AAC M5: 11.27.13 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on November 27th, 2013

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  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.)

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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

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  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

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  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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Rushed Reactions: Ole Miss 64, Vanderbilt 52

Posted by David Changas on March 16th, 2013

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David Changas is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after this afternoon’s SEC Tournament semifinal between Ole Miss and Vanderbilt in Nashville.

Three Key Takeaways.

Henderson Will Get His Shot at an SEC Championship Sunday.

Henderson Will Get His Shot at an SEC Championship Sunday.

  1. Vandy Goes Cold.  Vanderbilt was in control of the game for most of the first half, as they led by eight with just under four minutes remaining in the frame. After that, the Commodores went ice cold, particularly from three-point range. They were held scoreless for the last 3:49 of the first half and didn’t score their first basket in the second until the 17:35 mark. For the game, they shot just 33.9% from the field, and went 6-of-30 from three-point range. What Kevin Stallings did with this team was somewhat remarkable, as anyone who saw the Commodores two months ago never would have believed it could have performed the way it did in this tournament. But Vanderbilt clearly was bothered by Ole Miss’ Reginald Buckner and Murphy Holloway on the inside, and it was unable to get good looks or knock down enough shots on the perimeter. After playing the last two nights, it stands to reason the Commodores had tired legs, and it clearly showed in their performance Saturday.
  2. Marshall, Marshall, Marshall. Marshall Henderson has been, to say the least, a source of entertainment in Nashville this weekend, and much of the buzz among fans and the media has been about the Ole Miss junior. On Saturday, he was not quite as animated as he was in Friday night’s comeback over Missouri, but he still showed flashes of the personality that drives so many in the league crazy. What can’t be discounted is how important he is to his team. He led Ole Miss in scoring for for the second consecutive game, and, as he did Friday, hit key shots at important times. His play allowed the Rebels to extend their lead, which Vanderbilt was never able to overcome. If the Rebels are able to advance to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in coach Andy Kennedy’s tenure, it’s no coincidence that it comes in Henderson’s first year in the program. Kennedy clearly decided to allow him to display antics that most coaches would not, and it may get the Rebels into the Big Dance. Henderson has deficiencies – he takes too many shots outside the flow of the offense and isn’t a particularly good defender – but he gives Ole Miss an element it hasn’t had in the past, and he was worth the risk for Kennedy.
  3. Is Ole Miss Safe? Andy Kennedy is convinced his team is in the NCAA Tournament, and Friday’s win over RPI No. 35 certainly helped the Rebels’ cause. But Saturday’s win over the Commodores likely did nothing to push Ole Miss closer to a tournament bid. Vanderbilt is outside the RPI top 100, and this committee will be given no real weight by the Selection Committee. The Rebels needed the win more from the standpoint that a loss would have severely damaged their cause, and more importantly, it now gives them a chance to take the decision out of the committee’s hands by beating Florida tomorrow. If they lose to the Gators, it’s anyone’s guess whether they’ve done enough to earn a bid. The only two top-50 wins they have came against Missouri, and they have ugly losses against sub-top-200 teams South Carolina and Mississippi State. The Rebels own 25 wins overall, so it won’t be surprising if they do receive a bid even if they aren’t able to beat the Gators, but Kennedy’s club would be well-served to take care of business tomorrow and earn the auto-bid.

Star of the Game. Marshall Henderson. Henderson went only 3-of-11 from three-point range, but did lead his team with a game-high 23 points. Again, though, it was the timing of his scoring that keyed the Rebels’ second-half run.

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Rushed Reactions: Ole Miss 64, Missouri 62

Posted by David Changas on March 15th, 2013

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David Changas is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after the Ole Miss-Missouri game at the SEC Tournament in Nashville this evening.

Three Takeaways:

Did Andy Kennedy Lock Up His First NCAA Berth at Ole Miss?

Did Andy Kennedy Lock Up His First NCAA Berth at Ole Miss?

  1. A Collapse Befitting Missouri. Missouri has had its trouble with closing out and giving away games throughout the season, but this one took the cake. The Tigers led by 14 in the second half and by 10 with 10 minutes to play. Somehow, they wilted down the stretch, even though Ole Miss never went on a particularly impressive run. With the game tied at 59 and less than a minute to play, Phil Pressey, whose late-game failures have been well chronicled, knocked down an open three from the top of the key to give the Tigers the lead. Derrick Millinghaus then tied the game with a three of his own with 31 seconds remaining. Missouri called timeout, and against the Ole Miss press, Laurence Bowers made an inexplicable pass towards no one in particular at mid-court, and Marshall Henderson got the ball.  After a timeout, Millinghaus hit a jumper with 1.1 seconds remaining to give the Rebels the win. 
  2. Millinghaus to the Rescue.  Early in the second half, Ole Miss point guard Jarvis Summers suffered an apparent concussion and was lost for the game. Rebels head coach Andy Kennedy turned to his backup, whom he referred to after the game as a “spot” player, and Millinghaus answered the call. In addition to knocking down the game-tying and game-winning shots, he didn’t turn the ball over, and played solid defense on Pressey. Without him, the Rebels would be going home. Now, to move on, they’ll need another strong performance from Millinghaus against Vanderbilt, as it’s unlikely Summers will be able to make a quick turnaround for tomorrow’s semifinal.  The diminutive freshman from New York stepped up in his team’s most important game of the season and at a time when it needed him most.
  3. Did Ole Miss Seal the Deal?  For most of the game, it looked like the Rebels would make yet another trip to the NIT, where they’ve been five of the past six years. Now, with another quality win on their resume – and their second over Missouri – a NCAA Tournament berth may be in the offing. Kennedy is convinced that his team has done enough. “No team in a BCS league has ever won 24 games and not made the NCAA Tournament,” he said.  The Rebels will be favored to advance to the championship game, and if they do, it’s reasonable to assume that they’ll punch their ticket to the Big Dance, especially given the failures of so many other teams who came into the week sitting on the bubble.  Even without a win over Vanderbilt tomorrow, Kennedy’s team’s chances to make the Big Dance drastically improved with this quality win, and the relief Kennedy felt after the game was evident in his mood.  

Star of the Game. Derrick Millinghaus.  While Henderson scored a game-high 27 points,  Ole Miss doesn’t win this game without Millinghaus’ heroic play. Tournament play often brings out the best in players in situations such as the one Ole Miss faced with Summers’ injury, and that was the case on Friday night.

Sights and Sounds.  After Kentucky filled Bridgestone Arena in the first game of the session, a letdown was to be expected for this game. But both teams had more fans that anticipated, and both sections were loud. In a league filled with apathetic fan bases, Missouri is a welcome addition, and the Tigers’ contingent trailed only those of Kentucky and Tennessee in terms of size.  Henderson’s taunting of the Missouri section late in the game got it particularly riled up.

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SEC M5: 03.06.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on March 6th, 2013

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  1. Several SEC bubble teams on Saturday made it extremely difficult to make a case for their inclusion into the NCAA Tournament. Ole Miss, Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky, all bubble teams desperate for a win, couldn’t pull through when another victory would have really helped their resumes. The Rebels lost to Mississippi State, a team with just eight wins all year. Alabama had a golden opportunity for a quality win against Florida, but came up short in the last 10 minutes. Tennessee’s loss at Georgia stopped a six-game winning streak that had worked the Volunteers into the bubble conversation as one of the hottest teams in the nation. And Kentucky looked lost against the pressure of the Arkansas Razorbacks. Now, the SEC Tournament is becoming more and more important for teams on the bubble that are not feeling completely confident in their standing for an NCAA berth.
  2. Is Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy back on the hot seat after a loss to Mississippi State on Saturday? The defeat at the hands of the Rebels’ bitter rival has put Kennedy’s team in a situation where they need to win out in the SEC Tournament to feel comfortable with their standing on Selection Sunday. It also put Kennedy in a position where he could be watching the Big Dance from home, a spot he has been in for the previous seven seasons in Oxford. Kennedy admits he understands the frustration, but deferred any conversation about his job status to another point in time. “I understand the frustration of fans. I feel that same frustration. You’re talking about a guy who has blood, sweat and tears in this for seven years. I’ve been dancing on this fence for a long time. All I do, I control what I can control. All of those questions, all of that speculation, should be answered by the person that has the ability to make those decisions. Not by me.” It is clear that Kennedy’s seat is warming up after a loss to the Bulldogs.
  3. Billy Donovan praised the play of junior forward Casey Prather in the Gators’ comeback win over Alabama on Saturday. “He was the only guy that had a level of energy,” the head coach said of Prather. “If he didn’t play well, we probably would have had a hard time winning the game. I thought Alabama outplayed us. They were more prepared than us.” The Gators have struggled on the road of late, losing three of their last four away games. Donovan’s club has just one road game remaining, a Saturday showdown with rival Kentucky in Rupp Arena. Florida hasn’t won in Lexington since February 10, 2008, so rest assured that the Gators will see an opportunity to capitalize on a down year for the Wildcats.
  4. John Calipari is still troubled by the inconsistency of his young Wildcats. “I wake up every day and don’t know how the team will play,” said Calipari. “I hoped that (we were past this) but…” Kentucky had beaten Vanderbilt, Missouri, and Mississippi State in succession at home, but went on the road and showed very little fight in a loss to Arkansas. Calipari attributes some of the behavior he has noticed on his team’s youth. “We’ve got a couple of guys who are overwhelmed by stuff, and that’s typical freshmen,” Calipari said. “When you get overwhelmed, you get anxiety and you back up.” But with inconsistency, there are ups and downs, and Cal’s Cats may turn it on with two important games left in the regular season. Or they might not. We will have to wait and see.
  5. Kentucky assistant John Robic stressed the importance of finishing out the season on a positive note for Kentucky’s chances at an NCAA Tournament bid, considering UK is without freshman center Nerlens Noel. “We’ve been without Nerlens (Noel) for five games now. We took some lumps there without him and then played well with him,” Robic said. “I think there’s still a lot of teams out there that are still being evaluated. You look back at the Arkansas game and there’s only one team that’s gone in there and won this year, and that was Syracuse. There have been a lot of good teams that have not won on the road. We have won four league games on the road. I think it will come down to the remaining games on our schedule. I know the committee takes a lot of things into factor when they make decisions.” Noel’s absence will certainly be taken into account, and the Cats are 3-2 since losing him in a loss at Florida. Finishing the season on a strong note is crucial at this point to prove to the committee that UK can be successful without the super freshman in the middle.
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SEC M5: 03.05.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on March 5th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. College basketball conversation in March is typically dominated by who’s in and who’s out, and this season is certainly no exception. This year, however, the SEC is central to the bubble conversation. Missouri and Florida appear by all accounts to be in. After that, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas and Ole Miss all appear to be heading into the final week of the season and the SEC Tournament holding their collective breath. The latest bracket projections over with our friends at College Basketball Talk on NBC Sports have the SEC on the wrong side of the bubble. Tennessee, despite a road loss to Georgia, is among the last five teams in. Kentucky, Alabama, and Arkansas are listed as among the last five teams out. And moving further and further away at this point is Ole Miss. The Rebels are now listed among the next five teams out, a spot typically reserved for at-large teams needing to win their conference tournament to work their way back into the conversation. The SEC bubble crew needs a quality win this week, or else.
  2. While the SEC may be downtrodden this year, Florida’s claim to the regular season SEC championship is still quite an accomplishment, according to the Gainesville Sun.  Prior to coach Billy Donovan’s arrival in Gainesville, Florida had won a single SEC regular season title. Under Donovan’s 17-year reign as head coach, the Gators have now won or shared five SEC regular season championships. That is an impressive feat, and as the Sun points out, “I’m not sure there has been a more impressive SEC title than this one because of all the injuries the Gators have endured.” The Gators haven’t been at full strength in quite some time, and it will be interesting to see how the committee seeds UF taking that fact into account. Is a number one seed in the cards for Florida?
  3. Yahoo Sports takes into account Florida‘s injuries throughout the year, and makes the case that the Gators lack the quality road wins needed to make their resume worthy of a number one seed. “Florida has only lost five games all season but all five of its losses have come when the Gators have gone on the road to face a quality opponent, or in the case of Arkansas, a so-so opponent. The Gators lost at Arizona and Kansas State back in December and have lost three times this month on the road in SEC to Arkansas, Missouri and Tennessee.” Florida has one remaining road game on its schedule, and beating Kentucky could give the Gators the last and necessary piece of the puzzle for a top seed.
  4. We talked yesterday about the potential for Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy to be on the hot seat after what could be another year of not making the NCAA Tournament. Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork remains supportive despite an ugly recent loss to Mississippi State. “My position hasn’t changed despite how painful it was (Saturday) night,” Bjork said after watching the short-handed Bulldogs defeat his Rebels. Then again, what athletic director expresses disgust in his head coach two games before the end of the regular season? These matters are generally best left for the offseason. Replacing the head coach in Oxford seems drastic considering the positive direction in which the Rebels have moved over the past several years. Kennedy is now the all-time winningest coach in Ole Miss history, and it is not as though he took over a program that was accustomed to annual trips to the Big Dance. The Rebels haven’t tasted the NCAA Tourney since a 22-point loss to UCLA in 2002. Replacing him now only seems to stall the progress that has been made.
  5. Two weeks ago, the SEC microsite published a piece examining the likelihood of Kentucky freshman Nerlens Noel winning the SEC freshman of the year award. The answer was a resounding yes at the time, and now Noel has been named a finalist for the Wayman Tisdale Award honoring the nation’s best freshman. Before his injury, Noel turned in one of the all-time best single season performances for a Kentucky freshman, but he also has the numbers to be competitive for the national award. As WKYT in Lexington points out, “Noel led the nation in blocks per game, while also ranking among the top-30 nationally in rebounds and steals per game. He was the only player standing 6’5″ or taller who ranked in the top-30 for steals.” Despite playing in just 24 games, his defense certainly puts him in the conversation, and it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone if he takes home the hardware.
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SEC M5: 02.20.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on February 20th, 2013

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  1. After commenting over the weekend that his players are uncoachable, John Calipari backed off those comments slightly this week. He was still upset about bad habits, but remained cautiously optimistic. “All that aside, we can make what we want of this season,” he said. “We could be the story of the year, of recovery and all that. We can do that if they choose to do that.” The Wildcats, however, are running out of time. Calipari and company may have to rely upon the SEC Tournament of which he hasn’t placed much value on the last several years. This year, it may be UK’s only realistic shot at an NCAA Tournament bid.
  2. After a somewhat frustrating and disappointing year last season, Mike Rosario has become a huge part of Florida’s dominance this season. Part of the turnaround is that the guard received a lot of guidance from his coach. “Part of the reason I challenged him so much was when he’s focused on and locked in, he seems to play his best basketball,” coach Billy Donovan said. “When he’s loose, relaxed and not on edge or really ready, he gets a little carefree.” Some balance in the offense has benefited Rosario. His offensive rating is more than 10 points higher while his percentage of possessions and shots are both the lowest they have been in his entire career.
  3. Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy insists that guard Marshall Henderson isn’t a distraction. “Marshall and I have constant dialogue about making good decisions,” Kennedy said. “That was all in fun. He just has fun with a lot of things. Sometimes, I’m envious of his nature. He seems to be enjoying it a lot more than I am.” Kennedy’s comments continue to confirm his unwavering support of Henderson, which has to be comforting for players in the Rebels’ program. And with six games left and the SEC Tournament to follow, what more of the legend of Marshall Henderson do we have yet to come?
  4. After just two points and 10 turnovers in the first match-up with Florida, Missouri’s Phil Pressey played better in the rematch last night (seven points, 10 assists, five turnovers). Frank Haith has faith in his junior point guard. “He’s our guy, love him, and we’re going to continue to help him through it and help ourselves,” he said, “We’ve got to show him confidence and our belief in him. That’s all we can do. I’m not going to shred his confidence by taking the ball out of his hands, for sure. He’s going to be out there at the end of games.” With the best win of Missouri’s season now on the resume, Pressey and the rest of the Tigers have to feel better about the remainder of the season.
  5. The Clarion Ledger makes the case for Georgia’s Kentavious Caldwell-Pope as the SEC Player of the Year. Arkansas coach Mike Anderson agrees. “He’s a big guard that can rebound the basketball,” he said. “He’s a guy that can take over the game. And (Georgia coach Mark Fox) said he has taken over this team. As a sophomore, that tells you what kind of player he is.” Caldwell-Pope is averaging 17.7 points and 6.6 rebounds per game, and has scored in double figures in every game this season. His play had led the Bulldogs to five straight wins in SEC play before a recent two-game skid.
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SEC M5: 02.08.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on February 8th, 2013

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  1. Florida’s Will Yeguete will undergo surgery to repair loose pieces of cartilage in his right knee. The devastating news means Yeguete will be out for four to six weeks, meaning it’s possible he could return in time for the NCAA Tournament. “It’s Will’s decision,” coach Billy Donovan said. “He wants to do what he can to play this season.” The forward has been a huge boost for the Gators this season, acting as the second leading rebounder with 6.3 rebounds per game and providing excellent defense. His defensive rebounding percentage is the best on the team and ranks in the top 100 in the nation. This is a bad loss for Florida, which didn’t at all look like itself without Yeguete in a road loss to Arkansas on Tuesday.
  2. That sound you heard last night was the pop of Alabama‘s thin NCAA bubble bursting after a 49-37 loss to rival Auburn. The Crimson Tide managed just 37 points in the game after leading at halftime by the score of 23-13. Coach Anthony Grant had no explanation. “I can’t explain it,” he said. “I can’t. I have no explanation for that.” A performance like that has to bring about disappointment. “I’m concerned about my team,” Grant added. “The opportunities that we had in front of us, to come out – I expect more out of our guys.” Any chances of an NCAA berth just went out the window with this embarrassing loss, and has to be of concern moving forward.
  3. Ole Miss announced that center Demarco Cox, who hasn’t played since December 23, will be out for the rest of the season after a stress fracture in his foot hasn’t healed properly. This announcement comes on the heels (no pun intended) of 6’9″ sophomore Aaron Jones also announcing he would miss the remainder of the year with a torn ACL. Head coach Andy Kennedy has an issue in the frontcourt if he has to go to his bench. “I told Reg (Buckner) and Murph (Holloway) that they got to be prepared to play 40 minutes,” Kennedy said. With any additional injuries, he may no longer be joking.
  4. Georgia guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope always finds a way to get his points, but he insists that Georgia’s recent four-game winning streak isn’t about him. “The difference is we’re playing together,” Caldwell-Pope said. “We’re helping each other through adversity when we’re down, when we’re not playing well. Our defense got better. We’ve just been finishing out games.” KCP still found the bucket, scoring 24 on 9-of-12 shooting, but it’s clear he’s now getting help. Tennessee’s Jordan McRae noticed the other players surrounding Caldwell-Pope. “We didn’t expect everybody else to shoot as well as they did,” McRae said. “We knew Caldwell-Pope, he could shoot.” The Bulldogs haven’t won four straight SEC games since winning the SEC Tournament in March 2009 and haven’t put together a streak this long in the regular season since 2003.
  5. One of Kentucky’s undergraduate assistants isn’t just a young college student taking game notes for coach John Calipari, but he has a wealth of experience to draw from and teach Kentucky’s young roster. Former Wildcat Marquis Estill, who played for former coach Tubby Smith at UK from 1999-2003, is finishing up his degree and helping Calipari as an undergraduate student assistant coach. Estill’s relationship with Calipari has the potential to create an eventual opening for him. “I would like to stay around here,” he said, “but Cal knows a lot of people and has great connections.” But perhaps before talking about a job in the future, Estill and Calipari can start at the beginning. “He actually knows my name now, which is a good sign,” Estill joked.
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