What’s Next at Alabama After Anthony Grant?

Posted by Greg Mitchell on March 16th, 2015

Anthony Grant was the SEC’s lone coaching question mark heading into the offseason, but unfortunately for the sixth-year Alabama head coach, news of his firing was released shortly before Alabama received an NIT bid. This led commentator and former Providence head coach Tim Welsh to candidly hurl the following zinger toward athletic director Bill Battle during the NIT Selection Show (after hurling a true but strangely-placed zinger at the NIT itself).

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Welsh’s sentiment seems to capture the consensus on Grant as a well-liked and respectable guy. He was never surrounded by scandal or shadiness and Grant had clearly impressed Battle a year ago when he wrote the following in a blog post: “In every meeting we have had, I came away impressed with his character, with his knowledge and belief in his approach to the game, with his commitment to win championships at Alabama, and with his ability to recruit and develop players, both on and off the court.” Grant clearly didn’t win enough to keep his job; he exits Tuscaloosa with a 117-85 (54-48 SEC) record that includes one NCAA Tournament appearance (2012). Recruiting and player development at Alabama was a mixed bag — Trevor Releford was an excellent get and he also hit paydirt with Tony Mitchell and Levi Randolph. But there were others that never came around. His coaching strength was on the defensive end. Grant consistently built outstanding defensive teams, landing in the top-20 of KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency ratings each season from 2011-13. But offense was a problem. His teams were never better than 60th nationally (this year) on that end of the floor, and his preferred slow style of play turned off a lot of Tide fans.

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SEC Tournament: Day Two Observations

Posted by David Changas on March 13th, 2015

It was an interesting second day of basketball at the SEC Tournament on Thursday. These are a collection of observations and thoughts from the day’s action, both on and off the court, in Nashville.

Observations

  • Alabama’s Jimmie Taylor looks to be a player with a bright future. Although he only averaged 5.3 points and 3.9 rebounds per game this season, he matched his season- and career-high in scoring with 15 points against Florida on Thursday. It was his third consecutive game in double-figures. For a team that is not overly talented in the post, Alabama fans must hope the 6’10” sophomore can build on his performance next season. “[He] continues to show he’s going to be a force in the league for years to come,” head coach Anthony Grant said after the game.

    Anthony Grant may get another season on the bench after all. (AP/Mark Humphrey)

    Anthony Grant may get another season on the bench after all. (AP/Mark Humphrey)

  • Speaking of Grant, there was plenty of scuttlebutt about whether he will return for a seventh season despite having reached the NCAA Tournament only once in his first six. The prevailing sentiment around those close to the situation is that the Alabama administration likes and respects him — Florida coach Billy Donovan said as much in his postgame press conference after the victory — and that he likely will get another shot at coaching the Crimson Tide next season.
  • Auburn may have had a disappointing season but earning its first two SEC Tournament wins since 2010 is a step in the right direction for Bruce Pearl’s program. Without second-team all-conference guard KT Harrell on the floor, the Tigers would not be playing LSU in the quarterfinals. Harrell was terrific against Texas A&M, scoring a game-high 25 points and leading the Tigers to an improbable comeback victory.

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SEC Stock Watch: 02.27.15 Edition

Posted by David Changas on February 27th, 2015

Each week, we take a look at which teams, players, and coaches are on the rise, which are holding steady, and which are on the decline. This is SEC Stock Watch.

Trending Up

  • Kentucky Running the Table. With each passing week, the chances that the 28-0 Wildcats make it to the Big Dance with an unblemished record get prospectively better. Kentucky will face two tough challenges in the next five days — hosting Arkansas and traveling to Georgia — but if they can handle those , they’ll certainly arrive in Nashville for the SEC Tournament without a loss and be prohibitive favorites to remain so.

    Willie Cauley-Stein and his Wildcats have a tough test against Arkansas Saturday. (USA TODAY Sports)

    Willie Cauley-Stein and his Wildcats have a tough test against Arkansas Saturday. (USA TODAY Sports)

  • Georgia. After the Bulldogs inexplicably dropped a pair of home games against lowly Auburn and South Carolina, they bounced back with wins at Alabama and Ole Miss. Those two wins now put Mark Fox’s team at 10-5 in SEC play and in very good shape for an NCAA Tournament bid.
  • Six Teams to the Big Dance. Right now, it looks like the league is in good shape to receive six bids, as both bracketologists Joe Lunardi and Jerry Palm have Kentucky, Arkansas, Ole Miss, LSU, Georgia and Texas A&M into their fields. There is plenty of basketball left to play, however, and no team other than Kentucky and Arkansas should get too comfortable, but for the SEC to be in this position is a dramatic improvement from a year ago.
  • Arkansas as the League’s Second Best Team.There was some debate a few weeks ago about the second-best team in the SEC, but that is no longer the case. Arkansas is now an impressive 12-3 in SEC play heading into Saturday’s big-time tilt in Lexington. The Razorbacks have separated themselves from the rest of the pack and are now playing for postseason seeding.
  • Vanderbilt’s Future. The Commodores started SEC play 1-7 but have since righted the ship, winning five of seven games. Thursday’s come-from-behind win at Tennessee, in which they hit an astonishing 84 percent of their attempts in the second half, is a great example of the improvement of Kevin Stallings’ team. With two winnable home games left against Alabama and Mississippi State, Vanderbilt will astonishingly have a chance to finish .500 in SEC play with a win at Mississippi to close out the season, something that didn’t seem possible a few short weeks ago.

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SEC M5: 02.25.15 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 25th, 2015

SEC_morning5

  1. I’m not ashamed to admit it: There are few things in my hoops world that I enjoy more than watching Willie Cauley-Stein move his feet. Observing a seven-footer glide across the perimeter in a defensive stance is art. Hyperbole aside, Cauley-Stein’s versatility is why NBCSports.com‘s Rob Dauster has him in the top five of his most recent Player of the Year rankings. By his logic, the junior should be the front-runner for the SEC POY award, but is he? My gut tells me that Arkansas’ Bobby Portis or LSU’s Jordan Mickey will get the honor based on their gaudier stats, but it probably should go to Cauley-Stein. As a team, Kentucky is on the verge of accomplishing something quite historic. Even if the Wildcats don’t run the table, their dominance has been the story of this year’s SEC and no one player captures that better than Cauley-Stein.
  2. As a point guard, Andrew Harrison is playing his best basketball of the season. The sophomore has averaged 4.4 assists and just 1.6 turnovers per game in his last eight outings, punctuated with nine assists and a single turnover on Saturday against Auburn. This uptick in production has coincided with a visit from his father, who also spent time with his brother Aaron last year before he caught fire in the NCAA Tournament. As good as Tyler Ulis has played this season, it must be reassuring to John Calipari that Andrew is playing so well too as the calendar nears March. He led the Wildcats to the championship game last year, and that kind of postseason experience is invaluable for a point guard.
  3. Stories about Memorial Gymnasium’s quirkiness at Vanderbilt are inevitable every year. But next year, those yarns will have a fresh angle. Vanderbilt is extending the coaching box up the sideline for the 2015-16 season, meaning that coaches won’t just be confined to the baseline as they have been in the past. Only head coaches will be allowed in the expanded box, so the solitary figure strolling up and down the sidelines above the first few rows of fans will be another unique part of the games at Vanderbilt. There will probably be some changes on the court for the Commodores next year too, at least from a win-loss perspective. There is a drastic disparity between the team’s KenPom (#47) and RPI (#117) ratings this season –eight of the Commodores’ 12 losses have come by four points or fewer, and Kevin Stallings’ group should be a much bigger threat next season if Damian Jones returns.
  4. The Macon Telegraph’s Seth Emerson has some interesting tidbits on Georgia’s NCAA Tournament resume as we enter the stretch run. We’ve also officially reached the point in the season when it’s not too early to talk about SEC Tournament seeding. Georgia stands at 8-6, nipping on the heels of 10-5 Texas A&M and 10-4 Ole Miss. Making up that difference in the standings to earn a double-bye will be difficult, but the Bulldogs have one thing going for them. They’ve already beaten Texas A&M and could sweep the Rebels with a win this evening, which would give Georgia the tiebreaker over both if it comes to that. That makes tonight’s game at the Tad Pad all the more important for a team looking to get back on the right track.
  5. One phrase is noticeably absent in SEC conversations right now: hot seat. Unless something strange occurs down the stretch, it doesn’t look like there will be a new SEC coach coming on board in 2015-16. Reviewing the hot seat scenario David Changas painted back in October, the two most at-risk coaches were Alabama’s Anthony Grant and Mississippi State’s Rick Ray, and both appear to be safe. Alabama has been somewhat disappointing given how well the Tide’s non-conference schedule went, but at 17-11 overall and 7-8 in the SEC it isn’t likely that Grant will lose his job. The same can be said for Ray, as Mississippi State has clearly improved during the season and will have a senior-laden team (Craig Sword, Fred Thomas, Gavin Ware) ready to roll next year. The hottest seat right now might actually belong to Kim Anderson, with Missouri trudging through a miserable season and current athletic director Mike Alden set to depart in August. But it’s ridiculous to think that the new administration would part ways with a native son after a clear rebuilding year.
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SEC M5: Presidents Day Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 16th, 2015

SEC_morning5

  1. Coach Cal took a step back from coach-speak to appreciate Kentucky’s program-record tying 25-0 start after the Wildcats walloped South Carolina on Saturday. “You just tied a record of the most storied program in the country,” he told his team. “You tied a record and you’re all freshmen and sophomores and Willie (Cauley-Stein, a junior).” A win at Tennessee will push these Wildcats past the 1953-54 Kentucky squad, but would only tie the best start for a team coached by Calipari. His 1995-96 UMass team led by Marcus Camby started 26-0 before losing at home to George Washington, and his Derrick Rose-led 2007-08 Memphis team got to 26-0 before losing at home to Tennessee in what was one of the biggest regular season games in recent memory. As fate would have it, if the Wildcats get to 26-0 they would face Bruce Pearl, the man who halted Cal’s 26-0 Memphis team, next Saturday. In any event, both of Cal’s 26-0 teams finished as the National Runner-up, and it would probably be considered a disappointment if this Kentucky squad followed suit.
  2. The SEC got plenty of ink in College Basketball Talk’s Saturday Bubble Banter. Texas A&M strengthened its profile, or at least avoided mucking it up, by holding on to beat Florida. Ole Miss and Georgia, on the other hand, took hits with home losses, but the Bulldogs will be dinged much more than the Rebels. Georgia’s loss at home to Auburn (RPI #162, KenPom #135) would be easier swallow had it happened on the road, but losing in Stegeman Coliseum to the Tigers was a surprise. The Bulldogs had generally taken care of business this season, going 7-2 against RPI 101-200 with the only other loss being their season opener against Georgia Tech. They should be fine, especially coming off a strong win at Texas A&M, but can’t afford another bad home loss with South Carolina coming to Athens on Tuesday. An unrelated statistical oddity about the Auburn-Georgia rivalry: the schools are 90-90 against each other in basketball and 55-55 against each other in football. Talk about not having bragging rights.
  3. Despite its inconsistencies, LSU can be a hard team to match up with since most nights the Tigers will have a huge athletic advantage in the front court. This showed in their win over Tennessee, where the Vols struggled to get good looks against LSU’s length. Jordan Mickey ended up with seven blocks and now has an NCAA-leading 91 blocks on the season, and as a team the Tigers have the sixth-most blocks in the country. Barring a late season collapse, it seems the Tigers are a safe bet to make the NCAA Tournament. Even if they wind up with a 10 or 11 seed, they should be in shape to take advantage of their athletic advantage down low and frustrate teams in the early rounds.
  4. Alabama has quietly been one of the more disappointing teams in conference play. The Tide are now just 5-7 in league play after dropping a must-win game at home to Vanderbilt. This comes after a 10-3 non-conference mark that included a win over UCLA and one-point loss at Wichita State, which was a marquee win Alabama had in their pocket before coughing it up late. To be fair, the schedule makers did the Tide no favors. They’ve already gotten Kentucky twice and have had to travel to Arkansas and LSU. But at the end of the day the NCAA Tournament is out of the picture for a team that has yet again had its offensive struggles under Anthony Grant. This season has been an improvement over last, but Grant’s job security continues to be an interesting question.
  5. Something fishy is going on in Eastern Missouri airspace. The plane chartered by Mississippi State lost an engine and had to make an emergency landing in St. Louis as the Bulldogs were on the way home after a win in Columbia. This comes just a few days after a plane carrying Kim Anderson had to make an emergency landing outside of St. Louis for a similar reason. Fortunately, no one was hurt either time. After his nerves evened out, Rick Ray must have been more pleased than usual with his team’s win. The Bulldogs let an 18-point slip away but held on for the victory, and have now won three SEC road games this season, which is a far cry from the 22-game conference road losing streak the program endured up until the January 21 win at Auburn. Building a program is all about positive momentum, and the Bulldogs have plenty of that right now.
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SEC Stock Watch: 02.06.15 Edition

Posted by David Changas on February 6th, 2015

We’re at the halfway point of conference play, and things are starting to take shape in the SEC. It’s time for our weekly look at who’s trending up, who’s staying flat, and who’s headed in the wrong direction. This is SEC Stock Watch.

Trending Up

  • Rick Ray’s Job Status. A few weeks ago, we wondered whether Mississippi State could win even a single game in the SEC. At the halfway point of conference play, the Bulldogs are just a game under .500, and are coming off of their first road win of the season. Ray’s club appears to have turned a bit of a corner, and things are looking good for him to earn a fourth year at the school.
Rick Ray is finally giving Mississippi State fans a glimmer of hope (Spruce Derden/USA Today)

Rick Ray is finally giving Mississippi State fans a glimmer of hope. (Spruce Derden/USA Today)

  • Ole Miss’ NCAA Tournament Hopes. The Rebels have quietly recovered from a couple of bad non-conference homecourt losses (to Charleston Southern and Western Kentucky), and have won four in a row in the SEC. They own blowout wins at Arkansas and Missouri, a near miss at Kentucky, and are 6-3 in conference play. Andy Kennedy’s team is squarely in the discussion for one of the league’s NCAA Tournament bids.
  • Andrew Harrison. Perhaps it’s a bit premature to put the Kentucky sophomore on this list, but Harrison had his best game of the season in the Wildcats’ win over Georgia Tuesday, as he scored 23 points, had seven assists, and went 3-of-6 from three-point range. Perhaps all of the talk about  Kentucky’s freshmen guards, Devin Booker and Tyler Ulis, has motivated Harrison, and his performance against the Bulldogs is a good sign for John Calipari.
  • Riley LaChance. The Vanderbilt freshman has been a find for Kevin Stallings, but he went through a rough patch recently and bottomed out when he went scoreless in the Commodores’ loss to Georgia on January 27. He has righted the ship, and led the team with 15 in Tuesday’s win over Florida, which broke Vanderbilt’s seven-game losing streak. For the Commodores to have success in the second half of league play, they’ll need superb play from LaChance.

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SEC M5: 01.30.15 Edition

Posted by David Changas on January 30th, 2015

SEC_morning5

  1. The Big 12/SEC Challenge, which has been played in early December over several days the last two seasons — and has not garnered anywhere near the exposure or interest of its ACC/Big Ten counterpart — will move to a single blockbuster Saturday in late January next season. Each of the 10 games to be played will be broadcast on the ESPN family of networks. The move is a bold one given that conference play will be in full swing for both leagues when the event takes place. While some coaches surely won’t like that, we think it is wise — especially in SEC country — to bring greater exposure to the sport after college football has wrapped up. Whether the event will be more successful in this new spot on the schedule remains to be seen, but we bet it will be.
  2. Tennessee head coach Donnie Tyndall had no comment about news that two of his Southern Miss recruits, Rasham Suarez and Jeremiah Eason, were dismissed from the team on Thursday for issues related to their academic standing. While the exact reasons for their dismissals were not made known, they relate to an ongoing NCAA investigation into Tyndall and his previous school. Tyndall has done a nice job this season with an undermanned Tennessee roster and he seems to have much of the Volunteers’ fan base on his side. But those same fans remain skeptical about whether, in light of his uncertain status, he will be around Knoxville for the long haul.
  3. Speaking of Tyndall, his Vols welcome their former leader Bruce Pearl into Thompson-Boling Arena on Saturday. Pearl, who coached at Tennessee from 2005-11 and went to the NCAA Tournament in all six of his seasons at the school, will be making his first trip to Knoxville as the visiting coach. While it remains to be seen what kind of reception he will receive upon his return, odds are that it will be a good one. Many of the fans who pined for Pearl to return to Knoxville as recently as last year have moved on now that he is coaching at another SEC school. For his part, Tyndall thinks Pearl deserves a warm welcome for his many accomplishments in his tenure at Tennessee.
  4. SEC basketball has received more than its fair share of criticism over the past several years, and most of that conversation has been deserving. The league has been very inconsistent aside from Florida and Kentucky and its low number of NCAA Tournament bids has accurately fit the conference profile. But according to The Sporting News’ Mike DeCourcy, things are finally looking up. His article points out that league teams have beefed up their non-conference schedules to the point that it is the best among the Power Five conferences. Such strong scheduling in addition to improved play in those games has resulted in better conference-wide RPI and KenPom numbers, which should translate into more NCAA bids. And while the league still has a ways to go to improve its overall perception, the future holds promise with several schools like LSU and Texas A&M recruiting well and building competitive programs.
  5. Alabama travels to Lexington to face Kentucky for the second time in 15 days on Saturday, and if things don’t go better than the Crimson Tide’s first game against the Wildcats, they will be looking at their fourth loss in five games and a 3-5 conference record. That is certainly not good news for Anthony Grant, who came into the season on the hottest of hot seats after receiving a reprieve from athletics director Bill Battle last spring. As AL.com‘s Kevin Scarbinsky writes, Tuesday’s disappointing home loss to Florida was symbolic of Grant’s entire tenure at the school. Since he arrived six years ago, people have expected things that Grant has been unable to deliver. Against the Gators, the Crimson Tide shook off a rough first half to have a chance to win before, once again, falling just short. Given the regularity with which this kind of result has occurred throughout his career in Tuscaloosa, it stands to reason that there is a very good chance Grant will not be back for a seventh season at the school.
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SEC M5: 01.26.15 Edition

Posted by David Changas on January 26th, 2015

SEC_morning5

  1. Kentucky got some good recruiting news when it picked up its first commitment of the class of 2016, and it didn’t come from one of the typical locales. Ty Wynyard, a 6’9″ power forward from New Zealand, gave his pledge to John Calipari over the weekend. The Kiwi will be the first from his country to suit up for the Wildcats, and more interesting than the fact that he’s considered to be a good rebounder with a strong inside game, is that he is the son of world champion woodchoppers. As ESPN.com‘s Jeff Borzello points out, although Wynyard is currently a member of next year’s class, there is a good chance he could reclassify to the class of 2015 and end up in Lexington as soon as next fall.
  2. When Auburn made the quick move to dismiss Tony Barbee and hire Bruce Pearl last March, many in the state and around the SEC wondered if Alabama, historically a better basketball job, could have instead landed the former Tennessee coach if it had jettisoned Anthony Grant following his very disappointing fifth season. Athletic director Bill Battle instead chose to give Grant a sixth season, and we will never know if the Crimson Tide could have outbid its archrival for Pearl’s services. On Saturday, Grant’s team edged Pearl’s Tigers in a thrilling two-point game that Auburn appeared in prime position to win when it led by eight points with just over seven minutes remaining. As al.com‘s Kevin Scarbinsky writes, the hoops version of the Alabama-Auburn rivalry will certainly heat up now that Pearl is on the Plains and Grant is not quite ready to let Pearl have control of the state without a fight.
  3. The road was the place to be in the SEC over the weekend, as five of the seven games played on Saturday were won by the visitor. Only Ole Miss and Alabama won at home, and both did so on the game’s final possession. Oddities such as this happen from time to time, and considering Kentucky and Arkansas were heavy favorites at South Carolina and Missouri, respectively, the results shouldn’t be too surprising. Still, it may also reflect that some of the teams from which good things were expected this year — notably, LSU, Georgia, and Texas A&M — are getting better and starting to reach their potential. That trio each finished the week at 2-0, and all three of them rank in the five-way second place logjam.
  4. Georgia head coach Mark Fox earned a few chuckles on Twitter over the weekend when he said after the Bulldogs won a close game at Mississippi State that SEC basketball is “like SEC football.” Few things will ruffle feathers in the South more than comparing something, anything, to SEC football, and when that comparison is made between a basketball league that is widely considered to be mediocre and the highest form of sport in existence, well, you can imagine the backlash. In reality, while Fox was likely only making the point that winning games in league play is tough, there is simply no comparison between the league’s football and basketball products. SEC basketball is clearly getting better, but it has a long way to go before it can be mentioned in the same breath as its gridiron counterpart.
  5. Texas A&M won its fourth consecutive SEC game over the weekend when it took out a hot Tennessee team by six points in Knoxville. The Aggies are now 4-2 in league play and making a push to be considered the second-best team in the league. It is no coincidence that the team is undefeated in the conference when junior forward Jalen Jones is in the lineup. Jones missed the team’s first two SEC games – losses to Alabama and Kentucky – but has averaged 17 points per contest in the four he has played since. Jones is a transfer from SMU who has clearly been a key find for Billy Kennedy this year. If Jones decides to return next season along with a top 10 recruiting class headed to College Station, the future appears to be very bright at Texas A&M.
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SEC Stock Watch: 01.23.15 Edition

Posted by David Changas on January 23rd, 2015

We are now nearly one-third of the way through SEC play, and it’s time to take our weekly look at which teams, players and trends are heading in the right direction, who isn’t going anywhere, and who needs to turn things around. This is the SEC Stock Watch.

Trending Up

  • Rick Ray. Last week, the Mississippi State coach looked to be well on his way to the unemployment line. A home win over Vanderbilt and a road win at Auburn — the Bulldogs’ first in their last 22 tries — have changed that momentum, however, and Ray’s program may finally have something cooking. Whether his squad can keep things heading in the right direction remains to be seen, as Mississippi State faces several of the league’s most capable teams over the next few weeks.
The emergence of Armani Moore is a big reason for Tennessee's success (sportsanimal99.com)

The emergence of Armani Moore is a big reason for Tennessee’s success (sportsanimal99.com)

  • Tennessee. Prior to the season, Donnie Tyndall’s squad was picked to finish 13th in the league by the media. The Tennessee coach guaranteed that would not happen, and so far, his prediction looks pretty good. The Volunteers have won their first three road games for the first time in six years, and play three of their next four contests at home. They sit alone in second place at 4-1 and could be 7-2 in league play before embarking upon a brutal second half of the SEC schedule.
  • Devin Booker’s shooting. The one real criticism leveled against Kentucky this season has been its relative inability to consistently knock down outside shots. Booker has silenced a lot of that yammering by shooting a robust 11-of-18 from beyond the arc in league play. The freshman’s keen ability to make long-range shots opens up the Wildcats’ dominant inside game, and makes John Calipari’s team even more lethal than it already was.
  • Georgia. The Bulldogs finally appear to be headed in the right direction, playing like a team many thought could make the NCAA Tournament. After an 0-2 start in which they blew large leads, Mark Fox’s team has now won three in a row and faces three more winnable games before a trip to Lexington on February 3. There is no good reason why Georgia can’t separate itself as the second-best team in the SEC in coming weeks.

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Alabama Seeks Season-Defining Win Against Kentucky

Posted by David Changas on January 17th, 2015

They almost got Iowa State in a hostile environment. They should have gotten Wichita State on the road. Alabama has shown significant improvement after last season’s disappointment, but the Crimson Tide have yet to secure a marquee win that will enhance their NCAA Tournament resume. Later today Alabama will have the opportunity to make those near-misses away from Tuscaloosa become a distant memory as it welcomes the country’s best to Coleman Coliseum. Kentucky righted its ship on Tuesday with a 49-point home victory over Missouri, while Alabama fell two points short at South Carolina. Still, after thumping Texas A&M at home to start conference play and throttling Tennessee in one of the season’s most impressive defensive performances, the Crimson Tide have to be a bit optimistic as the Wildcats come to town. It’s the first of two games the teams will play in a 15-day period.

Anthony Grant is working to get back to the Big Dance (nbcsports.com)

Anthony Grant is working to get back to the Big Dance (nbcsports.com)

Alabama came into the season with a number of unknowns – not the least of which was whether head coach Anthony Grant’s job could be saved – but so far it has performed beyond expectations and wiped away what was nothing less than an awful 2013-14 season. It currently sits 44th in the RPI and 37th in KenPom, thanks mostly to its improvement on the defensive end as well as better leadership. Whether the Crimson Tide can put it all together against the Wildcats remains to be seen, but there is reason for the hope that they can pull off the upset. While Kentucky has an even-bigger-than-normal size advantage against them, Alabama is very athletic and has done an excellent job with its three-point defense. The Wildcats’ biggest weakness has been their ineffectiveness from the perimeter, so it is incumbent upon the Crimson Tide to force Kentucky to score from beyond the arc.

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SEC M5: New Year’s Eve Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on December 31st, 2014

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  1. College Basketball Talk’s Rob Dauster writes that Kentucky’s New Year’s resolution should be to give Tyler Ulis more playing time at the point guard position because he’s better than Andrew Harrison. He also writes that the reason that may not happen is because Coach Cal will be hesitant to rock the boat and upset his incumbent sophomore starter. There is no doubt that Harrison’s body language wasn’t great in the Saturday win over Louisville, but no one outside of the program knows how Harrison truly feels about his performance. Maybe he was upset that he was being outplayed by a freshman, or maybe he was upset that he laid an egg in the Wildcats’ biggest game of the year. Either way, we’ve officially reached the first blip on the Big Blue Nation drama watch. I don’t expect Harrison to lose his starting spot at Kentucky anytime soon, but if the Wildcats are in a tight game late it’s reasonable to think the freshman will have the ball in his hands.
  2. Speaking of UIis, CBSSports.com named him the Tisdale Freshman of the Week, and he cracked the top 10 of the Tisdale Award Watch for the first time this season. The diminutive but talented guard also took home the SEC’s Freshman of the Week award. He’ll never put up big stats, but it’s nice to see him getting recognition for how vital he has been to the success of the Wildcats. In one fell swoop, he’s filled Kentucky’s twin needs for a selfless distributor ( 3.7 APG; 4.3 FGA per game) and a reliable three-point shooter (52.2%). The exciting part for fans is that Ulis will almost certainly be in Lexington for multiple seasons, and if Calipari could pick one type of player to have in-house as his talented freshmen classes arrive, it would probably be a rock solid point guard with plenty of winning experience.
  3. South Carolina head coach Frank Martin might soon have another player at his disposal as freshman wing Shamiek Sheppard is now practicing after suffering a torn ACL over the summer. Without any setbacks going forward, the three-star recruit could see some playing time this season. Sheppard’s slashing ability would be a boost for a team that has only gotten to the line a measly 206 times this year (276th in the country). In the past two rebuilding seasons it might have been smarter to leave the redshirt on the freshman and save his year of eligibility, but the Gamecocks may not be rebuilding anymore. They are currently on a five-game winning streak, boast a dynamic backcourt, and are 13th in adjusted defensive efficiency. That gives them as good a shot as any SEC team to rack up a bunch of wins in league play.
  4. Alabama did not light up the scoreboard in its recent win over UCLA, but the Crimson Tide finally sealed the deal against a quality name opponent. They also didn’t set the world on fire offensively in their near-win at Wichita State, a surprise given that early in the year it looked like the Crimson Tide would have a high-powered offense. The folks at Roll Bama Roll feel that Anthony Grant has reverted back to “Grantsketball” lately in slowing down the offense and trying to grind out games, and that the Tide would be better off opening things up. The numbers bear this out, as the Tide have indeed averaged 61 possessions in their last four games after averaging 72 possessions in their first seven games. Grant knows the pulse of his team better than anyone else, but he shouldn’t be afraid to take some chances considering what Levi Randolph (16.4 PPG), Rodney Cooper (13.5 PPG) and Ricky Tarrant (10.6 PPG) are capable of doing.
  5. ESPN’s Myron Medcalf wrote a feature on Arkansas’ Bobby Portis, and it is definitely worth a read. The sophomore’s back story is inspiring, as he has had to overcome a lot of adversity to get to where he is now. The Little Rock native grew up wanting to play for the Razorbacks, and could be the player to lead them back to their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2008. Right now, you’d have to put him at the forefront of the SEC Player of the Year race, along with Willie Cauley-Stein, Damian Jones and Jarell Martin. Portis has been a consistent scorer and rebounder all season long, and perhaps more importantly, he didn’t fade away in the Razorbacks’ two biggest games of the year. In a road win over SMU, he had 22 points and five rebounds, and even though Arkansas got rolled by Iowa State it wasn’t because of Portis’ efforts, as he contributed 19 points and eight rebounds.
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Freeze Frame: Alabama’s Shift to Man to Man Defense

Posted by Brian Joyce on December 18th, 2014

Alabama nearly came up with a huge victory for itself and the SEC when it lost by one at Wichita State on Tuesday night. Anthony Grant’s team felt secure with an 11-point lead and 5:50 remaining, but the Tide’s Achilles Heel — fundamental defense — came back to haunt them once again. Grant’s defense has struggled all season, and after nearly 35 minutes of solid pressure on the road (forcing the Shockers into 40.8 percent shooting), it failed them once again.

Alabama's defensive profile is less than stellar (statistics via KenPom).

Alabama’s defensive profile is less than stellar (statistics via KenPom).

In this edition of Freeze Frame, we will look at the final 15 minutes of Alabama’s defense against the Shockers. The Tide to that point had found a lot of success with a 2-3 match-up zone that frustrated Fred Van Vleet, Ron Baker, and their Wichita State teammates into a bunch of contested outside shots. But with the momentum clearly in the hands of Alabama, Grant made a huge mistake in shifting back to his man-to-man defense. Van Vleet was then able to penetrate the lane to find open teammates, rendering the pick-and-roll option more effective, and ultimately erasing a late double-figure lead.

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