Last week we mentioned the possibility of a Mountain West/Conference USA merger and yesterday the two sides moved closer to “a new association” with the start of combined play happening as early as the 2013-14 season. With both conferences seeing a significant number of their former constituents departing for greener pastures the move is one of self-preservation. This move probably will not have the domino effect that other major moves have had, but should take some potentially interesting target schools off the market for the time being.
Santa Clara has suspended Kevin Foster, the West Coast Conference’s leading scorer (17.8 PPG), for the remainder of the season after his arrest for driving under the influence. Foster has been suspended by the team following his arrest in the early morning on January 22. Since that time he has missed seven games with the Broncos losing all seven. To be fair, the team was only 8-10 with him on the court. Since this is Foster’s junior season, there is a possibility that the team could bring him back next season, but now he will have to deal with the legal system first as he is scheduled to be arraigned March 7 as he has been charged with a misdemeanor.
With Connecticut sitting on the NCAA bubble and its Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun still on an indefinite medical leave our faith in a rally by the Huskies is fading by the day. While Calhoun could theoretically come back any day now, it looks like that day will not be tomorrow when UConn plays DePaul. In fact, it could be quite a while as according to reports Calhoun is still meeting with medical specialists to get second- and third-opinions on how to manage his spinal stenosis. Calhoun is apparently still deciding whether to go with conservative management or undergo a surgical procedure, which would probably keep him out for the rest of the season. With just six games left in the regular season and the hopes of a promising season growing bleaker with every game, we would expect Calhoun to make a decision in the near-future.
It was not quite like Larry Bird calling his Celtic teammates “sissies” in the 1984 NBA Finals, but after looking at tape of their home loss to Michigan State, Jared Sullinger criticized the entire team for playing like “spoiled brats” for their constant arguing with each other and the officials. Sullinger was careful not to simply call out his teammates as he included himself in the comment since along with his impressive totals of 17 points and 16 rebounds he also had 10 turnovers. It will be interesting to see how the Buckeyes respond to the loss moving forward as they have the potential to stay a #1 seed or drop down to a #3 seed with a tricky close to the regular season.
Tonight’s Florida–Alabama game will have a vastly different look than what we expected coming into the weekend. Coming off back-to-back losses the Gators will be without the services of Will Yeguete after he suffered a concussion and required 10 stitches as the result of a fall in Saturday’s loss against Tennessee and will also be without Mike Rosario as he continues to deal with a hip injury. Meanwhile, the Crimson Tide will welcome back two of the four players who had been suspended last week for the catch-all conduct detrimental to the team. While Tony Mitchell and JaMychal Green will continue to serve their suspensions, the team will “most likely” have Trevor Releford and Andrew Steele back for tonight’s game. Anthony Grant has not released any more information about if and when Mitchell and Green would return, but if he wants to avoid being on the bubble on Selection Sunday he might want to consider reinstating them fairly soon.
The Florida Gators suffered a tough home loss to Tennessee on Saturday, but that loss could have long-lasting ramifications. Sophomore forward Will Yeguete left the game with a concussion. Head coach Billy Donovan labeled Yeguete as doubtful for Florida’s next game Tuesday at Alabama. “He failed a concussion test when he went in (the locker room),” Donovan said. “A lot of it is going to be how well he responds. He’s definitely not going to practice (today), not going to practice Monday. The doctors have told me that he can’t play, but (doubtful) would be my guess.”
Tennessee’s win was witnessed by a prominent future Volunteer. Derek Reese, one of Tennessee’s signees for 2012, traveled to Gainesville from his hometown of Orlando. “I was expecting the game to be closer; that was a real good win, real important,” Reese said. “I think it’s a result of Coach Martin’s mentality. He’s tough-minded and he’s going to make you play hard and get the most out of you, and that’s how the successful teams do it in sports. That’s what I was looking for in a college coach.”
Following Alabama’s short-handed road loss at LSU last week, Crimson Tide head coach Anthony Grantspoke of his decision to suspend JaMychal Green, Trevor Releford and Andrew Steele on Friday night. He said he received information about something that happened before the trip: “I’m very disappointed in terms of some of the choices that we as individuals made,” Grant said. “But you’re dealing with young men. I was a college student at one point. Can’t say that I did all the things right all the time.”
Two Crimson Tide freshmen from Huntsville — Trevor Lacey and Levi Randolph — saw increased playing time against LSU as part of the suspensions. Bill Bryant of the Huntsville Times wrote how the relationship between the two, who finished 1-2 in Alabama’s Mr. Basketball each of the previous two years, was formed and how their learning curves were accelerated with the suspensions.
With ESPN in Nashville for College Gameday this weekend, several of the network’s analysts offered up some lofty comparisons to Kentucky’s Anthony Davis. “He’s special in how he affects the game,” Dick Vitale said of Davis. “He’s the only player I’ve seen going back to Patrick Ewing that affects the game without scoring a point.” “He is the best big guy college basketball has seen in a while, several years,” Jay Bilas wrote. “I liken him to a more skilled Marcus Camby. He is a game changer defensively that can block shots around the rim and block perimeter jump shots.”
Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.
A couple of Mountain West battles highlight Saturday’s action but the big one is late Sunday afternoon in the Big Ten.
#14 Connecticut @ Notre Dame – 11:00 AM EST Saturday on ESPN2 (***)
Led by Andre Drummond’s 20/11 on 9-11 FG, Connecticut got back on track by defeating West Virginia on Monday night. To win on the road, the Huskies will need quality efforts from most of their roster. That starts with Shabazz Napier protecting the basketball. Jim Calhoun’s sophomore point guard sets the tone for this team, good or bad. Napier (and UConn as a whole) has struggled with turnovers, especially in Big East play. On the road against a team looking to make its mark in the middle of the conference, the Huskies have to do a better job handing the ball if they are to win this one. The more possessions UConn can earn by using its strong rebounding advantage while minimizing turnovers, the more opportunities there will be for talented players such as Drummond, Jeremy Lamb (25 points vs. WVU) and Ryan Boatright to score.
Can Napier Step Up To Lead The Huskies?
Believe it or not, Notre Dame actually has an outside shot at the NCAA Tournament. 37 at-large bids have to come from somewhere and the Fighting Irish are on the bubble according to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi. This will be a tall order for Notre Dame, even at home. The Irish have won 29 consecutive home games but that will be tested mightily against the Huskies. The emergence of Jack Cooley in the paint could be the biggest reason why Notre Dame has a chance to upset UConn. Cooley has averaged 16.5 PPG and 9.7 RPG over his last eight games, the latest Notre Dame big man to develop nicely under Mike Brey. However, Cooley will likely have a more difficult time against Connecticut’s stifling interior defense. The Huskies have always owned the paint under Calhoun and this year is no different. Notre Dame has to make outside shots in order to win because it can’t count on Cooley alone inside. Jerian Grant has turned into a consistent scorer but the Irish need a third option. Brey had hoped Scott Martin would be that guy but he has really struggled. However, Martin is impacting the game in other ways, rebounding well even when the shots aren’t falling. Notre Dame must try to get to the foul line as well. UConn historically doesn’t foul often so this could be difficult even at home.
If Drummond plays like he did against West Virginia, the Huskies will be a strong favorite. UConn must rebound aggressively to counteract any turnover problems it may have. The Irish have struggled shooting the three ball this year and Connecticut ranks second in interior defense. If those statistics hold true, Notre Dame will have an incredibly difficult time scoring. The good news for the Irish? They have been the best team defending the triple in Big East play (20.9%). For UConn, it’s simple. Protect the ball, rebound, and defend the paint. If the Huskies do that, they will snap ND’s 29-game home winning streak. Easier said than done, of course.
Kenny Gabriel had 24 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 blocks for the first triple-double in Auburn history. Gabriel added three assists and four steals in the Tigers’ 67-41 win over Bethune Cookman. Gabriel’s 24 points were a career-high that he achieved on an 11-13 shooting night. The triple-double occurred with seven minutes remaining in the game. Auburn has improved tremendously from last season, but finishes up non-conference play with a big test against Florida State on Wednesday. The match-up with the Seminoles should be a good indicator of how far Tony Barbee’s team has come.
A new SEC Player of the Week was crowned this week, and the honors go to Kentucky’s Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Kidd-Gilchrist has elevated his play to a whole new level this week. First, he scored a career-high 18 points against Lamar. Then, he topped that by adding 24 points and 19 rebounds against rival Louisville. His 19 records was a new record in the Kentucky-Louisville rivalry series. On the week, Kidd-Gilchrist averaged 21 points, 12.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists. Anthony Davis was named SEC Freshman of the Week giving Kentucky a sweep of the awards this week. Davis averaged 14 points, 11.5 rebounds, six blocks, 1.5 steals, and 1 assist. Davis had 18 points and 6 rebounds in the second half of the Louisville game.
Alabama guard Andrew Steele has been medically cleared to rejoin the team and will begin playing as soon as tonight against Georgia Tech. The junior suffered four concussions in his football and basketball career, but feels as though the lingering symptoms have disappeared. “I’m excited to finally get back on the court,” Steele said. “At one point, I thought I might not get the chance again, so to get back out there with my teammates and do something I love to do is one of the best feelings ever.” Steele averaged 4.0 points and 2.6 rebounds per game last season in limited action. The big question for Crimson Tide fans has to be can Steele hit a three-pointer for Alabama’s struggling perimeter game? Steele was 5-19 (26.3%) last year from beyond the arc.
Ole Miss forward Murphy Hollowaywill not play against Southern Methodist on Tuesday as he is still recovering from a high ankle sprain suffered on December 21. “He’s progressing about as well as we would have hoped,” coach Andy Kennedy said. “It’s been 11 days and our hope is that he continues to improve and we’ll have him when we start SEC play.” Holloway is averaging 9.9 points and 9.6 rebounds per game. His 9.6 rebounds is good enough for third in the SEC. The Rebels have lost three games in a row and look to break the streak without their leading rebounder in the lineup again.
Kentucky plays its annual game in Louisville on Tuesday night, and no we’re not talking about a game against the Cardinals. Kentucky plays Arkansas-Little Rock in Freedom Hall, but coach John Calipari is not sure how long the Wildcats will continue to play a game outside the friendly confines of Rupp Arena. “People have got to come to it and make it something they want us to do,” Calipari said. “I know this, Little Rock at home, there would be 24,000 people there.” Kentucky had a near sellout in Freedom Hall in 2004-05 against Indiana, but other games have left plenty of seats. You may remember that Kentucky has expressed its desire to shift the annual home-and-home series with Indiana to neutral sites alternating between Indianapolis and Louisville beginning next season.
Jared Quillen of BigBlueCats.com is the RTC correspondent for the Southeastern Conference.
Predicted Order of Finish
T1. Florida (11-5)
T1. Kentucky (11-5)
T1. Georgia (11-5)
2. Tennessee (10-6)
3. Vanderbilt (7-9)
4. SouthCarolina (4-12)
1. MississippiState (12-4)
2. Mississippi (9-7)
T3. Alabama (7-9)
T3. Arkansas (7-9)
4. LSU (4-12)
5. Auburn (3-13)
G BrandonKnight – Kentucky
G ChrisWarren – Mississippi
G KennyBoynton – Florida
F EnesKanter* – Kentucky (if eligible)
F TreyThompkins – Georgia
Travis Leslie – Georgia
G BrandonKnight – Kentucky
G GeraldRobinson – Georgia
F PatricYoung – Florida
F TobiasHarris – Tennessee
C RenardoSidney – Mississippi State
Kentucky's Brandon Knight was a hot commodity as a late signee.
What You Need To Know
There are a few things that the casual observer of the SEC may not be aware of but should consider: Mississippi State in November is not the same Mississippi State that you will see in December, nor the one that you will see in January. The Bulldogs will play their first nine games without RenardoSidney, who will have waited out a lengthy suspension by the time he plays his first game. Then, after five more games, Dee Bost will return to the lineup. You recall that he declared for the NBA Draft, failed to pull out by the NCAA’s deadline, lost his eligibility, went undrafted, and subsequently was reinstated with a 14-game suspension. Don’t be surprised if the Bulldogs drop a game or two early in the season to a team they should beat. It means nothing. This will be a very good team that will be fun to watch as the season progresses.
Florida brings back a lot of experience. That would be all five of Florida’s starters, to be exact, plus they add the very talented McDonalds All-American PatricYoung. Young will provide the size inside that Florida lacked last year. That said, count me as one who is still a little skeptical of Florida’s chances at winning the league. Lest we forget, Florida was not one but two Chandler Parsons prayers from missing the NCAA Tournament for a third straight year. Furthermore, Florida lost in the first round to a good but not great BYU team that played a good but not great game. Will Florida be good? Definitely. Great? Well, that remains to be seen.
For those expecting Kentucky to repeat what they did last year because they replaced four freshmen stars with four new freshmen stars — think again. This team is even younger than last year’s and noticeably smaller. Look for the Wildcats to play much faster than last year and shoot better. But DeMarcus Cousins, Patrick Patterson, Eric Bledsoe, and John Wall are hard to replace. If EnesKanter becomes eligible (as most believe he will) by conference play, then they will challenge for the league title; if not, they fight for second or third in the SEC East. It all comes down to Kanter.
The SEC East is going to be very good this year. Mississippi State gets the nod as champion simply because the East teams are going to beat up on each other like no other group of six teams in America. I could see any one of Florida, Kentucky, Georgia or Tennessee winning the East. I hate predicting only seven conference wins for a talented Vanderbilt squad, but I just don’t know where to place them when they have to play eaach of Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and Kentucky twice, plus Mississippi State.
Mississippi State (NCAA #2-Seed) – Mississippi State is the favorite by default as the East is going to be a bloodbath and the Bulldogs only play each Eastern division team once. Playing in the weaker West division is certainly going to benefit Mississippi State as they won’t have to play Georgia, Tennessee, Florida, Kentucky and even Vanderbilt but once. Renardo Sidney is going to be a force, especially in a conference light on dominant big men this year. Add Dee Bost and RavernJohnson in the back court to an improving KodiAugustus and that’s a team that easily wins the West. If the Bulldogs manage to win half of their games against the East, they probably win the overall league crown.