SEC M5: 02.07.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 7th, 2014

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  1. Does anyone want to break away from the pack and become the third best team in the SEC? LSU looked like a prime candidate to do just that after wins over Kentucky and Arkansas last week, but the Tigers saw Tennessee’s momentum-killing loss at Vanderbilt on Wednesday and raised them a Thursday loss at Georgia. Sure, Georgia had an even conference record going into this game, but the Tigers still should have been able to take care of business in Athens. Nemanja Djurisic (17 points, 7-of-7 from the free throw line, six rebounds) has been inconsistent this year, but when he’s right, he can be one of the toughest match-ups in the SEC. His range (2-of-3 from three) pulls defenders away from the basket and helped Georgia neutralize a better rebounding team. Foul trouble on the LSU bigs didn’t help either. Mark Fox’s team now has two quality wins against Missouri and LSU, and the Bulldogs have won more than they’ve lost in conference play. Georgia could be setting up for an impressive SEC record as they’re already done with Kentucky and Florida. Given the loss of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to the NBA and how the Bulldogs played in non-conference play (6-6), finishing above .500 in SEC play would be a huge success.
  2. A lot of well-deserved freshman love has flowed to Kentucky’s class, and more recently, LSU’s Jordan Mickey. But it sure needs to flow to Bobby Portis too after what he did against Alabama. The Little Rock native kept the Razorbacks competitive against the Tide almost by himself, scoring 29 of the team’s first 35 points en route to an Arkansas freshman record-tying 35 points. No Razorback freshman had scored that much since Jannero Pargo was pinging threes into Bud Walton Arena’s nets back in 2002. Portis’ big game couldn’t have come at a bigger time for the Hawgs. Last week’s losses to Missouri and LSU didn’t kill their chances at an NCAA at-large bid, but a loss to the struggling Tide probably would have. If Arkansas is to keep winning, Mike Anderson needs to keep Portis on the court because not many players are capable of going 14-of-17 from the field. He hasn’t played fewer than 28 minutes since SEC play began, and his minutes need to continue to be in the low 30s to stay fresh enough to succeed, but this is one horse Anderson needs to ride as far as he can.
  3. Shooting over 50 percent from the field cures a lot of ills. Texas A&M’s offense was downright putrid against Florida (elite defense aside) recently, scoring only 36 points and shooting only 25.9 percent from the field. Enter Mississippi State, which was on a three-game losing streak and likely eager to face that Aggies’ attack in its first-ever trip to College Station. But Jamal Jones scored 20 points, Alex Caruso had 10 assists, and Texas A&M nearly doubled up its output from the Florida game while winning, 72-52. This was the type of solid all-around performance Billy Kennedy needed to instill some confidence in his players for the rest of the way. Not only did the Aggies make more shots than they missed, they also generated 22 assists against only six turnovers.
  4. We know Chris Walker has big-time potential, and we know he’s going to help Florida in some way or another before this season is out. There are a lot of things we don’t know about him too, like what exactly happened with respect to those impermissible benefits before he arrived in Gainesville. A lot of people don’t know much about Walker’s past either, and the Gainesville Sun’s Kevin Brockway wrote a good article on that topic. Walker was abandoned by his biological parents, and lost his care-giving grandmother at  the tender age of 12 years old. It’s nice that Walker’s current story is no longer one of whether he’ll play, but rather how much he can help the Gators as he works his way into game shape. That’s an easy story to root for given how much he went through just to get to Florida.
  5. Quick, which is the hottest team in the SEC behind Florida and its 14-game winning streak? I’ll give you the answer: Vanderbilt, which has won four straight games. Behind the Commodores? Auburn, which won its third straight game by beating South Carolina on the road. It hasn’t been often in Tony Barbee’s tenure that his team has had the third-longest winning streak in the conference — it’s not much, but it’s something. Obviously Chris Denson and KT Harrell (25 points each) are the story here, but Tahj Shamsid-Deen (12 point, three assists) should be a thorn in opponents’ side for the next four years. He’s the type of crafty, confident point guard who will get more effective as he gains additional experience. The freshman ranks 10th in the SEC in assists per game, and touts an impressive turnover percentage (13.3 percent) for a first-year player.
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Suspensions Compound Arkansas’ Disastrous Week

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 2nd, 2014

Talk about a rough week. Arkansas suffered a rare home loss to Missouri early in the week and then wasn’t able to shake its road struggles in a 14-point loss to LSU in Baton Rouge. The biggest story for the Razorbacks, however, was who didn’t suit up in yesterday’s game. Michael Qualls and Alandise Harris were suspended from the team indefinitely, removing two major pieces from Mike Anderson‘s rotation. The suspensions couldn’t come at a worse time for the Razorbacks as their NCAA Tournament hopes are on critical life support after losing four of their last five games. Qualls, in particular, will be especially tough to replace. The sophomore averages the second most minutes per game (25.3 MPG), and at 6’6” has size and athleticism that Arkansas doesn’t otherwise have on the wing. The latest personnel crunch also deals a heavy blow to Anderson’s preferred ability to run his pressure system.

Suspensions should accelerate Moses Kingsley's development at Arkansas (wholehogsports.com).

Suspensions should accelerate Moses Kingsley’s development at Arkansas (wholehogsports.com).

We try to stay positive on this microsite (which isn’t always easy), so where’s the silver lining for Arkansas after this latest setback? One such positive could be that Moses Kingsley will need to pick up some of Harris’ minutes. The freshman has incredible peripheral numbers in his small sample size of minutes, including the best PER (27.7), rebounding percentage (17.1%), and block percentage (15.6%) on the team. Now, those are all-conference numbers in a vacuum, and Anderson is no fool. He’s clearly putting Kingsley in a position to succeed by not overexposing him at this point. Still, his talent and upside are enticing. Against LSU he saw 19 minutes of action and logged three points, four rebounds and three blocks during that time. Those aren’t world-beating numbers, but they aren’t terrible for a raw rookie either. These suspensions could mean that Kingsley gets an opportunity to turn into an impressive low post defensive presence, and that development just got fast-tracked.

Qualls’ minutes will be distributed amongst Arkansas’ bevy of guards, but Rashad Madden (who has seen his minutes increase in SEC play) will bear an even greater scoring load than he already had. The junior has been one of the best shooters in the league (with a 65.7 true shooting percentage, third in the SEC), and it’ll be interesting to see how he responds to becoming the true perimeter offensive focus. Arkansas has two winnable games versus Alabama and at Vanderbilt next week, but those looked that way with a full-strength Razorbacks squad. They just became that much tougher, and Anderson’s team simply can’t afford to lose either one if there is any chance of a return to the bubble.

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SEC M5: 01.31.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on January 31st, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. As expected, Florida won in Starkville last night. The Gators did not, however, roll over the Bulldogs (they led by only one point at halftime), and haven’t rolled over the SEC at all recently. The national perspective seems to be that Florida is blowing right by every conference team it plays. This is correct in a strict win-loss sense, as the Gators are the only team with an unbeaten SEC record. But Florida has been somewhat tested by triple-digit KenPom teams in three of their last four games (Mississippi State, Alabama and Auburn). Should that be cause for concern? Margin of victory is a useful indicator of future success, but conference games are especially difficult when you have a top 10 target on your back. That target will be even brighter in an upcoming stretch when the Gators face Tennessee, Kentucky and Ole Miss on the road in the span of two weeks. The Vols and Rebels will be in desperate need of a statement win, and Florida may not be able to grind out wins as easily (that is if Billy Donovan doesn’t throw a blanket over Tennessee’s offense again).
  2. Tennessee has talented pieces that just haven’t fit together as well as they should have this season. Did Darius Thompson just ride into town on a white horse to make it all work? The freshman made his third start of the season Wednesday night in the Vols’ big win over Ole Miss, and his solid stat line (seven assists against two turnovers) should keep him in that spot. “Him getting better – him growing up as a ball player, the time he puts into it and learning and understanding and just being around those experienced guys; I think it was just time,” said head coach Cuonzo Martin. Whether it was a direct result of Thompson starting, Jordan McRae and Josh Richardson rebounded from a horrific shooting performance against Florida to go a combined 10-of-14 from three. Jarnell Stokes also said the Vols pushed the tempo more with Thompson in the game, which was refreshing considering how slowly they have played at times. At this point it’s clear Antonio Barton was not the answer to replace Trae Golden. Still, he’s a senior who can certainly contribute down the stretch for Tennessee.
  3. Arkansas is mired in a five-year NCAA tournament drought, and it’s looking more and more likely that number will extend to six. CBSSports.com‘s Gary Parrish took an interesting look at what’s been ailing the Razorbacks. He wrote extensively about problems with the head coaching position, including a whiff at Billy Gillispie and Dana Altman’s change of heart. Can Mike Anderson turn things around in Fayetteville? He reached the Elite Eight in his third season at Missouri, and barring a miracle, won’t come close to that this season. Bobby Portis may be the ray of hope Anderson needs. The five-star Arkansas native chose to stay home (unlike Archie Goodwin) and could generate some in-state recruiting momentum. Anderson has actually done a fairly good job recruiting elite talent the last few years, even if in a roundabout way. In addition to this year’s solid class, Anderson convinced BJ Young to stay at Arkansas and there is a rumor that Otto Porter would have gone to Missouri had Anderson still been the coach. If he can keep gathering top talent, Anderson’s pressure system may be what returns Arkansas to the NCAA Tournament.
  4. Could it be that Kentucky will have a handful of experienced players back next season? John Calipari is reportedly spreading the word in NBA circles that Andrew and Aaron Harrison will return for their sophomore seasons. This is probably wise given their (relative) struggles and the strength of this upcoming draft class. And it could do even more favors for Calipari. Dakari Johnson has looked good, especially recently, but probably hasn’t stood out enough (yet) to make it worth his while to leave. The same can be said for Marcus Lee. You never know what can happen, but Kentucky could have a starting lineup featuring four sophomores next year.
  5. If Auburn had to win only one SEC game a year, I suppose their fans would prefer it to be against Alabama. The Tigers picked up their first conference win in 51 weeks by beating Alabama last night at home. That win nearly a year ago? It came against the Tide too. Chris Denson scored a career-high 32 points and is firmly in the discussion for an all-SEC team spot. One has to wonder where Anthony Grant goes from here. For a team that started the season with NCAA aspirations the Tide are now a long way away from an NIT bid, and lost any good will created by their solid win over LSU last weekend. Right now they are sitting at the front of the SEC’s “most disappointing table.”
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Well-Rounded Jabari Brown Leading Missouri Revival

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 29th, 2014

Missouri has an ugly history in Bud Walton Arena, including a 52-point beatdown by Nolan Richardson’s eventual 1994 national championship Arkansas team. But last night the Tigers notched their first win in seven tries in the 21-year old arena, and easily their best road win since joining the SEC. Here are two quick thoughts from the third conference game in a budding regional basketball rivalry.

Jabari Brown has risen to the top of the SEC scoring list (19.5 PPG) with a balanced offensive game (ksdk.com).

Jabari Brown has risen to the top of the SEC scoring list (19.5 PPG) with a balanced offensive game (ksdk.com).

  • Jabari Brown is a complete offensive player. A lot has changed for Brown over the course of a year. Last season he was essentially a spot-up three-point specialist, taking 61.2 percent of his shots from distance. But this year he’s reduced that to 52.2 percent with a corresponding 10 percent increase in shots at the rim (30 percent), and his more complete game was on display yesterday against Arkansas. The junior hit 4-of-5 threes and managed to get to the line eight times, but it was two late mid-range jumpers in the pockets of Arkansas’ zone that helped propel Missouri to the win. Three-point shooting, mid-range jumpers and slashing covers just about everything a player can do on offense. Brown’s recent hot streak could eventually push him towards the NBA Draft, but given his development under Frank Haith in just one year it might be worth it for him to stay. “Downtown Jabari Brown” has turned into “Well-Rounded Jabari Brown,” and another year could see him morph from fringe prospect to sure-fire first rounder.

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SEC M5: 01.29.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 29th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. Perhaps no team in the country has had as many highs and lows as LSU since conference play began. The Tigers have been blown out at home by Tennessee, endured a 15-0 run by Ole Miss to lose a game of which they were in control, and erased a 19-point deficit against Alabama only to lose the game. But last night they reached the highest point of their season with an impressive home win over Kentucky. The win is a huge boon to LSU’s NCAA Tournament prospects as they head into a relatively benign four-game stretch (Arkansas, at Georgia, Auburn, at Texas A&M). The Tigers still have their warts (notably, poor free throw shooting and turnovers) but their frontcourt has to be considered one of the top units in the country. Jordan Mickey, Johnny O’Bryant and friends held Julius Randle to the lowest scoring output of his career (six points) and gave up just 11 combined rebounds to he and Willie Cauley-Stein. And while Dakari Johnson and Alex Poythress found a number of tip-ins and other baskets in the second half, it didn’t matter with the way O’Bryant was playing on offense.
  2. Missouri picked up easily its best road win since joining the SEC last night by winning at Bud Walton Arena. The win pumps life into the Tigers’ sagging NCAA Tournament hopes, and gives them momentum heading into consecutive games against Kentucky and Florida. There’s a legitimate rivalry growing between these two schools. The last two games in Fayetteville have come down to the wire, and there will always be added juice as long as former Missouri head coach Mike Anderson is at Arkansas. A lightning quick postgame handshake (without the seemingly standard shoulder pat) suggests things aren’t exactly rosy between he and Frank Haith. Part of what makes college basketball so great are the regional rivalries and atmosphere surrounding them, and it looks like the SEC is on the verge of having another special match-up.
  3. Billy Donovan has a lot of talent to work with at Florida, but he  also has something that’s become increasingly rare at big-time programs: plenty of senior leadership. There are four seniors averaging over 24 minutes per game, and that experience should keep Florida focused as the schedule winds towards March. Part of that responsibility includes mentoring young players such as Kasey Hill and Michael Frazier. “They don’t really know how to get themselves prepared, how to to make their way through practice every single day,” Will Yeguete said. “We talk to them and let them know that we have to get ourselves ready.” The Gators’ defense was highlighted on the microsite yesterday, and it’s the biggest reason Florida is in the running for a No. 1 seed. But their intangibles and experience will also come in handy during postseason play.
  4. The numbers are not on Tony Barbee‘s side. The Tigers have the second worst SEC record over his four years Barbee (12-44), and the Tigers have not won a conference game in 51 weeksAl.com‘s Kevin Scarbinsky wonders whether Barbee should get the fifth year that Gene Chizik didn’t get on the gridiron. He writes, “Forget winning any kind of championship. Barbee’s program has yet to stage even a one-hit wonder of a major upset over the likes of a Kentucky or a Florida. His Tigers haven’t beaten a ranked team, and they haven’t won a game in the SEC Tournament.” Barbee also hasn’t yet lived up to his reputation as a top-flight recruiter. He hasn’t brought a single player to Auburn who was the caliber of Randy Culpepper, a fringe pro prospect he recruited while at UTEP. The good thing for Barbee is that given the priority put on the Tigers’ football team (and things are going pretty well on that front), the administration can be patient without major repercussions if they have faith in him.
  5. Trevor Releford got quite a workout last week. Backup point guard Retin Obasohan’s injury absence forced Releford to play 40 minutes in Alabama’s games against LSU and Florida. “He’s our only senior. He’s a veteran so he gets the sense of urgency in terms of what we need to do,” Grant said. “To play 80 minutes in 48 hours, that was all heart and guts on his part.” The workload might have taken a toll on Releford, as he only scored two points in the second half against LSU. Seemingly to give him a rest, Grant played him off the ball and ran the offense through Levi Randolph instead. This might not be a bad look going forward because Randolph has the size to see passing lanes and the ability to penetrate, while Releford is a good three-point shooter. One thing, however, is for certain: Kyle Fuller and Rod Odom feel no sympathy for Releford.
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Missouri Set to Enter a Season-Defining Stretch

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 24th, 2014

Missouri’s NCAA chances will be decided in the next two weeks. Okay, maybe that’s hyperbole, but how the Tigers do in their upcoming five games will play a gigantic role in whether they receive a school-record sixth straight NCAA Tournament invite this season. South Carolina visits Columbia on Saturday, but after that the Tigers face the Gamecocks, they will go through about as difficult a four-game stretch as there is in the current edition of the SEC. Here are the games:

Jabari Brown and Missouri face a five game stretch that might decide their NCAA fate (kbiasports.com).

Jabari Brown and Missouri face a five game stretch that might decide their NCAA fate (kbiasports.com).

  • January 28: at Arkansas
  • February 1: Kentucky 
  • February 4: at Florida
  • February 8: at Ole Miss 

Even the South Carolina game, struggling as the Gamecocks are, might not be a layup since Frank Martin has abused Missouri in the past. Before losing to Georgia two weeks ago, the last time the Tigers lost in Mizzou Arena was to Martin’s Kansas State team in 2011-12. The problem for Missouri isn’t just that they’re 2-3 in SEC play and about to enter a brutal stretch. The bigger issue is that after the February 8 game in Oxford, there isn’t another good opportunity for a truly eye-grabbing win left on the schedule. Sure, there are two games against Tennessee remaining, but the Volunteers have been up-and-down. Wins at Alabama or Georgia don’t spruce up a resume much either this season.

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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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SEC M5: 01.22.14 Edition

Posted by David Changas on January 22nd, 2014

  1. If it’s Super Tuesday, it’s a good bet Kentucky is on center stage. Last night against Texas A&M, Kentucky let the Aggies hang around for most of the first half before coasting to a 68-51 victory to push their conference record to 4-1. The Wildcats got their usual strong performances from Julius Randle (13 points, 11 rebounds) and James Young (15 points, seven rebounds), but also got a game- and season-high 16 points from reserve Alex Poythress. The sophomore forward has been inconsistent since he arrived in Lexington, but has shown signs over the past several weeks that he’s ready to become a more regular contributor. After struggling in the period leading up to conference play, Poythress has now scored in double figures in three of the first five league games and looks to be more comfortable in John Calipari’s system. The head coach has said that Poythress’ biggest hindrance to becoming a more productive player is his own lack of confidence. If he is able to build on his recent performances, he will make Kentucky that much more dangerous as March approaches.
  2. In a game between teams that still have their sights set on the NCAA Tournament, LSU topped Missouri, 77-71, Tuesday night in Baton Rouge. LSU got 14 points and 13 rebounds from stellar freshman Jordan Mickey. The highly-touted freshman has lived up to the hype for head coach Johnny Jones, as he is second on the team to Johnny O’Bryant in both scoring (13.1 PPG) and rebounding (6.9 RPG). This game was a contrast in styles, as LSU’s strength is its frontcourt, while Missouri boasts one of the league’s strongest backcourts but struggles with production up front. It wasn’t surprising, then, that Mickey, O’Bryant, and Shavon Coleman combined for 49 of LSU’s 77 points, while Missouri got all but eight of its points from the guard trio of Jabari Brown (28 points), Jordan Clarkson (19), and Earnest Ross (16). LSU moved to 3-2 in the conference with the win, while Missouri, which came into league play with only one loss, dropped to 2-3.
  3. Although we’re less than a quarter of the way through the conference race, it is difficult to overstate the importance of the meeting between Tennessee and Arkansas tonight in Knoxville. The Vols, which are coming off a solid performance in a loss at Kentucky on Saturday, can ill-afford a home loss, as their NCAA Tournament hopes are tenuous at best. In the latest Rush the Court bracketology, the Vols, though not in the “First Four,” are projected as a 12-seed, meaning they have little room for error themselves. They have a number of games remaining against teams with weak profiles, so a win over the Razorbacks here is imperative. Arkansas, for its part, remarkably has only two conference road wins in Mike Anderson’s tenure in Fayetteville, both of which came against Auburn. The Hogs fell short in overtime against Georgia in Athens on Saturday, and though the beginning of their conference slate has been more difficult than most SEC teams’, a 1-4 start in the league would likely be too much overcome. Given their resume (RPI No. 66), a loss would give them little room for error (they are currently in RTC‘s “First Four Out”), and at some point, Anderson is going to have to win a big game away from Bud Walton Arena if he is going to get Arkansas to the Big Dance for the first time since his arrival.
  4. After missing the previous two games against Auburn and Mississippi State, the SEC’s biggest enigma has returned with a vengeance. Marshall Henderson was named SEC Player of the Week after averaging 22.0 points and 3.5 assists per game in Ole Miss’ overtime home win over LSU, and the Rebels’ first win in Columbia since 2001. Henderson, who launched nearly 11 three-pointers per game last year but has increased that number to 11.5 per game this season, went 9-of-24 from beyond the arc in those two games. For Ole Miss (12-5, 3-1), which has seen its RPI profile (No. 66) improve since the beginning of SEC play, to have any chance of making its second consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance, it knows that it largely will go as Henderson goes. And Vanderbilt’s Kevin Stallings, whose team faces the Rebels in Nashville tonight, knows that stopping Henderson will be the Commodores’ key to victory. The head coach knows all too well what Henderson is capable of doing after witnessing first-hand the craziness in last year’s Ole Miss win at Memorial Gymnasium.
  5. The saga of Florida’s Chris Walker continues unabated, and Florida head coach Billy Donovan indicated on Tuesday that he will not address the situation anymore. Walker, who was Rivals’ No. 6 player in the class of 2013, was admitted to school in December, but is still awaiting clearance by the NCAA Clearinghouse relating to possible impermissible benefits during his AAU days. If he finally becomes eligible, he will add an important piece to an already formidable Gators’ front line. For his part, Donovan has clearly tired of discussing Walker’s status, and knows all he can do is play the guys who are available to him. Still, not many programs can look at the possibility of adding a top-10 recruit this far into the season. With Tennessee’s talented frontcourt duo of Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon coming to Gainesville on Saturday, Donovan would certainly love to have Walker available for that key contest. It’s reasonable to assume that Florida will take care of business at Alabama tonight even without him.
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SEC Weekday Primer: Road Tests Await NCAA Hopefuls

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 21st, 2014

The third week of SEC play is upon us after a Saturday in which the standings started to morph into what many thought they’d be. Florida (4-0) and Kentucky (3-1) survived close games to inch toward the top, while surprise front runner Texas A&M (3-1) lost an overtime affair in Starkville. The weekday slate has a couple games that could play a big role in the SEC’s desperate quest for non-Gator-and-Wildcat NCAA bids.

Mike Anderson and Arkansas will, yet again, try to make a statement on the road against Tennessee (foxnews.com).

Mike Anderson and Arkansas will, yet again, try to make a statement on the road against Tennessee. (foxnews.com)

Don’t Miss This One, Part IArkansas @ Tennessee (Wednesday, 8:00 PM ET)

The Razorbacks are right back where they want to be after a loss in Athens: on the road. That’s sarcasm, of course, but Arkansas needs a win in the worst way, especially away from home. If they lose Wednesday they’ll fall to 1-4 in league play which is no place for a team with tournament hopes, regardless of how dazzling that one conference win was. But the Vols, however, aren’t the match up Mike Anderson is looking for. Tennessee has the third best offensive rebounding percentage in the country, and the Razorbacks have struggled to keep teams off the offensive glass this season. The Vols are also coming off a game in which they handedly beat Kentucky’s talented front court on the boards. Read the rest of this entry »

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SEC M5: 01.20.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 20th, 2014

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  1. Experienced guards with a killer instinct can be extremely valuable in March, and Billy Donovan has one in Scottie Wilbekin. The senior’s fallaway jumper with under two minutes to go against Auburn kept the Tigers at bay, and came a week after his buzzer-beater to force overtime at Arkansas. “I have confidence I can make plays,” Wilbekin said. “Luckily, they’ve been going down for me. I just want to keep trying to play the right way, regardless of how much time is left in the game.” Between Wilbekin, Casey Prather and Patric Young, there may not be a team in the nation with more talented impact seniors, and these are players who have been to three straight Elite Eights. Prather’s solid return (21 points on 8-of-10 shooting, six rebounds) was the most important storyline to come from the closer-than-expected win over the Tigers. But Wilbekin’s continued ability to hit the big shot bodes well for the Gators’ future as well.
  2. Maybe some good came out of Kentucky’s loss at Bud Walton Arena after all. Kentucky.com‘s John Clay writes that a spark may have been lit under Andrew Harrison. “Instead, it’s been some up, some down, inconsistency all around. Rhetoric without results. There have been body language issues, quickness issues, shooting issues. It looked more and more as though the Harrisons would have their Bluegrass stay extended, and not for the right reasons.But then the forgotten thing from Tuesday’s dramatic 87-85 loss at Arkansas was Andrew Harrison rising up from the right corner and nailing a three-pointer to send the late show into overtime.” Harrison was the star for the Wildcats against Tennessee (26 points, three assists, zero turnovers), one of the few times all year that statement can be definitively made and not involve Julius Randle. It couldn’t have come at a better time either. Kentucky was demolished on the glass, and couldn’t overwhelm the Vols with its frontcourt strength and depth. Development is the story to watch for the Wildcats as the season winds towards March, and on Saturday Andrew Harrison took a big step forward.
  3. NBCSports.com‘s Scott Phillips doesn’t have as rosy a take on the Wildcats after the Tennessee win. He writes that the pieces aren’t quite fitting together yet. “James Young is a great complementary kickout on offense and Cauley-Stein can play to his strengths of catching lobs and hunting offensive rebounds, but the Wildcats will not beat the best teams in the country until their three isolation-based main offensive players — the Harrisons and Julius Randle — figure out how to move the ball well and shift the defense around from side-to-side to make things easier on themselves.” Getting this team to reach its potential will certainly be one of the toughest challenges John Calipari has ever faced, mainly because of the preseason expectations and early “struggles.” Phillips’ point about a consistent lack of cohesion is a valid one. But I’m still drinking the Kentucky Kool-Aid because their pieces should be able to eventually fit together. Cauley-Stein needs to add more on offense, but he doesn’t need the ball to be successful and that’s perfect alongside Randle. In the back court, is indeed the perfect floor spacer for the more drive-oriented games of the Harrison twins. It all should work, and until they’ve been eliminated I’ll give Calipari the benefit of the doubt.
  4. Michael Qualls’ dunk put a cap on the Mike Anderson road hex, right? All the momentum and good vibes created by that putback slam had to carry Arkansas through their game at Georgia, right? Nope, it was business as usual for the Razorbacks in Athens, as they failed to pick up a necessary road win. Graham Reaves at Arkansas Fight writes, “What made this game that much more frustrating is that for much of the game it appeared the Hogs would win, knock the monkey off their back on their way towards an NCAA berth. Coming off a win at home over No. 13 Kentucky on Tuesday night, this Razorbacks squad had made believers of those who had doubted for so long. As good for the fanbase Kentucky game was, this one was bad.” And that’s the rub: This was at its core a deflating loss for Arkansas fans. The loss, however, didn’t shoot their NCAA Tournament chances to pieces. The Kentucky win was a good one, and should continue to resonate given it happened in dramatic fashion on national TV. But their next two road games are in Knoxville and Baton Rouge, so that monkey might continue to hang on Arkansas’ back, and the longer it does, the more pronounced the storyline will get.
  5. Missouri stopped the bleeding, at least for the time being, on its disappointing SEC start with a dominant second half against Alabama. Jabari Brown was super efficient (24 points, 7-of-9 shooting, 7-of-8 from the line) in pulling the Tigers ahead. Jordan Clarkson also played a big role offensively, but his overall play has dipped since SEC games began. Rock M Nation‘s Bill Connelly, in his always interesting “Study Hall” piece, writes, “Jordan Clarkson has five assists in four SEC games, and his %Pass was lower than Jabari’s on Saturday. He is no longer Missouri’s point guard.” Clarkson is not a pure point guard, so it was always unreasonable to expect him to keep up the assist numbers he posted in non-conference play. But Wes Clark has also struggled recently, leaving Frank Haith with a problem to solve at the position. He doesn’t seem to trust Shane Rector yet, so the only option seems to be riding out the growing pains of Clarkson and Clark.
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Who Won The Week? Indiana, Arkansas, and a Team Led by the Nephew of an NBA Hall of Famer…

Posted by Kenny Ocker @KennyOcker on January 17th, 2014

Who Won the Week? is a regular column that will outline and discuss three winners and losers from the previous week. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), a Spokane-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game. But he’s not biking anywhere with a sub-zero wind chill.

WINNER: Indiana

The Indiana faithful certainly had something to cheer about this week. Could the Hoosiers be on the upswing? (Getty)

The Indiana faithful certainly had something to cheer about this week. Could the Hoosiers be on the upswing? (Getty)

The Hoosiers were off to a poor start in Big Ten play, falling at Illinois in overtime and then getting blown out at Assembly Hall by Michigan State. The second week of conference play proved to be far better in Bloomington. Led by freshman forward Noah Vonleh’s 19 points and six rebounds, the Hoosiers went into State College and beat Penn State 79-76 on Saturday. And when I say “led by,” I mean “Vonleh was the only Hoosier to make more than half of his shots, and his teammates combined to go 16-of-49 from the field.” A road win is a road win, after all, and when it’s your first win in conference, it’s nothing to complain about. But what really won the week for Indiana was its performance against heretofore undefeated Wisconsin on Tuesday night. The Badgers, one of four teams in the nation undefeated to that point, came into Assembly Hall riding a 12-game winning streak against the Hoosiers. Yeah, that’s over. Yogi Ferrell made sure of that. The sophomore guard lit up the nets for 25 points while also dishing four assists, leading his team to an instant resume-building win, downing the Badgers 75-72. Considering that Indiana’s best win to that point was over an 11-7 Washington team, the Hoosiers picked a mighty fine time to show up huge. Because of their skimpy resume, though, the Hoosiers will likely have to go at least 10-8 in conference, if not 11-7, to get an NCAA Tournament at-large bid come March. This week’s turnaround from a slow start will give them a much better opportunity to get to that point, and to get a ticket to the Big Dance.

(Related winners: Undefeated-in-conference Michigan State and Michigan, who have the conference lead to themselves now. Related losers: Penn State, which is a painful 0-5 in conference so far; Wisconsin; Wisconsin forward Duje Dukan, who got one rebound in 11 minutes, ruining his chance at 11 trillion in the box score.)

LOSER: Iowa State

So much for that 14-0 start in Ames. A pesky trip to Norman undid that. And then the familiar hoodoo against Kansas reared its head again. And now the Cyclones are 14-2. Somewhere in the middle, star guard and Marshall transfer DeAndre Kane got hurt, although you wouldn’t know it by his performances. Iowa State went into Oklahoma’s gym and decided that letting Ryan Spangler grab every rebound he possibly could (15, including seven on the offensive glass) would be a fantastic idea. Spangler turned that into 16 points on 4-of-5 shooting from the field and 8-of-9 shooting from the free throw line. The Cyclones also forgot to guard guard Buddy Hield, who had 22 points and hit six three-pointers. That’s a really good way to blow a game in which Kane had 23 points and nine rebounds before rolling his ankle late, and the Robin to his Batman, Melvin Ejim, having 21 points and six rebounds of his own.

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The RTC Podblast: To Rush or Not to Rush Edition

Posted by rtmsf on January 17th, 2014

Happy Friday, folks. It’s the middle of January and the conference season is in full swing. With that means the annual griping and groaning about fans rushing the court, storming the castle, wetting the bed, whatever you want to call it. It’s all baloney at the end of the day — college hoops is fun and entertaining and inspirational at times — does anyone really care — we mean, really care — if students run out on the court to get some TV time? We don’t. Now, on to this week’s RTC Podblast, and Indiana’s RTC on Tuesday night certainly made it into the discussion. But never fear, listeners, we didn’t dwell on it. Here’s this week’s edition.

Make sure to add the RTC Podcast to your iTunes lineup so that you’ll automatically upload it on your listening device after we record. And feel free to contact us through Twitter or email — we’re listening.

  • 0:00-6:40 – Indiana Hands Wisconsin Its First Loss, and RTCs
  • 6:40-11:40 – Arkansas and Crazy Endings
  • 11:40-14:16 – Baylor Disappoints, Tubby Doesn’t
  • 14:16-16:03 – UConn Pulls Off a Big American Road Win
  • 16:03-19:28 – Best of the Rest Games on Saturday
  • 19:28-22:32 – Oklahoma State-Kansas Preview/Wrap
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