Resetting The SEC Race: A Look At The Seven “West” Teams

Posted by Christian D'Andrea on January 9th, 2013

Christian D’Andrea is a SEC microsite contributor and an editor at Nashville Sports Hub. You can find him on Twitter @TrainIsland.

Conference play began for Alabama and Missouri last night, and soon after the rest of the SEC will fall in line. The SEC East has carried the conference banner over the first third of the NCAA basketball season, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t “West” schools that will be vying for postseason bids when March rolls around. The state of the former division has been muddled by a throng of underwhelming non-conference schedules, but it’s almost a lock that at least one of these teams will surprise their opponents en route to a NCAA Tournament berth. Ole Miss, LSU, Arkansas, and Texas A&M have all gotten out to hot starts in 2012-13. Can they sustain them?

Let’s take a closer look at each program in what was once known as the SEC West:

Texas A&M – The Aggies Are Headed Into Their First Season of SEC Play, But a Weak Non-Conference Schedule May Have Masked Their Flaws.

  • The good: Texas A&M will enter the SEC with a 10-3 record thanks to head coach Billy Kennedy’s deliberately-paced play-calling. This team has used spacing, shooting, and patience to create open looks and bring inferior opponents down to their level. Senior Elston Turner Jr. has benefited the most from the Aggies’ new style of play, leading the team with 15.5 points per game thanks to a stellar performance from behind the arc.Kennedy’s preference is to grind down opponents, and it’s worked for TAMU so far. Only four opponents have cracked the 60-point barrier on the Aggies this season, and much of that success comes from a team defense that is helping to hold opponents under 40 percent shooting from the field. However, it’s a big question mark as to whether or not these trends can continue when the team’s schedule dives into more hostile waters during SEC play.
  • Elston Turner Jr. has one of the smoothest strokes in the game (AP)

    Elston Turner Jr. (31) has one of the smoothest strokes in the game (AP)

  • The bad: A&M has played a cupcake schedule so far, and its three losses have come with varying degrees of disappointment. Their only win over a team ranked in Ken Pomeroy’s top 100 came in a 55-54 squeaker over Washington State, and that has been tempered by losses to Saint Louis, Oklahoma, and Southern.They’ll have to shape up quickly if they want to stay afloat in the SEC. They’ll open with Arkansas before traveling to Kentucky and then hosting Florida in their first three games. These showdowns will give the Aggies a chance to prove themselves, but it could also give this team a big hole to climb out of just two weeks into conference play.
  • Player to watch: Elston Turner Jr. The Washington transfer has one of the smoothest shooting strokes in the game, and he’ll carry on a tradition of behind-the-arc dominance that SEC gunners John Jenkins and Rotnei Clarke have left behind in recent years. He’s become a more complete player in his second year at A&M, and he’ll be driven to make his transfer a prudent choice by leading his team to the postseason.
  • Can it last? No. The Aggies have played just two teams from power conferences, beating a mediocre Washington State team and losing by double-digits to a better but still underwhelming Oklahoma squad. They’ve proven that they’d be able to burn through the Sun Belt, but haven’t shown enough through an easy non-conference schedule to prove that they can hack it in their first year of SEC play. Billy Kennedy’s team will have some success in league games, but their current pace looks unsustainable.

Ole Miss – The Rebels Are Scoring and Have the Best Record in the SEC at 11-2, But Who Have They Played?

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SEC M5: 12.28.12 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on December 28th, 2012

SEC_morning5

  1. The New Jersey Nets fired coach Avery Johnson on Thursday, thus beginning the hunt for a replacement, and, of course, an established college coach is always a viable option. Cue the rumors of Kentucky coach John Calipari’s departure to the NBA. It is an annual rite of passage at this point, but Calipari and Kentucky have been there and done that. And he did it in New Jersey to boot. It just does not seem possible that he would leave at this point for another try in the big leagues, and definitely not a return to the same franchise. By the way, Calipari will have Kentucky in the hunt for another National Championship next year. He’s a coach made for the college game, and call me naive, but I think he finishes his career in Lexington.
  2. Frank Martin continues to rack up some top shelf talent at South Carolina. With a strong recruiting class already set for 2013, Martin secured a commitment from Villanova transfer Ty Johnson. Johnson is a 6’3″ guard who averaged 3.3 points and 2.0 assists per game in 32 games of action in his freshman season, but will fill a need at point guard for the Gamecocks when he becomes eligible in December 2013. Martin is stockpiling talent in Columbia since his arrival this offseaso — in addition to Johnson, a top-75 recruit coming out of high school, Martin has also collected commitments from five-star Sindarius Thornwell, three-star center Desmond Ringer, and the son of former Gamecock star BJ McKie, guard Justin McKie. With improved talent in Columbia, things could turn around fairly quickly for South Carolina in the next several years.
  3. LSU guard Anthony Hickey spent three games on the sidelines for disciplinary reasons earlier in the year, and now he will be out for a fourth game because of another violation. “Anthony has a lot of improvement to do in a lot of areas not only on the floor but off as well,” Tigers coach Johnny Jones said. “We have to try to help him develop.” Hickey is averaging 10.3 points and a national best 3.5 steals per game, but the point guard duties will be handed off to junior Andre Stringer. This string of suspensions isn’t the first time Hickey has landed in the dog house for various LSU coaches, and it likely won’t be the last.
  4. Frank Haith’s Missouri Tigers are hitting their stride with big victories over Illinois and Virginia Commonwealth, but have recently suffered a minor setback as reserve power forward Tony Criswell will miss tonight’s UCLA game with a broken finger. Criswell is among the nation’s best offensive rebounders, with a 13.7% offensive rebounding rate. The Tigers are somewhat thin in the frontcourt beyond their starters Alex Oriakhi and Laurence Bowers, so Haith may choose to play small ball in Criswell’s absence with a three- or four-guard lineup. It’s not like Mizzou hasn’t gone small before, and been quite successful.
  5. Kentucky guard Archie Goodwin went 4-of-17 from the field on Saturday in the Cats’ win over Marshall, but John Calipari needs Goodwin to make the easy ones against Louisville. Goodwin missed several shots at the rim against the Thundering Herd, leaving Calipari searching for answers. “I was disappointed, he missed four layups. I think he’s flippin’, Rod (Strickland) thinks he’s looking down, he’s not seeing the basket, he’s looking up at the last moment to shoot it. I don’t know what it is, I’ll watch the tape, see if I can figure out.” Expect Cal and Goodwin to watch the tape and figure it out quickly. Regardless, Calipari does not have much depth to put Goodwin on the bench if it happens again.
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SEC M5: 12.13.12 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on December 13th, 2012

SEC_morning5

  1. Tennessee has scored under 40 points in each of its last two games, scoring just 0.98 points per possession. The Volunteers’ answer? Speed up the pace. “I’d love to get out and run,” Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said. The players don’t think it’s time to panic just yet. “Everything is magnified right now because Jeronne (Maymon) is out and we had two games under 40 points,” junior Trae Golden said. “We’re fine. It’s still early in the season.” But there is a problem here folks. The Volunteers couldn’t even muster 40 points, not once, but twice. That’s not fine regardless of how early in the season it may be. And it is worth pointing out that speeding up the game doesn’t change Tennessee’s points per possession. It is what it is. Speeding up the pace just means we can see more of their inefficiency in action.
  2. Somebody please get Jeronne Maymon on line one. His Volunteers desperately need him. Speeding up the pace of play may not be the answer, but Maymon certainly could be. Luckily for Tennessee, the senior forward is making significant strides. Maymon is riding a stationary bike as well as walking on a treadmill. The bad news? There is still no timetable for his return, which is troubling. But the even worse news? The UT Director of Compliance confirmed that Maymon could potentially redshirt if need be. The fact that the scenario is even coming up doesn’t sound positive for a speedy recovery.
  3. Junior center Carl Engstrom of Alabama is out for the remainder of the season with a torn ACL and MCL. The surgery to repair his left knee was performed on Tuesday. “We are disappointed to lose Carl for the remainder of the season,” head coach Anthony Grant said. “Carl is a very valuable member of our team and will be greatly missed. However, the hard work and determination that he has displayed throughout his career will also assist him going forward as he rehabs and prepares to continue his career next season. We are fortunate to have an outstanding medical team that will assist him during this process.” Engstrom was a contributor for the Crimson Tide, starting in three games this year, and clearly was a big body in the low post.
  4. LSU coach Johnny Jones indicated that point guard Anthony Hickey may be joining the team sooner rather than later. The sophomore was suspended for a “violation of athletic department and university policy.” According to Jones, Hickey is likely to join LSU on its upcoming three-game road trip. He is sorting through the disciplinary matter with university officials. Hickey’s return will be a big boost for the undefeated Tigers. So far this year, the starter was averaging 10.2 points, 5.2 assists, and 4.0 rebounds per game.
  5. Florida is outscoring opponents by an average of over 25 points per game. What makes the Gators so dominant this season? A team typically known for its offensive prowess is shutting opponents down on the defensive end this year. “Coach [Donovan] just tells us every game that we can’t slack off, and we can’t have any slippage in practice,” junior guard Scottie Wilbekin said. “We try to go hard, and he’s constantly pushing us to go even harder.” The Gators’ field goal percentage defense is ranked in the top 10 in the country at under 35 percent. Florida’s defense will be tested on Saturday with the best offensive team it has played all season in Sean Miller’s Arizona Wildcats.
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SEC M5: 12.10.12 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on December 10th, 2012

  1. Camp Cal, as coach John Calipari affectionately termed his boot camp with the Wildcats, is more about thinking than it is conditioning. “For the next two weeks, we’ll be going at least five of the days three times a day,” Calipari said. “I’m fine. I’ll be exhausted, but what the heck. The whole point is to help these young people think differently. They’ve got to think differently than they’re thinking.” The change in thinking hasn’t yet made its way into the full 40 minutes of game play, although the Cats were victorious over Portland by 28. “I had to coax them into playing,” Calipari said. “I shouldn’t have to. I shouldn’t be on a guy, ‘Play, scramble, stay down.’ What? What is that, strategy? I mean, that’s basically how I’m coaching right now.” The Cats are still making mistakes made by inexperienced teams, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has reviewed the Wildcats’ roster. They have two more home games over the next two weeks before meeting Louisville in the Yum! Center on December 29. Three weeks is a long way away, so expect Kentucky to look significantly improved by the time its intrastate showdown with the Cards roll around.
  2. Another SEC guard has been suspended, and this time it’s LSU’s Anthony Hickey. LSU coach Johnny Jones cited a violation of athletic department and university rules as the reason for the suspension. “We will cooperate fully with the Athletic Department and University on the matter,” said Jones. “There is a responsibility that comes with playing college basketball. If a player doesn’t take care of his responsibilities, then he loses the privilege of being able to play. We look forward to continuing to focus on our upcoming game Tuesday and our three-game road trip that follows.” At this point, there is no timetable for Hickey’s return to the court. The Tigers are 5-0 with Hickey in the lineup, fueled by his 10.2 points, 5.2 assists, and 4.0 rebounds per game. However, this is not the first time the point guard has found himself in trouble.
  3. The Arkansas media is calling for Mardracus Wade to be more aggressive on offense after the Hogs lost to Michigan in Ann Arbor by 13 points. Wade scored five points on just five shots from the field despite playing 34 minutes. Wade has the third best effective field goal percentage on the team, but is ninth in percentage of shots and is 10th in percentage of possessions. The Razorbacks could have used his help on Saturday. Wade is extremely effective at getting to the free throw line (76.3% free throw rate), but Arkansas didn’t shoot a free throw until six minutes left in the game. Mike Anderson’s squad has lost four of its last five contests, with three of those losses away from home. The Hogs are typically very strong at Bud Walton Arena, and they begin a five-game home stand on Saturday. That should give Anderson time to work out a few of the kinks.
  4. Who loves statistics? We do! And so does John Clay of the Lexington Herald-Leader who provides us with 20 stats you need to know from Kentucky’s win on Saturday. A lot of good information here about the Cats’ recent performances including a snippet about the play of freshman Alex Poythress. Poythress has scored in double figures in seven of the first nine games of his college career, including his 15 points on Saturday. Most importantly, he is 13-of-17 from the field in the last two games, including three of four from beyond the arc. Poythress’ efficient play has put him as an early member of a prestigious grouping that Luke Winn often refers to in his power rankings called the 70/50/20 club. Only four players possess membership at this point in the season. The club is reserved for players who shoot an effective field goal percentage of at least 70 percent, play in at least 50 percent of available minutes, and take at least 20 percent of his team’s shots when he is on the floor. Poythress is shooting 72.2 percent, playing in 73.1 percent of available minutes, and shooting 21.5 percent of the Wildcats’ shots. He joins Belmont’s Ian Clarke, UC Davis’ Ryan Sypkens, and Syracuse’s James Southerland as the only current members. With efficiency numbers like that, Poythress can’t shy away from the basketball as he did against Notre Dame.
  5. Tennessee’s Skylar McBee’s jersey will hang in the rafters at Grainger High School after he scored 2,362 points during his high school career. McBee was honored Saturday when his number four jersey was retired. “I’m very proud of where I come from,” McBee said. “And it’s an honor that all these people back home think that highly of me that they want to retire my number. It’s very humbling, and it means a lot to me.” McBee started as a walk-on for Tennessee, but was given a scholarship by previous coach Bruce Pearl. The guard is averaging 7.3 points per game for the Vols this season in his senior year.
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Morning Five: 12.10.12 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on December 10th, 2012

  1. We figured that the NCAA’s decision to pull its championship events from New Jersey was the last we would hear of their issue with the state’s legalization of sports gambling. It looks like the NCAA (and the four major professional leagues) are just getting started. You may or may not remember that back in August those organizations sued the state for its legalization of sports gambling, which the state attempted to throw out. On Friday, the leagues/organizations filed a motion in an US District Court to stop New Jersey from dismissing the lawsuit. At the heart of the issue is New Jersey’s assertion that the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992, which restricted sports gambling to a handful of states, was unconstitutional. We haven’t dug too deep into the legal minutiae of the case, but it seems like New Jersey would have a pretty good case on the surface. Of course, they are going against a group of organizations who are all essentially federally enabled monopolies so maybe we are giving being too rational here.
  2. On the court the biggest news of the national happened out west where Mike Moser dislocated his right elbow during UNLV’s one-point win over California last night. At this point all we know is that he didn’t break any bones, but the extent of the injury is still not known and early reports indicate that Moser will be out for anywhere from a few weeks to the whole season. For a team that has struggled to find backcourt play to match the production and level of play of an absolutely loaded frontcourt could be a huge blow. We should have more information about Moser’s injury and how long he is expected to be out within the next couple of days.
  3. Moser’s injury is by far the most significant loss over the weekend (and possibly this season), a pair of players in the SEC will not be seeing the court any time soon as Mississippi kicked junior transfer Jason Carter off the team for violation of team rules while Louisiana State suspended Anthony Hickey indefinitely over a violation of athletic department and university policies. Carter, who never played a minute for Mississippi, was a transfer from Alabama via junior college and had been suspended before the team’s first exhibition game and never had that suspension lifted. We are not sure what Hickey, LSU’s starting point guard, did other than showing up late for tutoring sessions, but since the school’s fall semester ended recently we are guessing his suspension has something to with his grades.
  4. Utah State junior Danny Berger, who fainted during a practice last Tuesday requiring CPR and the use of a defibrillator, was released from the hospital and honored at the team’s game on Saturday. From what the school is saying the cause of Berger’s syncopal episode is still not known and he will need to be monitored for at least six more weeks before a decision will be made on if and when Berger can return to the court. Creighton guard Josh Jones, who had been hospitalized after fainting during warm-ups of the Bluejays game on Thursday, was out of the hospital and was on the bench watching the team’s victory over Akron yesterday. Jones has a history of fairly significant heart disease as he had his aortic valve replaced as a high school senior after developing a severe case of infective endocarditis–essentially a bacterial infection on his heart valve(s). The reason for Jones’ syncopal episode also is not known yet and he will undergo more tests this week before a decision can be made as to whether he can play again.
  5. Finally, Taylor University did its annual Silent Night event on Friday night. The event, which is done on the Friday night before finals week, was a cute, relatively unknown event where students attend the game, but are totally silent until team scores its tenth point of the game at which point the students make as much noise as they possibly can. The event has gained a great deal of notoriety in the past few years as more and more blogs feature it yet it still remains one of the more unique events in college basketball.
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Set Your TiVo: 01.02.12

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 2nd, 2012

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

It’s a relatively light night of hoops but two interesting games in the South should have your attention this evening.

Texas A&M at #5 Baylor – 7:00 PM EST on ESPNU (***)

  • The Baylor Bears keep winning as they head into a conference showdown with in-state rival Texas A&M tonight. This figures to be a good match-up for Baylor although it needs to ensure it controls the pace. Texas A&M gets 65.2% of its points from two-point range (third in the nation) but interior defense happens to be Baylor’s biggest strength. The Bears allow only 39.3% shooting from inside the arc with Perry Jones III and company patrolling the paint. Defensively, look for Scott Drew’s team to try to pick up the pace and pressure Texas A&M’s guards. The Bears force a turnover 24.6% of the time although both teams don’t handle the ball particularly well.
  • Texas A&M is not comfortable playing at a faster pace but therein lies the dilemma. The Aggies don’t run efficient enough half court offense to succeed in a slower-paced game, especially against the strong Baylor defense. Billy Kennedy’s team should take a page out of Louisville’s playbook against Kentucky. A&M should pressure Baylor and try to get turnovers at certain times, but not throughout the entire game. Texas A&M may actually hurt itself while trying to force Baylor into turnovers, something that will speed up the game where the Bears’ superior athletes can take over. Texas A&M has to establish Ray Turner and David Loubeau inside while Khris Middleton uses his versatility to stretch Baylor’s defense, opening up seams. Getting Elston Turner going from long range would also be advantageous for A&M, a team that doesn’t rely much at all on the trifecta. Turner had 20 points on 3-5 shooting from deep in a loss against Florida last month.
  • For Texas A&M to have a chance on the road, it must rebound, rebound, and rebound some more in addition to controlling pace. If the Aggies don’t score inside off second chance opportunities or in transition, Baylor will win this game easily. Keep an eye on Baylor’s perimeter shooting. Texas A&M ranks #6 in three-point defense and will look to shut down Brady Heslip and Pierre Jackson. Even if the Aggies are successful in that regard, they need to do a whole lot more to pull the upset.

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SEC Morning Five: 12.2.11 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on December 2nd, 2011

  1. In Arkansas’ win over Mississippi Valley State on Wednesday, guard Mardracus Wade had a career night. Wade hit six of seven shots in the first half on his way to 20 points for the game. “He’s playing with a lot of confidence,” head coach Mike Anderson said. “He puts the time in, so he’s having an opportunity. If you notice, the shots he’s getting he’s in rhythm. We’re making that extra pass and we’re getting him in positions where he can knock the shots down. Good players, they knock it down.” Anderson’s Razorbacks could use some offensive help as they currently rank 86th in offensive efficiency in spite of a fast-paced style of play. Leading scorer and rebounder Marshawn Powell went down with a season-ending injury earlier in the year, but Arkansas takes on Connecticut Saturday and will need to find consistent scoring before it expects to hang with a Top 10 team.
  2. LSU has found some offensive firepower in an unlikely spot. 5’11″ freshman guard Anthony Hickey leads Trent Johnson’s Tigers in assists (4.0 APG) and steals (2.6 SPG), and is second on the team in points (11.6 PPG). His teammates have noticed his outstanding play thus far this year. “He’s getting everybody fired up [on the court], but he backs up that intensity when he’s diving for loose balls and pushing the ball hard up the floor,” sophomore guard Andre Stringer said. “Everything runs through him on the floor. He is our point guard and our floor general. That’s something you have to earn with us, but Anthony’s effort is something we’ve all noticed.” With three early season losses to Coastal Carolina, Northwestern and South Alabama already on its record, LSU will take all the contributions it can get from its freshmen class.
  3. Vanderbilt is concentrating on trying to avoid turnovers on Saturday against one of the best defenses in the country in Rick Pitino’s Louisville Cardinals. The Cardinals will likely employ a full court press to frustrate Vanderbilt’s guards. “They take your mistakes and turn them into points,” coach Kevin Stallings said. “They have a strength that’s a weakness to us.” The Commodores turned the ball over 18 times in their loss against Xavier, and Vandy is currently averaging 15 turnovers and twice this season has recorded over 20 miscues in a game.
  4. College basketball is too unpredicable night-to-night to play the comparison game. If “Team A” beats “Team B” and “Team C” beats “Team A”, then “Team C” can easily beat “Team B”, right? Well, it’s this scenario that has Mississippi State head coach Rick Stansbury concerned about his upcoming match with West Virginia. “The first thing you need to know about them is the team that beat us (Akron), they had them down 23 at halftime and beat them by 21 for the game,” Stansbury said. “Akron was playing without its starting point guard but, still, again, you get that team down 23 points at halftime, you’re pretty good.” This game is sure to be another tough early test for the Bulldogs who sit at #21 in the AP Top 25 and #24 in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll.
  5. Kentucky overpowered St. John’s on Thursday night to the tune of 81-59 at Rupp Arena. Freshman Anthony Davis scored 15 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and tied a school record with eight blocks. “Without him, we probably lose the game,” head coach John Calipari said. “He changed everything about the game.” Davis’ eight blocks also contributed to a school-record 18 team blocks. But it was the offense that wasn’t quite as impressive for the Cats. “We were just inept offensively,” Calipari said, as the Cats begin to look forward to Saturday’s showdown with the North Carolina Tar Heels. “If we play like tonight? I’d be a very sad coach after the game.” Kentucky hasn’t lost a home game with Calipari as coach, going 37-0 during his tenure.
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SEC Practice Reports: Post-Madness Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on October 17th, 2011

Midnight Madness* (9 PM Madness just doesn’t have the same ring to it) brings excitement and fanfare, but more importantly, it symbolizes the beginning of the college basketball season. Two-a-days have officially begun, and the only thing sweeter than the return of basketball is knowing that you don’t have to run wind sprints tomorrow at 6 AM. And if by some odd circumstance you do find yourself running drills early in the morning, at least you don’t have to do it again in the afternoon like all twelve of our SEC basketball teams.  Here is an initial report from basketball practices around the SEC:

  • Florida coach Billy Donovan has been impressed with the decision making from 6’6” Casey Prather. Donovan said, “He’s made more of an impact the first two days of practices and really hasn’t even looked to score. He’s actually been more productive in practice offensively by taking a whole less amount of shots.” He also believes that 6’7” Will Yeguete’s rebounding skills will be key for the Gator’s frontline this year. Donovan said, “Will continues to be a guy that’s going to have to help us on the backboard rebounding-wise. I think I said the first day I thought one of my concerns was losing Chandler (Parsons), Vern (Macklin) and Alex (Tyus), we lost a lot of rebounding. And we’ve got to be scrappy around the glass.”
  • Kentucky coach John Calipari stressed using the floater as an effective tool in the UK offense. Even in the case of a miss, it draws the defender up and leaves a big man open for the rebound. Cal said, “It’s the best shot in the Dribble Drive. That’s a great shot for us.” Everyone knows the Cats have athleticism, but it sounds like Kentucky will be blessed with some good shooters as well. CoachCal.com editor Eric Lindsey wrote, “Saturday was the best I’ve seen Michael Kidd-Gilchrist shoot the ball. During a timed drill, he frequently strung together streaks of five or more 3-pointers.” And even more encouraging for Cat fans, Lindsey wrote, “in that same drill, Darius Miller hardly missed. I didn’t see what the clock was set to -– it was only a few minutes -– but it sounded like Miller led everyone with 61 makes.” And if you like watching players get “posterized,” then there’s UK’s athletic freshmen Anthony Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist taking turns dunking on each other. First Davis dunks on Kidd-Gilchrist:

And then Kidd-Gilchrist returns the favor:

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