his first game this season. Through two games, Clarke is 10-23 from three point range and leads Arkansas in scoring at 17 points per game.
Georgia is 3-0 record despite playing without preseason SEC POY pick Trey Thompkins. MarkFox can flat-out coach. Underestimate him at your own peril. He will have the Bulldogs competing all year long and no game against the ‘Dogs will be an easy one, with or without Thompkins. In Thompkins’ absence, guard Travis Leslie has taken it upon himself to pick up the slack by leading Georgia in both points and rebounds at 18 and 8.3 per game, respectively. Georgia will need Thompkins back soon, however, as the road gets tougher from here. They next face Notre Dame in the Old Spice Classic which also features Temple, Wisconsin, California and Texas A&M.
Mississippi State’s (3-0) Kodi Augustus is leading the SEC in rebounds at 11.0 RPG and is second in scoring at 20.0 PPG behind fellow Bulldog Ravern Johnson’s 25.5 PPG. While they didn’t win big against Tennessee State, Appalachian State or Detroit, whom they defeated 75-65, 76-74 and 82-76, respectively, the Bulldogs are playing without guard Dee Bost and power forward Renardo Sydney. Mississippi State will be very, very good once Sydney and Bost return and should be an exciting team to watch.
Vanderbilt (3-1) whipped Presbyterian 88-47 in the Commodores season opener then beat Nebraska 59-49 and followed that up with a hard fought loss to West Virginia, 74-71. The ‘Dores got what might have been a nice win against North Carolina if it had not been tainted by the fact that UNC had previously lost to Minnesotatwo days before. Vanderbilt fans frequently chanted “overrated” as they taunted the Tar Heels in a game that Vandy led for all but a few moments. The pollsters seemed to agree, dropping UNC to the 25 spot. Regardless, Vanderbilt made touted UNC freshman forward Harrison Barnes look bad as they held him to just 4-12 shooting.
Tennessee(3-0) Well, the Volunteers are undefeated but have yet to leave Knoxville. They got a 20 point win over Chattanooga. Beating Belmont by nine at home could be a little better, but it will do. A lot of folks sounded alarm bells when the Vols lost their exhibition game against Indianapolis. You can stop ringing the bells. Exhibition wins and losses are meaningless. These are tune-ups and coaches use them as such. Tennessee’s real problems are off the court where Bruce Pearl’s indiscretions may prove costly down the road. For now, Tennessee is playing well enough and should reach the finals of the NIT Preaseason Tip-Off following a win against VCU which I think they will get. Oh, and that Tobias Harris kid is everything he was hyped up to be. He currently leads Tennessee in scoring at 16.3 points per game, though he also leads in turnovers with 3.7 TPG.
Florida (3-1). How does the preseason SEC favorite end up number seven? I think Doug Gottlieb summed it up well on Sunday when he said, “And then I saw them get pounded by Ohio State and I realized why all five starters returned.” Florida easily handled UNC Wilmington, 77-60, in the Gators’ season opener but they followed it with an ugly loss to Ohio State in which they played the same uninspired defense that they played last year. The Buckeyes easily beat Florida’s press and shot 62.9% in the game. The Gators had no answer for Jared Sullinger inside who went 13-17 from the floor, nor for David Lighty who went 9-11. You will recall that I expressed skepticism over Florida being tabbed as the SEC preseason favorite. They appear to be the same team as last year in many respects, which makes sense as they have all the same players. They still lack defensive intensity particularly inside. Yes, they did pummel North Carolina A&T 105-55 following their loss to Ohio State and they got a quality win against NBA-bound Kenneth Faried’s MoreheadState team, but I remain skeptical. Florida shot only 26.3% from three point range and 38.9% overall in that game and Faried had his wicked way with Florida’s bigs scoring 20 points and pulling down 18 rebounds. Patric Young was supposed to provide the inside game Florida was lacking but in four games for the Gators, he has yet to prove he is up to the job. Get it together, Gators, or you’re going to make a lot of media folks feel very silly for picking you number one, not to mention those that picked the Gators as National Championship contenders.
Mississippi (2-1) Ole Miss opened the year with a meaningless win over Arkansas State, which is currently 0-4 but then got a quality win over Ohio Valley Conference favorite Murray State behind guardsZach Graham‘s career high 22 points and Nick Williams’ 21 points. The Rebels then lost a tough one against a quality Dayton team that came back from a 15 point second half deficit to win 78-71 by taking advantage of a 33 to 16 free throw opportunity disparity. In the end I don’t expect this loss to cost Mississippi as a bad loss. The problem, however, was this was Mississippi’s last chance to get a quality win against a non-conference opponent. The rest of Ole Miss’s preseason schedule is cupcake city and since I expect the Rebels to be a bubble team this year, picking up another quality non-conference win was crucial. It may take ten conference wins to make the Tournament now. It sounds silly to say that so early, but that’s the situation that Mississippi puts itself in every year by continually playing one of weakest preseason schedules of any team in a major conference.
South Carolina (2-1) After watching the Gamecocks lose to Michigan State 82-73 in a game they were never supposed to have a chance of winning anyway, I realized I really liked this team. They played hard throughout and were never intimidated by the number two-ranked Spartans. Michigan State forced them into 20 turnovers and the ‘Cocks shot poorly making only 35.7% from the field, but were able to get off 70 shots to State’s 53. They battled and impressed me with their hunger. The reality is that they just didn’t have the talent to keep up. Spartan’s loaded team. This loss was sandwiched by dominating wins over Elon 95-79 and Radford 85-56. If South Carolina continues to play this way, I may have to rethink the four SEC wins I predicted, even in the loaded SEC East. Hard play always pays dividends. Hey did anyone else notice that South Carolina replaced 5’9 leading scorer Devan Downey who shot 40% last year with 5’9 leading scorer Bruce Ellington, who is shoots 35.1% this year. Ellington also averages three rebounds, 2.3 assists and four turnovers, nearly identical to Downey’s marks in the same categories.
LSU (2-2) Well, it’s getting ugly down here towards the bottom. What is there to say about LSU? They opened with an 87-78 win over Northwestern State, and then lost to lowly Nicholls State 62-53. LSU held Nicholls State to only 35.8% from the field and only seven assists, outrebounded the Colonels and blocked more shots, yet they still lost. Perhaps that has something to do with the fact that NSU stole the ball from them 12 times. When you can hold a team to only 35.8% and outrebound them by nine and still lose to that bad team, it’s going to be a long year. There is some great young talent on this team in freshmen Andre Stringer and Ralston Turner who are leading the team in scoring at 15.8 and 12 points, respectively, but their shooting is horrendous at only 34 and 37%. LSU managed to get a win over Tennessee-Martin79-56 — no reason for excitement there — and a loss against Memphis. It’s early, but I think the Tigers are still a year away.
Alabama (2-3) While LSU is disappointing, Alabama is inexcusable. Between talented players like JaMychal Green, Tony Mitchell, and Senario Hillman there is no reason Alabama should be on a three game losing streak to the likes of Seton Hall, Iowa and St. Peters. Seton Hall was picked to finish seventh in the Big East and Iowa was picked last in the Big Ten in the Rush The Court conference primers. Folks, I like Anthony Grant, but it’s getting ugly out there. Alabama shot only 32.5% from the field in that loss to St. Peter’s, a game that was supposed to be a walk through. Well, at least Alabama has wins against Florida A&M and Troy. That’s got to count for something right?
Auburn (1-3) When you open up with three straight losses to basketball giants like North Carolina-Asheville, Samford and Campbell, and your only win is a two point victory over a bad Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders team, it’s hard to find something to be positive about. Because I like to find things to build on, I found something good. Sophomore guard Andre Malone is shooting lights-out from three point range, making 14-25 shots thus far. Last year he shot a mere 20.7% from three. After him, the Tigers are nothing to write home about. Auburn is currently last in the SEC in scoring offense, scoring margin, field goal percentage and turnover margin, and are eleventh of twelve teams in field goal percentage defense, three point percentage defense, assists, steals, and turnover margin. All of that amounts to Pomeroy’s lowest-ranked team in the Big Six conferences. Those numbers aren’t exactly against stellar teams. Good luck to you Auburn, those predicted three SEC wins are all of a sudden looking pretty hard to come by.
A Look Ahead
Here are the key matchups for Southeastern Conference teams this week:
Georgia has a game they should win against Notre Dame in the Old Spice Classic on Thursday. Assuming they do, they will face the winner of Temple and California on Friday, a quality opponent either way. If they lose they face the loser of that same game. A good early test no matter the outcome, but the win is necessary as the Old Spice Classic is Georgia’s last chance for some good non-conference wins.
Tennessee next plays a tough VCU team on Wednesday at 7:00 Eastern. Win that and they take on the winner of Villanova/UCLA, (likely ‘Nova) in the championship of the NIT Season Tip-Off on Friday. These two wins are important for Tennessee to keep their momentum going and stay positive in the face of the punishments handed down against their coach.
Kentucky’s foe tonight is Washington, a team that surely will want vengeance against the Wildcats for stealing away Terrence Jones and the now ineligible Enes Kanter, both of whom had previously committed toHuskies coach Lorenzo Romar before backing out and pledging allegiance to Calipari. It’s must-see hoops TV tonight at 9:30 Eastern.
Other Points of Interest
The SEC named Vanderbilt’s John Jenkins SEC Player of the Week after he averaged 21.7 points and 3 rebounds per game in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off in San Juan in games against Nebraska, West Virginia, and North Carolina.
Tennessee’s Tobias Harris, was named SEC Freshman of the Week after leading the Volunteers in scoring and rebounding at 16 and 7 in wins against Belmont and Missouri State.
Vanderbilt’s Brad Tinsley just barely got the triple double against Presbyterian in Vandy’s season opener with 11 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists, but it was good for Vanderbilt’s first one ever in its 110-year history.
There is a little disparity between the SEC East and the SEC West. Maybe you’ve noticed. Currently the SEC is 29-12 overall, but 17 of those wins and only three losses come from the SEC East against slightly superior competition than the West is playing. The West is now 12-9. It’s time that the SEC adopt a conference tournament that seeds the best team against the worst rather than pitting the number one team in the East against the number six in the West. This hurts the conference’s chances at getting five to six bids. It also severely hurts the West’s chances of getting multiple bids as the top West teams must play the bottom East teams which while still at the bottom of the East are considerably better than the bottom of the West. I am sure that come conference tournament time Mississippi State would much rather be facing off against the likes of Auburn or LSU than Vanderbilt or South Carolina, either of which could very well win a game or two in the conference tournament.
Thanks to Villanova’s loss, Kentucky inched nearer the top of the polls again, moving to #2 in the ESPN/USA Today Top 25 and #3 in the AP Top 25. Tennessee moved up a couple of spots to #12 in both polls, while Vanderbilt fell to #22 in the AP and #24 in the ESPN/USA Today poll. Mississippi and Florida are still getting votes, but the SEC is looking like a three-team race in the East and it appears no one wants to win the West. Arkansas leads the West and critics may point at their 12-11 overall record as a negative, but this is a totally different team with Courtney Fortson in the lineup. Kentucky’s DeMarcus Cousins was named SEC Freshman of the Week for the third time this season and Arkansas’s Courtney Fortson took player of the week honors.
GAMES OF THE WEEK
2/9 -#12 Tennessee @ #24 Vanderbilt – 7PM – ESPN
2/9 – Alabama @ #2 Kentucky – 9 PM – ESPNU
2/10 – Florida at South Carolina – 8 PM – ESPN 360
Kentucky jumped out to a quick 7-0 lead over the Rebels and never looked back en route to a 85-75 victory. The Wildcats never trailed in the game and built the lead to 27-9 just ten minutes into the game. A big part of the Wildcats’ plan was to frustrate Mississippi guard Chris Warren and it worked as UK played tough defense throughout the game. Ole Miss would make runs and cut the lead to three on a couple of occasions but UK responded by pushing the lead to double digits where it remained. DeMarcus Cousins led the way for Kentucky with 18 points, 13 boards and 4 blocks. John Wall added 17 points and 7 assists and put aside any concerns of a rift with UK coach John Calipari. Darnell Dodson moved into the starting lineup for UK and had 14 points on 4-5 three-point shooting. The Rebels were led by Terrico White with 19 points and Eniel Polynice added 14 as the three Ole Miss guards (including Warren’s 15) accounted for 48 of Ole Miss’s 75 points.
MISSISSIPPI STATE (4-2) @ VANDERBILT (5-1)
The Commodores were dominating the Bulldogs early and at one point had built a 14-point lead, but Mississippi State cut into that lead at 73-72 with 28 seconds left when Dee Bost nailed a three-pointer. Vandy’s John Jenkins then hit two free throws with :06 left and Dee Bost missed a potential game-tying trey as Vanderbilt hung on for the 75-72 win. The win was the Commodore’s 16th straight home win. Jermaine Beal led Vandy with 17 points and A.J. Ogilvy added 16 as VU won their 11th game out of 12. Kodi Augustus led Mississippi State with 15 points and Jarvis Varnado had 12 points and 14 rebounds for the Bulldogs.
ARKANSAS (3-3) @ GEORGIA (1-5)
Georgia pretty much had their way in the first half of the game with the Razorbacks as they built a 37-22 halftime lead. The Bulldogs came out cold in the second half with only two FG’s in the first ten minutes and Arkansas used a 26-8 run to pull away for a 72-68 win. Arkansas’ Courtney Fortson sealed the deal with five FT’s in the last forty seconds. He led the Hogs with 27 points and hit 12-16 FTs in the game. Michael Washingon and Marshawn Powell had complete games for Arkansas with 15 points/8 boards and 11 points/9 boards. Trey Thompkins had 21 points for the Bulldogs and Travis Leslie chipped in with 14 points for the Bulldogs.
TENNESSEE (4-2) @ LSU (0-7)
The Volunteers seemed to have their game with LSU firmly in control as they led the Tigers 51-37 with about eight minutes remaining. At that point, the Tigers mounted a furious rally and the Volunteers could only manage eight points the rest of the way. LSU pulled within a point at 55-54 with seventeen seconds remaining but Bobby Maze calmly sunk a pair of FTs and the Vols held on for a 58-54 victory. Wayne Chism was the only Vol in double digits as he scored 20 points and hauled in 7 rebounds. For the Tigers, it was another dismal shooting night as they sank just 30.5% of their shots and were held to just 16 points in the first half. Bo Spencer hit 4 3-pointers and scored 25 points to lead the Tigers. Tasmin Mitchell added 13 points and 17 rebounds.
FLORIDA (4-3) @ ALABAMA (3-4)
Florida held a 64-60 lead over Alabama with 1:59 remaining but the Crimson Tide were not finished fighting. Alabama’s Anthony Brock stole the ball and scored on a three-point play and Mikhail Torrance hit a jumper to give Alabama a 65-64 lead with forty-nine seconds left. Florida’s Erving Walker then hit a jumper to give the Gators a 66-65 lead and Florida’s defense denied a couple of Alabama chances to seal the Gator win. Alex Tyus led the Gators with 19 points on 8-10 shooting and he pulled down 7 boards. Walker finished with 16 points and Kenny Boynton 15 as the Florida starters accounted for all but two of the Gator points. Torrance led Alabama with 22 points and hit five threes. JaMychal Green added 14 points for Alabama. This game was the first SEC meeting between UF coach Billy Donovan and former Florida assistant Anthony Grant.
KENTUCKY (6-1) @ LSU (0-8)
Kentucky was wary of a “trap game” heading into LSU just two days after the Tigers gave Tennessee all they wanted. The Tigers jumped out to a 6-1 lead over UK and were trailing just 12-10 with 10:44 left in the first half. Any thoughts of a LSU upset were dashed as UK went on a 22-0 run and took a 42-14 lead in at halftime. Kentucky coasted the second half and never let the Tigers get within 20 and won the interdivisional matchup 81-55. The game marked the sixth straight double-double for DeMarcus Cousins who poured in 19 points and 13 rebounds. Patrick Patterson added 16 and Eric Bledsoe and UK is now 22-1 on the season. Bo Spencer scored 25 points and Tasmin Mitchell added 10 as the Tigers shot just 31.8% for the game.
SOUTH CAROLINA (4-3) @ TENNESSEE (5-2)
Devan Downey may be the Southeastern Conference’s most dangerous shooter, but Tennessee’s Wayne Chism stole the show from him for at least one night. Chism scored a career-high 30 points as #14 Tennessee limited Downey’s scoring opportunities in a 79-53 rout of South Carolina. Tennessee held USC to just 16 points and led at the break 30-16. Bobby Maze and Scotty Hopson both had 11 points to pace the Vols. Downey did score 26 points, albeit on a 5-20 shooting night. He was 13-14 from the line. Brandis Raley-Ross threw in 12 for the Gamecocks.
VANDERBILT (6-1) @ GEORGIA (1-6)
The Georgia Bulldogs shocked the SEC when they outscored the Vanderbilt Commodores 49-32 in the second half en route to a 72-58 win. Vandy led 36-28 in the second half, but Georgia figured out the Vandy press and used a 14-21 shooting second half to spring the upset. Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie both had 17 points for the Bulldogs and Dustin Ware added 10. Jermaine Beal and Brad Tinsley were the only two Commdores to show up with 21 and 18 points.
AUBURN (2-5) @ ARKANSAS (4-3)
Courtney Fortson scored 24 points — including nine in a row late in overtime — to lead Arkansas over Auburn 82-79. Fortson’s 3-pointer broke a 71-71 tie, and he later hit from the perimeter and made two free throws with 40.6 seconds left to make it 78-73. After an Auburn miss, Fortson made a layup for a seven-point lead. Auburn had forced overtime with Andre Malone’s layup on wild play in the final seconds of regulation. Marshawn Powell had 19 for Arkansas and Rotnei Clarke, added 12. Frankie Sullivan and Tay Waller both led Auburn with 18 apiece.
MISSISSIPPI STATE (4-3) @ FLORIDA (5-3)
Florida seemed to have the game in hand, leading the Bulldogs by 12 with 2:38 left, but the Gators had problems putting the Bulldogs away. The Bulldogs scored seven straight points and even got to within four at 66-62 before Florida closed the game out with free throws to win 69-62. Vernon Macklin scored 20 points for Florida and Chandler Parsons added 18 points, 12 rebounds and 6 assists. Parsons was pressed into service as an emergency PG as Erving Walker was benched temporarily during a 2-14 shooting night. Ravern Johnson scored 20 for Mississippi State and Jarvis Varnado had 16 points and 13 boards.
ALABAMA (3-5) @ MISSISSIPPI (4-4)
Chris Warren scored 21 points, and Terrence Henry had 18 points and eight rebounds to help Mississippi come back to beat Alabama 74-67 and stay a half-game behind Arkansas in the SEC West. Mississippi trailed by 23 points in the second half but outscored the Crimson Tide 54-27 in the second half. Alabama dominated the first half 40-20. Terrence Henry added 18 for the Rebels. JaMychal Green scored 18 points for Alabama and Tony Mitchell pitched in 16.