SEC M5: 01.24.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on January 24th, 2014

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  1. This isn’t the time or place, and I’m not the writer, to rehash the one-and-done debate. But Alex Poythress’ recent string of good games shows that development is more than a buzzword, and patience can be rewarding. The sophomore essentially separated the Wildcats from Texas A&M in the second half of what was a sloppy game. The Louisville Courier Journal‘s Kyle Tucker writes, “In both the way he talks and the way he’s suddenly playing, it seems Poythress is just now figuring out exactly what his 6-foot-8, 240-pound body can do. While he hasn’t started a single game this season — after starting 31 in a somewhat disappointing freshman year — Poythress has become the Cats’ go-to energy source lately.” There are a lot of factors involved (playing time, for example) and it’s not that simple, but Archie Goodwin has played 20 total minutes over the last two weeks for the Phoenix Suns, while Poythress has emerged at Kentucky. Who knows if Goodwin would’ve been better off staying at Kentucky; what is clear is that Poythress’ decision to stay and develop might have been right for him.
  2. The usually-bland Mike Anderson had strong words to say after Arkansas‘ not-so-surprising road loss to Tennessee. “McRae played well, but the MVP was the flagrant foul call,” he said after the game, according to the Knoxville News-Sentinel. “You get in two or three minutes and that’s one that should play on. I thought it just changed the whole dynamic of how the game was going.” The flagrant foul Anderson is referring to was called on Kikko Haydar’s wrap up of Jeronne Maymon with 2:52 left and the Razorbacks up by eight. NBCSports.com‘s Rob Dauster has a good screen shot of the foul, and thinks the refs got it right, and I’m inclined to agree. Anytime you blatantly do not “play the ball” you open yourself up to flagrant calls. Haydar is considerably smaller then Maymon and was contesting from behind leaving little chance his challenge could be seen as “playing the ball.” The senior has to be more aware of the risk involved in wrapping someone up, especially late in such an important game.
  3. Here’s an alarming stat for Missouri fans from the Kansas City Star‘s Tod Palmer: no Tiger other than the Jordan Clarkson, Jabari Brown, or Earnest Ross has reached double figures since Jonathan Williams scored 10 points against North Carolina state on December 28. Missouri’s uber-reliance on their starting back court for offense came to a head against LSU, where the three players accounted for 88.7 percent of the Tigers points (another stat from Palmer). “We’ll have to figure that out in practice,” Clarkson said. “We’ll be all right. We’ll go back to the drawing board and fix some things.” The problem is Missouri just doesn’t currently have the pieces to complement those three guards offensively. Ryan Rosburg has improved since his freshman season, but is nothing more than a “garbage man-type” big guy right now. Torren Jones and Keanau Post are raw offensively, and Wes Clark can’t find his outside shot. The key is Williams, who has shown strong offensive moves when going to his left, and was assertive last Saturday against Alabama in the second half. Consistency, however, is a lot to ask from a freshman.
  4. It wouldn’t be a proper week on this microsite without Luke Winn’s power rankings making an appearance. He has Florida #5 in his latest edition, and writes the following about Casey Prather‘s return from injury against Auburn. “That Prather has shot 64.2 percent from inside the arc this season is remarkable, since he’s doing plenty of his work as a slasher and making tough finishes around the rim, rather than simply dunking drop-off passes from his guards.” It’s hard to argue Prather’s meteoric rise is an anomaly anymore since it’s the end of January and he’s still scoring in bunches. And it shouldn’t fade anytime soon. Even if he is making difficult shots, his offensive game has been predicated on generally-more-reliable shots at the rim (60.3 percent of his shots have been taken at the rim).
  5. Florida beat Alabama last night in a game that followed a familiar script for both teams. The Tide battled hard but came out on the losing end as Florida won its tenth straight game. Perhaps more interesting is the Jacob Kurtz story, which has been there all year but floated largely under-the-radar. Kurtz is a former team manager, and discussed his previous team contributions with the Gainesville Sun‘s Kevin Brockway. ”I did laundry, water bottles, wiped the floor — all that. Then they had walk-on tryouts and now we’re here,” Kurtz said. The student manager component is obviously what makes this story eye-catching. Kurtz clearly has game: he’s averaging 12.1 minutes per game on a top five team with legitimate national championship aspirations. Yet he swallowed his pride and did what was necessary to get in with the Florida program. That kind of dedication is impressive.
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RTC 2013-14 Post-NBA Draft Deadline Top 25

Posted by KDoyle on April 30th, 2013

Although we are less than a month removed from Louisville’s win over Michigan in the National Championship game, it certainly isn’t too soon to look ahead to what the 2013-14 season has in store. With this past Sunday the deadline to declare for the June NBA Draft, we now have a much better idea who the top teams in the country should be once the ball is tipped again in November. In looking at the top of our Post-NBA Draft Deadline Top 25, there are three teams bunched together separated by just three votes — in fact, Louisville and Michigan State are knotted together at the top. It isn’t all too often that a team wins it all, graduates its starting point guard, has its best frontcourt player leave for the NBA, and is still perhaps the top team in the nation, but that’s the case for Rick Pitino and his Cardinals. With Russ Smith and Chane Behanan returning, Louisville will be the early favorites to win the AAC — the ACC, keep in mind, doesn’t come for UofL until 2014. Michigan State received good news on Sunday when Adreian Payne announced he would be returning to East Lansing for his senior season. Payne’s return, coupled with the return of Gary Harris — the Big Ten Freshman of the Year — and Keith Appling, make the Spartans a legitimate championship contender next season. Lastly, there’s Kentucky. Did you really think Cal & Co. weren’t going to be up there? They may not be ranked #1 at this point, but with a downright scary recruiting class incoming boasted by the Harrison twins and Julius Randle — perhaps the top Class of 2013 recruit — the Wildcats’ expectations are sky high. Despite not finishing in the Top 25 and losing at Robert Morris in the NIT, Kentucky will enter 2013-14 as a top three team in the RTC .

The usual Quick ‘n Dirty after the jump…

2013-14 RTC Top 25

Quick n’ Dirty:

Whether it is through an exceptional recruiting class, or an impressive finish to the 2012-13 season coupled with a strong nucleus returning, the following four teams surged upward — and for good reason.

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SEC M5: 04.04.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on April 4th, 2013

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  1. Freshman forward Alex Poythress announced his decision to return for his sophomore year at Kentucky on Tuesday. Poythress’ decision comes on the heels of freshman Willie Cauley-Stein and sophomore Kyle Wiltjer announcing their decisions to return to Lexington as well. Poythress isn’t returning just to improve his NBA Draft stock, but says that the team has unfinished business. ”This year didn’t end like we wanted it to,” Poythress said. ”I want to come back and do what we said we wanted to do and that’s win a national title. I want to develop more as a player and the competition coming in next year should help me do that.” Poythress, Cauley-Stein, and Wiltjer add a “veteran” presence for a UK team loaded in talent, similar to the dynamic created by Darius Miller, Terrence Jones, and Doron Lamb in the national championship year of 2011-12.
  2. Poythress admits he wasn’t prepared for the grind in college basketball, and says he is ready to put the work in to becoming a better player. “It starts in the weight room. We are going to be in there every day in the offseason,” he said. “We have to work on getting stronger and getting our bodies better. We did a great job last summer, but we have to pick it up and go harder. We can’t let this happen again. We have to focus on having a great season next year and if we feel like giving up (in the weight room) we just have to think about what happened this season and push through.” Wildcats coach John Calipari needed a leader in the locker room this season, and perhaps with another year of growth and maturity, Poythress can be that leader with a young team in 2013-14.
  3. Kentucky freshman guard Archie Goodwin has ended his college eligibility with the Wildcats by signing autographs for pay with a local sports company, Lexington Sports Cards. The company is pre-selling $15 tickets to receive an autograph from Goodwin, meaning he is no longer an amateur athlete. Goodwin lashed out at some of his fans on Twitter by saying, “If you can’t respect my decision then that’s your own problem. I’m still living life and blessed.” The backlash from UK fans is odd considering most in Lexington couldn’t wait to see Goodwin go. With as deep as Kentucky is next year, it’s possible Goodwin would not have gotten as much playing time or as many shots as he saw this season, making his decision a no-brainer so long as he remains a first rounder.
  4. Missouri freshman guards Negus Webster-Chan and Dominique Bull have announced they are transferring according to a team spokesman on Tuesday afternoon. Wesbter-Chan averaged 2.5 points and 2.0 rebounds per game including two double digit point performances. However, the 6’7″ guard could have difficulty finding additional playing time next season with the returns of guards Jabari Brown and Earnest Ross and the addition of eligible Tulsa transfer Jordan Clarkson. Bull saw very little action last season, playing in just eight games and only 1.8 minutes per game.
  5. We’re a little late on this, but The Tennessean spent time with Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings and asked the head coach 20 questions following the end of the Commodores season. Stallings was excited about what the future, particularly the progress of one of his freshman. “I would say Sheldon Jeter was the guy that improved the most, because he was a guy that when we were in our early practice sessions that really did not… his performance in practice did not warrant being in the rotation. But he improved so much that he became a real factor on our team. I think he’s got a great future here.” Jeter started seven games for the Commodores, a team that should have a lot more experience next season. Vandy, void of any seniors on this year’s roster, won’t lose a single player to graduation.
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SEC M5: 04.02.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on April 2nd, 2013

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  1. The big news over the weekend from the SEC was the departure of the last remaining conference team from the NCAA Tournament, the Florida Gators. One of the notable struggles for the Gators in its 79-59 loss to Michigan was the interior play of Patric Young, who was outplayed and outmuscled by Michigan freshman Mitch McGary. Young has a decision to make this summer as he has long been considered a potential second round NBA Draft pick. However, many are disappointed with his lack of progress this season. Young, a junior, averaged 10.1 points and 6.3 rebounds per game which are almost identical to his output from his sophomore year (10.2 PPG; 6.4 RPG). In addition, his free throw shooting declined from 59.5 percent last season to 48.9 percent this year. It seems more and more likely that Young could end up back in Gainesville again next season to work on his game with a flux of incoming talent on its way.
  2. Kentucky guard Ryan Harrow won’t be in Lexington next season as he has made a decision to transfer to Georgia State. Harrow was the starting point guard for the Wildcats, but after a s0-so year in 2012-13, he would have sat on the bench behind talented incoming guards Aaron and Andrew Harrison. Kentucky coach John Calipari says that Harrow is transferring to move closer to his ill father. “Given the health of his dad, we fully support Ryan’s decision to transfer to Georgia State to be closer to his family in Atlanta,” Calipari said. “Ryan was a vital part of this year’s team and an important player in practice during our 2011-12 national championship run.” One has to wonder if he stayed at UK how much playing time would be available for the junior-to-be. Probably not much.
  3. Two other Kentucky players have announced they will return, while one freshman is heading pro. Willie Cauley-Stein, who played additional minutes in Nerlens Noel’s absence after injury, and Kyle Wiltjer will return to play with a loaded recruiting class in 2013-14. “I’m excited that Willie and Kyle have decided to return for next season,” Calipari said. “When we talk about a players-first program, our goal is for each player to reach his dreams. Willie and Kyle believe it is in their best interest to return to Kentucky next season to achieve those dreams, and I fully support their decisions.” However, freshman guard Archie Goodwin is putting his name into the NBA Draft. “Although I really wanted Archie to return for his sophomore season, I fully support him choosing to pursue his dreams. He has the drive and desire to be great and I will continue to do everything I can to make sure he succeeds in life both on and off the court.” Kentucky now awaits decisions from Alex Poythress and Nerlens Noel, but they have until April 16 to make a final choice.
  4. You probably don’t need anybody to tell you this, but the 2012-13 version of the Kentucky Wildcats were, statistically speaking, John Calipari’s worst team since arriving at UK. Both the offensive and defensive units were the worst of Cal’s four UK teams in offensive and defensive efficiency. They were also the lowest ranked of Calipari’s four teams in scoring, three point field goals made, three point percentage defense, free throw percentage, steals per game, turnover margin, and assist to turnover margin. These end of year statistics only justify what Kentucky fans witnessed on the court all season. One has to assume that with the incoming class of freshman on next year’s roster, Calipari’s program won’t be missing another NCAA Tournament in 2013-14.
  5. Tennessee appears to be over the limit on scholarships next season after a commitment from Murfreesboro High School senior Darius Thompson. With the addition of Thompson it appears that the Vols and coach Cuonzo Martin now have 14 players for next season, but that likely means that one of its potential early draft entrants will go pro. Both Jordan McRae and Jarnell Stokes are exploring their options’; if both return, Martin will have a decision to make to determine how to get back down to the 13 allowed scholarships for next year.
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A Forgotten Senior the Key to Kentucky’s Resurgence

Posted by Brian Joyce on February 26th, 2013

Brian Joyce is a writer for the SEC microsite and regular contributor for Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about SEC basketball at bjoyce_hoops.

When Kentucky lost its best player in a February 12 loss to Florida, the following contest at Tennessee on Saturday wasn’t pretty. The young Wildcats reached a fork in the road after that 30-point embarrassment — give up or keep fighting. But to keep fighting UK needed veteran leadership, a factor it had desperately and unsuccessfully sought throughout the entire season.  In freshman center Nerlens Noel’s absence, a new leader has emerged. Senior Julius Mays stepped up and provided that leadership at just the right time, the point at which the Wildcats needed it most.

Kentucky needed Julius Mays to step in, and he has over Kentucky's last seven games. (Getty)

Kentucky needed Julius Mays to step up, and he has over Kentucky’s last seven games. (Getty)

The Wildcats faced a must-win situation on Saturday, and coach John Calipari turned to a player he could rely on. Mays played 44 of an available 45 minutes in an overtime win against Missouri Saturday night, and Calipari and Big Blue Nation were not disappointed. Thirteen of his season high 24 points came in the final 3:37 of regulation and the extra period. “Julius was terrific, the shots he made and the leadership,” Calipari said. The transfer student has quietly developed consistency as the season progressed — in UK’s last seven games, he hasn’t had an offensive rating below 100.0 and he’s scored in double figures in six of those games. He is without question hitting his stride at just the right time.

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SEC M5: 02.25.13 Edition

Posted by DPerry on February 25th, 2013

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  1. Kentucky rose to the occasion for ESPN’s GameDay, knocking off Missouri Saturday night in overtime. The Wildcats have taken a ton of heat over the past week following assertions from John Calipari that some his players were “uncoachable” following a blowout loss to Tennessee. Two of the assumed targets of the comments came up big against the Tigers. Point guard Ryan Harrow scored 12 of his 16 points in the first half, while Archie Goodwin scored all 18 of his after the break. ”Oh man, I mean we fought hard,” said Goodwin. “That is ultimately what it came down to. We made a lot of mistakes, but in the end we just wanted it more than they did.” Saturday’s performance served as a huge statement from a few players who have had their effort widely questioned throughout the year.
  2. The elder statesman of this Kentucky squad had himself quite a game as well. Wright State transfer Julius Mays led the Wildcats in scoring with 24, including six game-icing free throws in overtime. Mays has done his best to seize a leadership role for Kentucky, and his efforts looked to pay dividends against Mizzou. “He’s a great leader and he’s a great big brother for me,” Goodwin said. “He’s like my best friend. He’s just always there for encouragement. Sometimes when things are not going our way, he’s always the person that pulls me aside and just tries to get my head back right.” With his more talented teammates singing his praises, “Uncle Julius” hopes his teammates will get on board for an NCAA Tournament push.
  3. Florida got the revenge it craved in Saturday’s easy win over Arkansas, but it came at a high price. The Gators lost reserve forward Michael Frazier II to a concussion after the freshman guard collided with Scottie Wilbekin chasing a loose ball. “I don’t know when he’ll be back. He was knocked out on the floor,” said Florida coach Billy Donovan. “It could be a week, it could be 10 days, it could be two weeks – I don’t know.” With Will Yeguete already sidelined, Donovan is down to only six regular rotation players and says he will turn to Braxton Ogbueze, Dillon Graham or DeVon Walker to pick up the spare minutes.
  4. Even a good night on offense rarely leads to victory for the road team at the O’Connell Center, but Arkansas’ two big shots didn’t give the Razorbacks much of a chance. BJ Young and Marshawn Powell, who led a balanced Arkansas attack in scoring in their upset of Florida in the first meeting, were held to only 10 points, with Young in particular being shut out from the field. A big night from Coty Clarke (8-of-8 from the field) kept Arkansas in the game in the first half before the Gators pulled away after the break. “It was a tale of two halves,” Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson said. “We scratched and clawed and gave ourselves a chance, even with some adversity with the early fouls. In the second half, Florida really attacked the glass and we didn’t make shots.
  5. They’ve been so hot over the past few weeks, 40 minutes wasn’t enough basketball for Tennessee on Saturday. Tied at 62 after regulation in College Station, Texas A&M and the Volunteers decided to play another two halves of hoops, resulting in a fifth straight victory for the visitors. Trae Golden led the way with 32 points, with both Jarnell Stokes and Jordan McRae eclipsing the 20-point mark in the longest game in Tennessee history. Cuonzo Martin’s team is getting hot at exactly the right time, and an upset victory over a depleted Florida team on Tuesday would really make the “at-large” whispers that much louder in Knoxville.
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Can Nerlens Noel Still Win SEC FrOY? A Look at the League’s Race

Posted by Christian D'Andrea on February 21st, 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. You can find past editions of the SEC Freshman Watch here (East) and here (West).

Handicapping the SEC’s Freshman of the Year race didn’t take much effort back on February 10. Nerlens Noel was fresh off of his third straight double-double and was the anchor behind Kentucky’s rise from the NCAA Tournament bubble to the Top 25. In 10 SEC games, he had averaged 10.9 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 5.7 blocks per game to lead the Wildcats to an 8-2 conference record. More than halfway through the season, the award was his to lose. Through no fault of his own, he may have.

Can Noel Still Win SEC FrOY Despite His Injury?

Can Noel Still Win SEC FrOY Despite His Injury?

Noel tore the ACL of his left knee in the middle of a loss to Florida last week, ending his season and possibly his SEC career. His absence has left a big hole around the rim for Kentucky and created a void at the top of the league’s freshman pecking order. With Noel out for the final four weeks of conference play, the Freshman of the Year (FrOY) award is seemingly up for grabs. However, a lackluster crop of first-year players means that UK’s injured center might still be the league’s best bet to win the honors.

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SEC Freshman Watch: Breaking Down the “East’s” Most Effective Newcomers

Posted by Christian D'Andrea on February 12th, 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. You can find past editions of the SEC Freshman Watch here (East) and here (West).

The SEC conference slate is more than halfway complete, and the league’s freshmen have begun to stabilize in their fourth month of NCAA competition. As expected, some first-year players are starting to wilt under the grind of the college schedule, while some surprising players are getting stronger as the year goes on. Kentucky has rebounded from early adversity to rejoin the Top 25 rankings, while Georgia, who once sat in the SEC basement with a 1-4 record, has ridden a five-game winning streak to stake its claim as a mid-tier team.

Noel's D is Keying the UK Resurgence (Photo credit: AP).

Noel’s D is Keying the UK Resurgence (Photo credit: AP).

These teams are getting big contributions from freshman play-makers to reboot their seasons. The Wildcats are playing well through Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin’s growing pains thanks in part to the burgeoning defense of Nerlens Noel in the middle. Georgia is riding Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to key wins, but Charles Mann has turned into the Bulldogs’ third-leading scorer and Brandon Morris is becoming a pesky defender on the wing. Even South Carolina, mired in a 2-8 SEC season so far, can take solace in Michael Carrera’s scrappy production in the Gamecock frontcourt. Let’s take a closer look at how these first-year players have performed since SEC play got underway. This week, we’ll go back and examine how the freshmen of the former SEC East are doing.

Kentucky: Nerlens Noel has stepped his game up defensively for the Wildcats, and that’s been a big piece of Kentucky’s charge back into the Top 25. UK has won five straight heading into Tuesday night’s showdown with Florida, and Noel has averaged 5.2 blocks and 10.2 rebounds in that span. His offense is still a work in progress, but his impact has been undeniable.

Kentucky Freshmen 2/12

Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin have been trending in the opposite direction, as they’ve taken a back seat to Noel as the season has worn on. Poythress’s minutes and scoring have dropped as the athletic freshman has struggled with fouls (four per game in his last six contests). Goodwin has struggled as a shooter and a ball-handler recently. He hasn’t made a three-pointer in his last eight games (0-of-10) and his assists have dropped (while his turnovers have increased) as the Wildcats have faced tougher opponents.

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SEC M5: 02.11.13 Edition

Posted by DPerry on February 11th, 2013

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  1. Missouri took advantage of some hot shooting in the first half to wrap up a much needed win over the weekend against Ole Miss. The Tigers’ starting backcourt combined for 57 points, but Alex Oriakhi was the headlining story. The low post force had his most productive game of the season with 22 point, 18 boards, and 1 melee instigation. Oriakhi was immediately hit with a flagrant, and Reginald Buckner was ejected in the aftermath after throwing a punch. A Twitter exchange between the two schools’ SB Nation sites proclaimed that a rivalry had just been created, which, unless I’m mistaken, is legally binding. Rebels and Tigers, let the hate commence.
  2. Missouri proved their home mettle again this weekend with their resounding win over Ole Miss, but every positive in Columbia just highlights the Tigers’ astounding road troubles. Why can’t a team with talent in spades beat up a weak SEC? “That is the $50-million question,” says Frank Haith. He’d be wise to find an answer soon, as Missouri finishes with five of eight on the road. The thought of a disappointed Tigers team on Selection Sunday hadn’t even crossed my mind through the first few months of the season, but several more road losses (in addition to a likely home defeat to Florida) would likely leave the Tigers on the outside looking in come March 17th.
  3. On the topic of winless road teams, Arkansas celebrated their massive win over Florida in the most Arkansas way possible: being dismantled by Vanderbilt. The Razorbacks, who had 37 points by the third TV timeout against the Gators, scored their 37th point at 11:44 of the second half. “You have to give credit to Vanderbilt, but when you go on the road you have to make shots,” said Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson.  “When you are on the road, you have to match your opponents’ intensity.” The Commodores, no stranger to offensive meltdowns, were pretty impressive on that end of the floor. Kevin Stallings‘ team shot 50% from the floor and spread shots around nicely, with five players tallying at least eight points.
  4. The Wildcat bench stole the spotlight in Saturday’s win over Auburn, but a tough outing for Archie Goodwin is raising some concerns in the Bluegrass State. Kentucky‘s leading scorer played a season-low 17 minutes, scoring only 3 points on 1-6 shooting. “I’m trying to get Archie to zone in on his team, what he’s got to do for his team and get out of how he’s playing because then you can’t make a shot, you’re afraid to make a play because you’re afraid you are going to screw up, versus I’m playing for the team, I know what the team needs me to do, they need me to drive,” stream of consciousness expert John Calipari told reporters. Goodwin has practically eliminated the 3-point shot from his offensive arsenal (a great decision), but he seems to oscillate on his commitment to attacking the basket.
  5. One of the league’s greenest teams will be without their most experienced players for a while, as Mississippi State’s Jalen Steele has been suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules. Coach Rick Ray has declined to give further details after announcing the decision before the Bulldogs’ trip to Florida over the weekend. After starting 2-0 in SEC play, Mississippi State has lost 8 straight by a margin of 21 points per game.
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Handicapping the SEC POY Race Heading Into February

Posted by Christian D'Andrea on January 29th, 2013

Christian D’Andrea is a microsite contributor and an editor at Anchor of Gold and Nashville Sports Hub. You can complain about his terrible oddsmaking in the comments, or find him on Twitter @TrainIsland.

The first three weeks of conference play have come and gone in the SEC, and we’ve uncovered some revelations about the league. Ole Miss, for example, showed that a weak non-conference schedule camouflaged an emerging team. Florida, who hasn’t played a league game that it hasn’t won by 17 points or more, is every bit the beast they were expected to be. Missouri and Kentucky, on the other hand, have struggled despite talented rosters. What’s less clear is who the best player in the conference is. Several athletes have stepped up this year, some big men like Nerlens Noel and Reginald Buckner to guards like Phil Pressey and Kenny Boynton. They’ll all have their chance to join legends like Shaquille O’Neal, Charles Barkley, Bernard King, and Dan Langhi in earning SEC Player of the Year honors. So far, a surprising player leads the pack as January winds to a close. Ole Miss is 6-0 in conference play, and a big part of that revival has been thanks to Marshall Henderson’s shooting. He’s not the only one with his eyes on the SEC POY hardware, though. Let’s take a look at who is gunning for league honors, and where their odds stand nearly 20 games into the season.

The Frontrunners

As If Enough Hadn't Been Written About Him Already This Week... (AP)

As If Enough Hadn’t Been Written About Him Already This Week… (AP)

  • Marshall Henderson, Ole Miss (5:1 odds to win POY)  - Well this is certainly surprising – at least to people not named Marshall Henderson. Henderson has been the catalyst behind Ole Miss’ surprising season by leading his team in scoring and swagger. The cocksure shooter has willed Mississippi to a 6-0 start in conference play. He leads the SEC in scoring and his shooting touch has pulled the Rebels out of tight games against Auburn, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt. Henderson has plenty of negatives, though. He’s shooting less than 40 percent from the field and a big function of his game is having players like Reginald Buckner and Murphy Holloway up front to clean up his mess. He’s also an unreliable passer who averages more turnovers than assists from the backcourt. Still, he’s been the focal point of Mississippi’s 2013 revival, and his scoring and ability to come up big in the clutch have made him the POY front-runner as January winds down.

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SEC M5: 01.29.13 Edition

Posted by DPerry on January 29th, 2013

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  1. SEC basketball hasn’t won a lot of weekends so far this season, but in the college basketball animated GIF game, Marshall Henderson provided a dominant performance over the weekend. Ole Miss went to Auburn expecting an easy victory, but thanks to a 4-of-17 showing at the free throw line, the Rebels barely escaped with the W. Let’s be honest, though: If you clicked on the link, you’ll realize that the game is secondary to what happened in the immediate aftermath. I’m having a tough time choosing which part of this five-second clip involving Henderson is my favorite. Is it the striped sweater guy who knows only one insult? Or is it the 70-something in the front row playing the role of disappointed grandfather? No, for my money, it’s the cheesing security guard in the white collared shirt. It’s like he knew he was about be thrust into temporary Internet stardom, and didn’t want his mom to see him dropping an F-bomb or flipping the bird. This Marshall Henderson microsite writer salutes you, Auburn security guard.
  2. Dealing with Henderson’s attempts to incite and annoy has to be a concern for many SEC coaches. However, don’t count John Calipari among them. When asked about how he wants his young Kentucky team to respond when they travel to Oxford tonight, he took an unorthodox approach. “Oh, I’d like us to lose our composure,” he told the Louisville Courier-Journal. “That’s what I’m looking for. Like, lose your composure. Get mad. Get angry. Be mad to be great.” Henderson’s three-point percentage (35.7%) isn’t terrifying at face value, but checking a player who is willing to shoot from almost anywhere over the half-court line is bound to throw your team defense for a loop. Look for Archie Goodwin to get the first opportunity to defend the unabashed gunner, but if he doesn’t show the willingness to chase him for the entire shot clock, Julius Mays should get the call.
  3. Scottie Wilbekin, after averaging 15 points, six assists, and two rebounds per game, was named the SEC Player of the Week on Monday. The junior point guard took a while to round in to shape this year thanks to an early-season suspension, but he keyed two Florida road blowouts in the past week at Georgia and Mississippi State. The most surprising aspect of his game is his vastly improved shooting stroke. In limited minutes, Wilbekin had shot only 35% and 43% from the floor in his first two Gator campaigns, but with the benefit of increased court time (not to mention several teammates who can score), he’s sitting at an impressive 48% this season. He’s been on fire recently, shooting 18-of-28 in his last three outings. The Gators host Mississippi on Saturday, and being able to count on scoring from the one-spot makes the Rebels’ task even more daunting.
  4. Nerlens Noel took home his second straight SEC Freshman of the Week honor after another couple of dominant defensive performances last week. In a loss to Alabama and a victory over LSU, the post presence racked up 18 points, 21 rebounds, and 13 blocks. He’s currently riding a streak of five games with six or more blocks. Making his defensive supremacy even more impressive is his ability to challenge shots without fouling, only picking up one in each game. Kentucky’s struggles have made it tough for Noel to receive the credit he deserves (and during the Auburn-Kentucky broadcast, Charles Barkley made it clear that no UK freshman had yet impressed him), but his irresistible recent form has forced the rest of the country to take notice.
  5. I hope you’ve had your fill of the SEC/Big East Challenge, because the event won’t continue past this season. “This was the final year of our contract for a basketball invent involving the Big East Conference,” SEC spokesman Craig Pinkerton said via e-mail. “Playing an event such as the SEC/Big East Challenge has provided a great opportunity to highlight our teams as well as the sport early in the season. We are continuing to explore our options for continuing an event like this.” The concept of an organized series of match-ups between the conferences was enticing, but it never truly delivered. The SEC hasn’t had the depth in quality that their Big East counterparts enjoyed over the past few years, resulting in only seven of the 40 games featuring two ranked teams. Of course, these details probably aren’t important. Any event that had to claim responsibility for the Tennessee-Georgetown disaster doesn’t deserve to be saved.
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Uncertainties About Guard Play Remain After Kentucky Escapes LSU

Posted by Will Tucker on January 27th, 2013

Will Tucker is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Saturday’s Kentucky-LSU game in Lexington.

The name on the lips of everyone in Rupp Arena on Saturday was that of Alex Poythress, after his Wildcats dispatched a slumping LSU team, 75-70. The mercurial forward, whose production and motor had yet to match the expectations set by his high draft stock, notched his first college double-double with 20 point and 12 rebounds in 30 minutes. The performance absolved him of the forgettable 15 minutes he logged before fouling out in last week’s loss to Alabama. It also discouraged much discussion of the somewhat perplexing showing from Kentucky’s backcourt trio of Ryan Harrow, Julius Mays, and Archie Goodwin. While John Calipari’s guards each put together efficient stat lines and rebounded from a (generally) dismal game in Tuscaloosa, their disjointed half court execution left several lingering questions about Kentucky’s guard play.

(Credit Clay Jackson)

The backcourt is still a source of headaches for Calipari (Credit Clay Jackson)

While there was plenty of blame to go around after Kentucky’s ugly 59-55 loss to Alabama, much of it laid with Harrow and Goodwin for shooting their team out of the game. The two combined to score 13 points on 5-24 shooting (20.8%), and dished out as many turnovers as assists (4). For his part, Mays hit four of his five three-point attempts and was the only Wildcat with a positive +/- rating in what was only the second time he had scored in double digits since mid-December. John Calipari’s backcourt triumvirate was as much of a wildcard heading into yesterday’s game as Poythress. That former Kentucky Mr. Basketball Anthony Hickey would be looking to exact revenge on his home turf for two losses against Kentucky last year placed even more pressure on his would-be defenders.

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