Assessing the SEC Coaching Hot Seat

Posted by David Changas on October 29th, 2014

As the college basketball season approaches, it’s time to assess how much pressure, or lack thereof, is on each of the SEC’s 14 coaches.

The Seat is ICE COLD

  • Billy Donovan (Florida) and John Calipari (Kentucky). It is hard to imagine two seats being any cooler than these two. The only way either leaves his current post is voluntarily for a high-profile and higher-paying job in the NBA. While that may still be a threat for both, Calipari would appear to be the more likely option to eventually take that route. Donovan, who remarkably is now entering his 19th season at Florida, does not appear to be headed anywhere, although he has flirted with — and once even took the Orlando Magic gig — several times in his tenure. For now, though, the two kings of the SEC are firmly entrenched at their respective schools and appear to be primed to dominate the league for the foreseeable future.
  • Bruce Pearl (Auburn). The Auburn administration did what many thought was unthinkable in March: It made Auburn basketball relevant again. The school’s hiring of Pearl was not just a home run; it was a grand slam, as the former Tennessee coach will have the Tigers playing at a high level within two to three years. He has already started recruiting well  – his 2015 class is currently No. 10 in Rivals.com‘s most recent ratings — and once his system is in place with the right parts, the rest of the SEC will be on notice.
Auburn is happy to have Bruce Pearl back in the SEC. (athlonsports.com)

Auburn is happy to have Bruce Pearl back in the SEC. (athlonsports.com)

  • Donnie Tyndall (Tennessee). Tyndall takes over a program that went to the Sweet Sixteen last season and was one controversial call away from having a chance to play for a Final Four berth. However, it is no secret that former head coach Cuonzo Martin was not beloved in Knoxville, and Tyndall’s engaging personality seems to be a better fit for the school. The Vols will certainly struggle this year and maybe a couple more after that, but Tyndall will get a pass in the short term to bring in players who fit his more frenetic system.

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Ole Miss and Kentucky Get Shots at Redemption

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on February 18th, 2014

It’s hard to say tonight’s game against Kentucky is Ole Miss’ last shot at NCAA Tournament redemption. After all, it was only one year ago that the Rebels took the drama out of their Selection Sunday by running the table in the SEC Tournament. But the odds this season are heavily against another automatic bid for Ole Miss. That makes tonight’s match-up with the Wildcats in Tad Smith Coliseum something of a last stand for Andy Kennedy’s team. The Rebels (7-5 SEC) sit alone in fourth place in the conference standings, but they are coming off close road losses to RPI #116 Alabama and RPI #85 Georgia. Those were damaging, no doubt, but the Rebels are not completely dead as they currently rank #67 in the latest RPI. That’s certainly not an enviable position for mid-February, but it isn’t so far out of the picture that a late season run can’t fix their prospects. If such a run is to happen, it needs to start tonight at home against a team that pounded the Rebels a mere 14 days ago.

Ole Miss needs everyone to pitch in on the glass to combat Dakari Johnson and Kentucky's talented front line (bigstory.ap.com).

Ole Miss needs everyone to pitch in on the glass to combat Dakari Johnson and Kentucky’s talented front line (bigstory.ap.com).

So what needs to change for Kennedy’s squad since its loss at Rupp Arena? For one, they can’t get hammered on the boards (-15) like they did in that game, and their last two losses (-23). In their lone win in the last four games, the Rebels edged out Missouri on the glass by one and did so largely by fighting for loose balls and starting the game with better energy. With freshman Dwight Coleby seeing the floor more often in recent weeks, Kennedy now has five bigs he trusts in his regular rotation. The Rebels need these numbers to translate into relentless effort to counter Kentucky’s talented and athletic front line. Ole Miss doesn’t need to win the rebounding battle, it just needs to make sure it doesn’t get out of hand. Of course, that’s easier said than done against the Wildcats. A return to normalcy for Sebastian Saiz would go a long way. If you remove the Missouri game from consideration, he’s grabbed only two rebounds in his last 44 minutes of game action. Saiz still has a healthy 15.7 percent defensive rebounding rate (the highest on the team) on the year, so he can be a big part of cutting into Kentucky’s advantage on the glass.

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An Under the Radar Marshall Henderson is Good for Ole Miss

Posted by David Changas on January 23rd, 2014

Maybe it’s because his team isn’t as talented as last year. Maybe it’s because we’re used to him now and his act has worn thin.  Maybe he’s simply more mature. Whatever the case, the Marshall Henderson who entertained us with heroic shots, crazy antics, and endless taunts just doesn’t seem to be stirring the pot like he did a year ago. Sure, he still likes to put on a show and pound his chest after a big three or a pretty pass. It appears, though, that Ole Miss’ efforts to have the senior guard tone down his act have succeeded. Prior to the season, the school made the decision to suspend him for three games for his behavior – he missed the season opener and the team’s first two conference games. He completed that suspension, and proceeded to win SEC Player of the Week honors immediately upon his return after wins over LSU and South Carolina. While his scoring average is slightly down from last year (from 20.1 to 19.2 PPG), his assist and turnover numbers are slightly better. His team, which lost frontcourt stalwarts Reginald Buckner and Murphy Holloway to graduation, relies on him more than ever, and if it is going to make a run at a second-consecutive NCAA Tournament bid, will need the formerly volatile, now docile guard to be at his best.

Marshall Henderson Under the Radar? (US Presswire)

Marshall Henderson Under the Radar? (US Presswire)

The efforts that coach Andy Kennedy has made to rein in Henderson’s behavior have been well-chronicled. Kennedy has indicated that the fifth-year senior has not caused any problems whatsoever this year. On Wednesday night, he returned to the place where he first burst onto the scene when the Rebels visited Vanderbilt. His performance Wednesday was subpar – he scored only 11 points, going 3-of-10 from three-point range – but he showed he still has a flair for the dramatic. After Vanderbilt overcame a 13-point deficit early in the second half deficit to take a one-point lead with just over six minutes remaining, Henderson did his thing. “We turn it over, and he gets a three in transition and then he comes back and hits another one right after that. Those were both daggers,” Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings said after the game. “Dai-jon [Parker] did as good a job as you could do on him, and the kid still probably hits the two biggest baskets in the game.” It was yet another example of Henderson displaying his keen ability to come up big in important moments.

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Ole Miss Emerging as a Dark Horse Candidate for an NCAA Bid

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 21st, 2014

Kentucky and Florida will hear their names called on Selection Sunday — all hell would have to break loose for those two bids to become undone. But is there a third bid, or (gasp) more, out there for the SEC this season? It’s not hard to envision the conference cannibalizing itself to the point that that a potential third bid disappears altogether. But if it does exist, it’s dangling out there for a number of teams to pursue. Tennessee (home loss to Texas A&M), LSU (2-3 in its last five games), Missouri (losses to Georgia and Vanderbilt), and Arkansas (loss to Georgia) are all still viable candidates to do so, but each has slipped lately in its pursuit of it. Ole Miss, however, has built some momentum and is a dark horse for that third bid — assuming, of course, that a third bid turns out to exist.

Jarvis Summers and Ole Miss are a few quality wins away from being a legitimate tournament contender (bigstory.ap.com).

Jarvis Summers and Ole Miss are a few quality wins away from being a legitimate tournament contender (bigstory.ap.com).

The Rebels are a road loss to Mississippi State away from being off to a 4-0 SEC start. That loss in Starkville isn’t a good one, but it came down to the wire and rivalry games are always tricky. Before that, Ole Miss can explain most of its other losses. The Rebels fell in overtime to Oregon (RPI #18) and Dayton (RPI #51), and lost in the final minutes at Kansas State (RPI #32). Not as easy to explain away is a home loss to Mercer, but their RPI (#70) isn’t as bad as it might have seemed (although that will certainly drop during their Atlantic Sun schedule). There are warts, of course, starting with a lack of other quality wins. Ole Miss’ best current win is against LSU (RPI #66), and after that it falls off to Georgia Tech, Penn State or Western Kentucky, each with RPIs north of #120.

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SEC M5: 01.17.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on January 17th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. That sound you hear rushing past you? That’s Missouri dive-bombing off the bubble. The Tigers wiped out a 10-point halftime deficit in just a few minutes, but Vanderbilt regained control to get a home win last night. The Commodores’ half-court defense was impressive, as they largely bottled up Missouri’s dribble drive offense, especially Jordan Clarkson. Their zone also forced the Tigers to shoot more threes than they usually do (26 attempts last night; they average 17.3 per game). The fight that Kyle Fuller, Rod Odom and the rest of team have shown since Eric McClellan’s dismissal has been laudable, and the Commodores were due a win. Fuller and Odom each logged 40 minutes and still found the energy to hit the deciding shots in the final moments.
  2. Andy Kennedy has had the tall task  this season of replacing two incredibly productive big men in Reginald Buckner and Murphy Holloway. So when LSU and its frontcourt bursting with talent rolled into Oxford it seemed obvious which team would have the advantage down low. But freshman Sebastian Saiz had a breakout game (20 points on 8-of-11 shooting, nine rebounds) and Jordan Mickey and Johnny O’Bryant were held to just eight points combined. “It’s amazing when the ball goes in the basket, and what that does for your confidence,” Kennedy said. “[Saiz] made a couple [shots] early. They were really extended on Marshall, and when teams play that way, we have to take advantage of it behind the zone. We have to finish plays, and Saiz finished the plays. It’s something we’ve been sorely missing.” Henderson is a lot of things, and one of them is an effective decoy (see: Jarvis Summers’ game tying-three against Oregon). There will be easy opportunities for Saiz throughout the rest of the season, so we may not have seen his last big game.
  3. Marshall Henderson is “going back to me,” and we’ll probably all end up better (or at least more entertained) for it. The Dagger’s Kyle Ringo wrote about the tight rope Andy Kennedy may have to walk as the excitable Henderson reaches the end of his career. “He is a senior with 15 regular-season games remaining in his career. If he goes a bit overboard with his showmanship or showboating and taunting, will the school step in and risk short-circuiting another possible NCAA tournament appearance by suspending him again?” Henderson hasn’t done anything this season to attract Deadspin‘s attention, but he does need to keep the shenanigans in check. Unlike LSU and Missouri, Ole Miss is a middle-tier SEC team that has a bit of momentum going its way. We’ve written this countless times, but the conference has a soft underbelly begging for a team to rise up and stockpile a number of wins. The Rebels have the talent to be that team, but only with Henderson on the court in a productive way. 
  4. SI.com‘s Seth Davis doesn’t seem that bullish on Frank Martin‘s prospects at South Carolina. In his weekly mailbag, Davis writs that Martin might be able to turn the program arond in the “long LONG run” and noted that he took the job mostly because he hated his athletic director at Kansas State. Maybe I’m just an SEC apologist (which is not an easy job these days), but the second-year Gamecock coach deserves some more slack here. He didn’t inherit much talent from Darrin Horn, and he lost some of what he did have to the transfer rule. While the Gamecocks are off to an 0-3 conference start, none of the losses were that alarming (going to Gainesville isn’t easy, after all). He’s starting three freshmen and a sophomore, so counting out a significant turnaround by a proven coach seems premature.
  5. But things won’t get easier for Martin this season, as Villanova transfer Tyrone Johnson is now out indefinitely after fracturing his right foot against Texas A&M. Johnson is second on the team in scoring (11.6 PPG), and while he didn’t start against the Aggies, he is also the team leader in minutes (27.3 MPG). This is the second major in-season loss to South Carolina’s backcourt after Bruce Ellington left the team to train for the NFL Draft. While it hurts to lose Johnson, it’s not the end of the world for Martin. A bid to the NIT is a pipe dream after its start, and getting heavy minutes for Duane Notice and Sindarius Thornwell can only help in the seasons to come when a postseason invite may not be so unrealistic.
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SEC M5: 12.10.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on December 10th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. Florida has a big game against Kansas tonight and it appears they will be as close to full strength as they have been all season. Billy Donovan said Scottie Wilbekin and Kasey Hill will return from their respective ankle injuries and play together in a real game for the first time. Neither has a minutes limit, but Donovan’s comments make it sound like Wilbekin is closer to being completely healthy than Hill. “Because [Hill's] been out and been out of practice so long – it’s been nearly about three weeks right now – I just don’t know what I’m going to get from him,” said Donovan. “We’ll give him an opportunity. He’ll have another day of practice under his belt. Hopefully he will get back to feeling more comfortable. He feels pretty good right now and as long as that continues we’ll use him as we need him.” Wilbekin’s mobility will be important for a few reasons: 1. He’s one of the best on-ball defenders in the SEC. 2. An underrated part of Kansas’ vaunted freshmen class has been point guard Frank Mason’s ability to penetrate and either get to the free throw line or create opportunities for the Jayhawk big men. If Wilbekin’s ankle isn’t too tender he should be able to contain this.
  2. Kentucky‘s toughness and effort are being questioned after last Friday’s loss to BaylorKentucky.com‘s John Clay writes that, “intense teams don’t give up more offensive rebounds (18) than it gets defensive rebounds (15) — something that’s happened just three previous times in the Calipari Era.” The rebounding struggles are certainly concerning. Rebounding isn’t like three point shooting: since it’s mostly effort-based it’s harder to have an off night with it. Kentucky should be an elite rebounding team. Rico Gathers and Corey Jefferson are both above average rebounders, but Julius RandleWillie Cauley-Stein, and Kentucky’s cadre of big guards should have been able to wipe that out. They weren’t able to do this, and most glaring were no shows from Cauley-Stein (3 rebounds) and Alex Poythress (2 rebounds, albeit in only six minutes). The Wildcats will run into more teams that can rebound this season and know now that simply walking on the floor doesn’t equal dominance on the glass.
  3. Vanderbilt forward Josh Henderson will miss the rest of the season after tearing his ACL and MCL in the Commodores win against Marshall last week. Losing the junior center hurts Vanderbilt’s already thin front court. He was posting career highs in points and rebounds, and had made improvements on his rebounding metrics from last season. The Commodores have been competitive in all of their losses this season, and that’s encouraging for a team that is clearly rebuilding. Kevin Stallings will need to find some silver lining out of the Henderson injury to further that rebuilding effort. That could be more experience and minutes for talented freshman Damian Jones, who has been the team’s best rebounder. Freshman center Luke Kornet will also be needed for more than the 11 minutes per game he’s currently averaging. The development of these two big men could be a positive out of a sad situation.
  4. We touched on Ole Miss’ loss to Oregon yesterday, but it’s worth exploring again because Marshall Henderson did hoist up 27 shots, and you don’t see that everydayCBSSports‘ Gary Parrish got the following quote from Andy Kennedy after the game about Henderson: “‘The only way to stop him from shooting is to sit him down, and I’ve tried that a few times here and there, and I’ll continue to try that,” Kennedy said. “But he’s a volume guy, he’s been a volume guy since Day 1, and he was a volume guy when I recruited him. I realized that. So I just try to put him in a position where he can help our team, and he’s certainly done that.'” Parrish goes on to write that Kennedy and Ole Miss are certainly better off with Henderson than they’d be without, and there’s no doubt about that. An under the radar story this season is that it appears at least from afar that Henderson hasn’t been a distraction. He’s saying all the right things about coming off the bench (“My favorite players are J.R. Smith and Jamal Crawford, so I just take that mentality into it”), and willingly served as a decoy on Jarvis Summers‘ game-tying three against Oregon. This came after Henderson had hit two three’s to bring the Rebels back, and given his mentality he must have been itching for the ball in the final seconds.
  5. Missouri picked up its third player award this season, as Jordan Clarkson was named SEC Player of the Week. The Tulsa transfer continued his excellent start to the season scoring 25 and 21 points against West Virginia and UCLA respectively. He finally showed the ability to hit from distance against the Bruins. Clarkson received plenty of hype before the season, and it appears this was warranted as he kept up his scoring prowess against better competition. Arkansas freshman Bobby Portis picked up the first hardware of his career, being named SEC Freshman of the Week. Portis only scored 13 points in a win against Clemson, but he did something he hadn’t done yet this season: get to the line (7-of-8 FT’s). He should be able to do this consistently given the athletic advantage he has over most other players his size.
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AAC M5: 11.27.13 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on November 27th, 2013

AAC_morning5_header

  1. We have the early clubhouse leader for worst loss of the year by any AAC team. Rutgers somehow fell short of the low expectations of, well, everyone by losing to Farleigh Dickinson 73-72. How bad a loss was this? Well, FDU was 1-6 entering the game. The one win was against the Caldwell Cougars, a Division II squad, in the season opener. One of the losses was also to a Division II team, Metro State. Their one game against a power conference school was 100-50 loss to Arizona. There are 351 teams in Division I, and KenPom.com ranked FDU #349, giving them only a 4 percent chance of beating Rutgers, who he had pegged as the worst AAC team before the loss. This will be hard to … bottom? More importantly, it will serve as yet another anchor on not just Rutgers’ RPI, which clearly won’t matter much to them this year, but to the RPIs of all the AAC teams who face the Scarlet Knights twice. Adding insult to injury, the only reason Rutgers played FDU was that it lost to Drexel last week, denying itself a trip to MSG for the preaseason NIT final four. Simply brutal.
  2. Rick Pitino revealed Tuesday that Louisville and Minnesota, coached by his son Richard, might open next season squaring off on a American military base. Pitino told WDRB’s Rick Bozich that the deal isn’t done, but if it works out they may play in Puerto Rico. That would be a nice addition to what is setting up as an outstanding slate for the Cardinals next year: a home date with Kentucky, Indiana in New York for the Jimmy V Classic, presumably another Big Ten opponent in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, and capped with their inaugural season in the ACC. While that’s very exciting for fans (and Pitinos), it underscores the weakness of this year’s schedule, which offers Kentucky, North Carolina and … Southern Miss? It’s interesting that the non-conference schedule would appear more difficult when they will be playing in the presumably tougher ACC.
  3. In other scheduling news, Cincinnati fans might get a glimpse of both the present and the past next Thanksgiving weekend. The Bearcats will be playing in the Emerald Coast Classic in Niceville, Florida, a year from this weekend, opening against Middle Tennessee. Depending on outcomes, they could face Ole Miss in the final; the Rebels are coached by Andy Kennedy, who took over as Cincinnati’s interim coach after Bob Huggins was fired in 2005, and who gave way to Mick Cronin when he left for Oxford after that season. With all the turmoil, Cronin struggled early before righting the ship and reaching three straight NCAA tournaments and counting. Kennedy made his first tournament last season, but managed to make it to the Sweet 16. We’d take Cronin, but we understand some Bearcat fans may disagree.
  4. J.J. Richardson says he is happier with his situation as a member of the Houston Cougars, but still has some regrets about transferring from Pittsburgh after two seasons. So he was happy to reunite with his old teammates this week at the Legend’s Classic in Brooklyn. Richardson and his old mates had hoped to square off on the floor, but Pitt won its opener while Houston dropped two games, so the reunion was limited to off time at the team hotel. Richardson’s mixed emotions about his transfer are understandable; while he’s getting more minutes and shots as a Cougar, the senior is averaging only 2 points and 1.5 rebounds this season. He is closer to home, but it would appear he’s much farther from an NCAA tournament.
  5. Connecticut has secured its first commitment of the 2015 class with a pledge from the amazingly named Prince Ali, a four-star point guard from Florida. No word yet on whether Jasmine or the Genie will be part of a package deal. Seriously, it probably can only help coach Kevin Ollie in the recruiting efforts for guards to point at Shabazz Napier, a player who was good under Hall of Famer Jim Calhoun but has blossomed and become great under Ollie the past two seasons.
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The RTC Interview Series: SEC Preview with Dave Baker, Barry Booker and Chris Dortch

Posted by WCarey on November 4th, 2013

Rush The Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you periodically throughout the offseason. If you have any specific interview requests or want us to interview you, shoot us an email at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

With the college basketball season nearly upon us, we thought it would be a good idea to gather some expert opinions on the nation’s major college basketball conferences. As part of our national preview of the SEC, we recently had the pleasure of speaking with three SEC experts in television analysts Dave Baker and Barry Booker, as well as Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook editor, Chris Dortch. (Ed. note – we spoke to each individual separately, but for the sake of expediency, combining their answers into a round table format made the most sense.)

faceprofile

Booker, Baker and Dortch Shared Their SEC Thoughts With Us This Preseason

Rush the Court: How good is Kentucky and what makes it that good? Do you expect the Wildcats to win both the SEC and the national titles?

Dave Baker: A lot of folks think that Cal can be a little blustery at times. I think he’s actually pretty frank in his assessments. Last year, he thought they were gonna be better than they were. He thought they were gonna be a good team; he didn’t they they could be a great team. But he’s really got that swagger back this year. And this team is an incredibly talented team. People can debate whether, coming into their college careers, this is the best recruiting class of all-time, but I can tell you, just in the couple of practices I’ve seen, there has been a marked difference in terms of talent level, attitude and the way these guys are working together. There are some natural leaders that have come in this class. Based on what I’ve seen, his confidence is well-placed. With what their expectations are, they certainly believe they should be in the mix at the end of the year.

Barry Booker: Kentucky has everything it takes to be extremely good. It has elite talent all over the court. I think Kentucky is the surefire favorite in the SEC and I believe it has to be considered one of the top contenders to win the national title. This 2013 recruiting class is just one of the best we have seen – by all reports. It seems like every year, Kentucky gets some of the best recruits. In a year like this, where Kentucky has an outstanding class and it has players like Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein returning, it would be hard to see the Wildcats not being a top-notch team. It is amazing what John Calipari is doing in bringing in that top flight talent to replace top flight talent every year.

Chris Dortch: This historically great recruiting class gives coach John Calipari his most talented team ever, with at least seven future NBA first-round draft picks. Kentucky is definitely favored in the SEC and will be a title threat come March, but there are a handful of teams with more experience that are capable of executing a game plan and sending the Cats home short of the championship game.

RTC: Florida lost its three leading scorers from last season’s Elite Eight team. Are this season’s Gators a legitimate challenger to Kentucky in the SEC?

Baker: I think Billy and Florida will have another really good team. He’s got a situation down there where he just finds people to replace the players who have moved on. They are just incredibly consistent year-in and year-out. I know that they would have liked to have made some deeper runs in the NCAA Tournaments since their championships, but other than that, they’re just really consistent.

Booker: Absolutely. The Gators have gone to the Elite Eight three straight seasons and they are at that level again this season. I am not sure if you can call them number two – maybe Kentucky is 1A and Florida is 1B. If Kentucky does stumble and does not get things figured out, Florida can come in and take over at the top of the league. Freshman Kasey Hill is a dynamic point guard. Even with the departures from last year, Florida is still very strong on the perimeter with Scottie Wilbekin and Michael Frazier. The Gators also return Patric Young inside – who is the best interior player in the league. This is a very solid team. It just has to stay healthy this season. The injury to Will Yeguete really hurt the team last season. It was never able to get back to the same level that it was at before the Yeguete injury.

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SEC M5: 11.04.13 Edition

Posted by Justin Bridgman on November 4th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. Missouri barely escaped in its exhibition game against Central Missouri over the weekend. Missouri’s big men struggled all night, which prompted Frank Haith to use a four-guard lineup. That lineup led the Tigers’ late rally and avoided an embarrassing loss. Missouri fans should be encouraged, however, because Haith’s best team featured four guards on the court at almost all times. With Jordan Clarkson’s ability to attack the rim and create space, having an extra shooter on the floor will make their offense much more effective. Earnest Ross and Jabari Brown will love the open looks they get when Haith uses a four-out/one-in offense. If Missouri’s inexperienced group of big men cannot prove themselves early, look for Haith to ride his guards for most of the season.
  2. Jeff Goodman’s list of the top 25 breakout players for the upcoming season featured two SEC players. Dorian Finney-Smith of Florida and Eric McClellan of Vanderbilt both made the list at #8 and #21, respectively. Once Finney-Smith returns from his suspension, Billy Donovan will be counting on him to play a big role inside. Finney-Smith is expected to be one of the most versatile players on the Gators and help Patric Young shoulder the rebounding role inside. McClellan might not be the starter for Vanderbilt at point guard right now, but in the article Goodman quotes a Vanderbilt coach who thinks he might be the team’s leading scorer. The key for McClellan will be setting up his teammates, though, because he’s already anticipated to be a solid scorer.
  3. Kentucky crushed Division III Transylvania Friday night, although they were sloppy early. Obviously the large margin of victory makes it hard to criticize the Wildcats, but don’t tell that to John Calipari. Calipari understands the importance of getting his players to match their talent with energy, as it was what made his 2012 National Championship team so special. Last season Kentucky struggled to play with consistent effort every game, so this is a great chance for Calipari avoid that same problem. In 30 to 35 of their games this season, Kentucky will already be so talented that the opponent cannot overcome it. However, Calipari wants to win those other games too, and knows the way to do it is to force his team to play with relentless effort no matter the opponent.
  4. Now that he has true point guard talent back on campus, Calipari is bringing back the dribble-drive offense this season. Last seen at Kentucky with John Wall running the show, Calipari feels as though his guards are skilled enough this season to run the system. Look for Andrew and Aaron Harrison to attack the rim aggressively in the offense, and kick out to the wings when necessary. Those drives will leave James Young with great looks in the corner, with the option to attack the baseline as well. The article also mentions that Calipari has been putting Julius Randle at the free-throw line in this offense. That will serve two equally scary purposes. First, he will draw double teams and result in easy dunks for Willie Cauley-Stein. Second, Randle is vicious attacking off the dribble, so slow defenders will never have a chance.
  5. Ole Miss is trying to find some leadership this season, and it showed Friday night. With a number of key leaders from last season gone, and Marshall Henderson starting the season under suspension, Andy Kennedy needs some players to step up. The key here is that Kennedy wants someone other than Henderson to lead this team. Given the unpredictability of his behavior, this is a smart move. Having a player willing to rescue the team when Henderson is having an off night is even more important. What made Ole Miss an NCAA Tournament team last season was the fact that players other than Henderson were leading the team and making big time shots. Henderson is a fun sideshow, and his energy is contagious during the best times, bu it is not the same when things aren’t going well and Andy Kennedy does not want his team’s play to be solely dictated by Henderson’s heat checks.
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Pac-12 M5: 03.26.13 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on March 26th, 2013

pac12_morning5

  1. A day after the news came down that Ben Howland’s days as the UCLA head coach were over, there he was, back in front of the media at the Westwood campus on Monday, giving a farewell press conference. Howland, as expected, was gracious, thanking players and athletic department personnel, including the athletic director who just fired him. Howland said he hopes to continue coaching, although he realizes that his next job will take a step back in prestige. While the growing consensus seems to be that UCLA was right to part ways with the coach, he still gets a lot of respect and will likely kill it wherever he winds up next. Here’s hoping he takes a year off, finds some nice fly-fishing spots and comes back in 2014-15 at either a mid-major or a struggling major conference team and undertakes a successful rebuilding job.
  2. As for the next UCLA head coach, until a contract is signed, sealed and delivered, this coaching search is going to be in the news almost daily. But for now, no real news has come out, other than a ton of marginally sane suggestions s to who the next Bruins coach will be. For instance , when writers from around the Tribune Company (the owner of the Los Angeles Times, among others) came up with their list of potential names, John Calipari was one of the suggestions, along with Anthony Grant, Andy Kennedy and Andy Enfield. Enfield’s probably too green yet to get the UCLA job, Kennedy certainly ain’t happening, and Calipari? Yeah, not buying that at all. But Grant is an intriguing name, should UCLA strike out on their first few targets. Oh, and N.C. State fans? No need to worry.
  3. Arizona is on its way to Los Angeles this week to compete in the Sweet Sixteen at the Staples Center on Thursday. The last time this Wildcats team was in Los Angeles, to face USC and UCLA the week spanning the end of February and the beginning of March, they came away with a pair of losses. And yet, both head coach Sean Miller and sophomore guard Nick Johnson point to that road trip as the time when things started to come together for the team. Johnson in particular says the Wildcats have been a different defensive team since that trip, and the results seem to show it, as they’ve allowed just 0.95 points per possession against four NCAA Tournament teams and one NIT team.
  4. The other Pac-12 team still alive in the NCAA Tournament is Oregon, but they’ve got a tough task ahead as they face the Tournament’s number one overall seed, Louisville, on Friday night. While just getting this far is a success for the Ducks, they’re still focused on getting even further. But in order to do that, they’ll need to take better care of the ball against the Cardinals’ defensive pressure after turning it over 36 times last weekend in their two dominating wins in San Jose. They got away with it last week, but it is likely that if they turn it over 18 times against Louisville, they’ll be back in Eugene on Saturday.
  5. Lastly, we circle back around to the coaching situation, as Percy Allen goes through all the Pac-12 jobs and tries to determine who is and who is not on the hot seat. He lists the obvious ones: Ken Bone, Craig Robinson and Johnny Dawkins, and although the expectation is that all will be back next season, the 2013-14 year will certainly be make-or-break years for each. Also on Allen’s list is Herb Sendek, but he earned himself the benefit of the doubt with this season’s improvement, although if Jahii Carson winds up going pro this season, they’re likely back to square one. And then the final name on his list is Larry Krystkowiak, who is in no way on the hot seat whatsoever, as Utah will almost certainly give him the entirety of his five-year contract to turn things around.
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Breaking Down the Game: Can Ole Miss Ride Its Hot Streak to a Win Over Wisconsin?

Posted by Christian D'Andrea on March 20th, 2013

Christian D’Andrea is a SEC Microsite contributor and an editor at Anchor of Gold and Nashville Sports Hub. You can reach him on Twitter @TrainIsland.

The #5-#12 match-up has traditionally been the most exciting place to be on the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. When red-hot SEC champion Ole Miss squares off with a stout and unpredictable Wisconsin team, it may be the best game of the Second and Third rounds.

Mississippi enters the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2002 after winning the SEC title. The boisterous play of shooting guard Marshall Henderson has made the Rebels a front-page attraction despite their #12 seed, but it’s the steady presence of rock-solid players like Murphy Holloway and Reginald Buckner who have been the fuel behind Ole Miss’ comeback. Henderson, the senior guard in his first year as a Rebel, deserves his share of the praise. Ole Miss needed every victory in its recent five-game winning streak to make it to the Big Dance. Over that stretch, the veteran shooter has averaged 23.4 points per game and made at least three three-pointers in each of those contests. When he turns his swagger on, the rest of Andy Kennedy’s Mississippi team flows with him, often leading to feast-or-famine runs that can lead this team to monster wins and shocking losses.

The confidence that Marshall Henderson and Ole Miss are exhibiting might be enough to get by rugged Wisconsin. (AP)

The confidence that Marshall Henderson and Ole Miss are exhibiting might be enough to get by rugged Wisconsin. (AP)

The Badgers won’t let Henderson and company get too hot, though. Head coach Bo Ryan’s teams are built on a bedrock of slow play and deliberate work on the defensive end. The Badgers’ grind-em-down style of play sucks high-energy guards into their game plan and feeds on frustration. The end result has been a resume filled with key upsets in 2013 and a laundry list of high-scoring guards that were temporarily turned into low-efficiency gunners. Let’s look at how some of the Big Ten’s best shooters have fared against Bo Ryan’s defensive schemes this season. Read the rest of this entry »

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Bracket Prep: Saint Louis, Miami, Mississippi & Ohio State

Posted by BHayes on March 17th, 2013

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The last four auto-bids were handed out on this most special of college basketball Sundays, and as we have for each of the 31 automatic qualifiers to play their way into the Dance, we take some time to give you an analytical snapshot of each team that you can refer back to when you’re picking your brackets.

Saint Louis

Dwayne Evans, Jordair Jett And The Rest Of The Billikens Are Headed Back To The Big Dance

Dwayne Evans, Jordair Jett And The Rest Of The Billikens Are Headed Back To The Big Dance

  • Atlantic-10 Champion (27-6, 16-3)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #22/#17/#15
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +12.2
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #3-#5

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. In a crazy year of Atlantic-10 basketball, one complete with new faces, wild finishes and a constantly changing standings page, no team stayed the course better than the Saint Louis Billikens. They overcame the tragedy of losing Rick Majerus in November while fighting through their own early-season on-court struggles, eventually righting the ship in a major way. They enter the NCAA Tournament with a sweep of the A-10 titles, and winners of 24 of their last 27 games. A top four seed is not only possible but expected – relatively uncharted territory for the Atlantic-10.
  2. While the notion may be a bit clichéd at this point, it’s impossible to look at this Saint Louis team and not think of Majerus. His fingerprints are all over these Billikens. It’s evident in the stingy defense (8th in the country in defensive efficiency), apparent in the patient, mistake-free offense (36th nationally in turnover %), and undoubtedly a factor in the gritty, tough identity that his former team has taken on. Former Majerus assistant  Jim Crews deserves a lot of credit (and some serious COY consideration) for keeping the ship upright and moving in the right direction, but at their core, this is still a Rick Majerus team.
  3. The Majerus effect, slow tempo, and balanced offense have obscured the individual Billikens from the national spotlight, but there is some talent on this roster. Kwamain Mitchell (10.0 PPG, 3.1 APG, 1.4 SPG) is perhaps the most finest of that talent, and it was his return in late December that gave the Billikens a needed boost. Juniors Dwayne Evans (13.6 PPG, 7.7 RPG) and Mike McCall (10.0 PPG, 42% 3PT) have stepped forward this season as well. On this balanced, unselfish team, there is no member of the eight-man rotation that does not know their role and play it effectively. A year ago they showed well at the Big Dance, beating Memphis before giving #1 seeded Michigan State all they could handle in the third round. That Tournament experience will surely serve them well this time around, as they continue to dedicate this season to Majerus. That alone won’t carry them through this loaded field, but when you give a talented and focused team a real purpose, the sky can often become the limit. The Billikens may not be legitimate national title contenders, but anything short of that? Well within reach.

Miami

There's Been Plenty Of Reasons To Celebrate For Julian Gamble And The Canes This Season -- How About Adding An ACC Tournament Title To That List?

There’s Been Plenty Of Reasons To Celebrate For Julian Gamble And The Canes This Season — How About Adding An ACC Tournament Title To That List?

  • ACC Champion (27-6, 18-3)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #4/#14/#14
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +12.3
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #1-#2

 Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

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