Big Blue Nation Again on Display in Nashville

Posted by David Changas on March 14th, 2015

Jennifer Hay took the 240-mile drive from her hometown of Brookville, Kentucky, to be in Nashville for this week’s SEC Tournament. She spent $200 on upper level seats for Saturday’s semifinal matchup against a woefully undermanned Auburn team. If she is willing to spend that kind of money for a game the Wildcats had virtually no chance of losing, she sure wouldn’t balk at going a bit higher for a ticket to Sunday’s championship game. “I’d go to $350 for that,” she said outside Bridgestone Arena before Kentucky’s 91-67 annihilation of the SEC Tournament’s Cinderella. When asked why she would spend so much of her resources on the prelude to the main event, the NCAA Tournament, she was quick with a response. “Oh, we’ll go to that, too.” Hay’s story is no different than that of most diehard Big Blue fans. They will do anything and everything it takes to see their beloved Wildcats play. And while it might be easier for them to pinch pennies elsewhere to make sure it happens as the Wildcats march toward history, they’d be here even if their team wasn’t headed to the NCAA Tournament as a prohibitive favorite. They proved that fact two years ago when they took over Music City to watch an NIT team lose its quarterfinal game to Vanderbilt.

Kentucky Fans Have Filled Bridgestone Arena As Usual (USA Today Images)

Kentucky Fans Have Filled Bridgestone Arena As Usual (USA Today Images)

This week, though, is a little different than most years, even by the high standards of Kentucky fans. Tickets are harder to come by, as evidenced by the many empty-handed scalpers standing outside the arena 30 minutes before tipoff. Benny Paige, a Memphian who works for the broker Ticket Resource, said that there was very little to come by and he wasn’t even willing to stick around to see what kind of business he could do in advance of Sunday’s final. “Kentucky fans buy [the tickets] up at $250, so you can’t make enough money on that,” Paige said. According to StubHub.com, a pair of premium lower-level tickets for the championship game was selling for as much as $466 apiece as of Saturday afternoon. That game, in which the Wildcats will take on a team destined for the NCAA Tournament, figures to be far more competitive than today’s semifinal against the Tigers, whose presence may have led to the cost of admission being a bit lower than normal. Still, it’s clear that Wildcats fans will spend generously even for a game that their team is going to handily win and will not impact their position as the #1 overall seed in the upcoming Big Dance.

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Auburn’s Surprising Run Carries it to Clash with Kentucky

Posted by David Changas on March 13th, 2015

Earlier this season, Bruce Pearl was brutally honest with his height-challenged squad. To make his players feel like they could compete with almost any team in the SEC, Pearl told his Auburn club that it could beat any team on its schedule. Well, any team besides No. 1 Kentucky. “The reason why I said that was because I truly wanted them to believe that we could beat Ole Miss or LSU or Arkansas or Georgia. Because to just say we could beat any team in the league, I don’t know that that would be a hundred percent,” Pearl said. It may have taken a while to come together, but after the Tigers’ stunning overtime quarterfinal victory against LSU, Auburn is on a roll, having won nearly as many SEC games in three days (three) as it did during the regular season (four).

Bruce Pearl knows that beating Kentucky will be a very tall task (USA Today Images)

Bruce Pearl knows that beating Kentucky will be a very tall task (USA Today Images)

That Auburn has advanced to the semifinals of the SEC Tournament isn’t just surprising; anyone who might have suggested such a thing earlier this week would have been laughed out of Bridgestone Arena. But here they are, and their reward for pulling off three straight upsets? That very Kentucky team that Pearl told them they could not beat. Lest anyone think that Pearl was being unfair to his team by suggesting that it is incapable of beating a fellow SEC school, there’s nobody in America who would disagree with his premise. The Tigers are one of the smallest teams in the country and the Wildcats are the biggest. Pearl knows that getting past the vaunted Wildcats is something too hard to even contemplate. In his postgame comments, he talked about the Tigers being “short-handed,” admitted it will be a “tough matchup,” and said his team “will try to represent.”

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Texas A&M’s NCAA Tournament Hopes Vanish in Nashville

Posted by David Changas on March 12th, 2015

For Texas A&M, things started out well enough. The Aggies opened a 10-point lead against lowly Auburn in Thursday’s SEC Tournament Second Round, only to see that lead quickly evaporate when the Tigers opened the second half on a 26-7 run en route to a 66-59 victory. The Aggies’ halftime lead was not the only thing that went up in smoke in Nashville today. Their case for an NCAA Tournament bid, which appeared strong prior to last week’s losses to Florida and Alabama, is all but over now. With few legitimate wins upon which the Aggies can hang their hats — before today, their strongest argument in favor of inclusion was the avoidance of bad losses, but that is no longer the case – head coach Billy Kennedy is left scratching his head at what went wrong.

KT Harrell and Auburn di in Texas A&M's NCAA Tournament chances (John Locher/AP)

KT Harrell and Auburn did in Texas A&M’s NCAA Tournament chances (John Locher/AP)

To be sure, playing without second-leading scorer Danuel House did not help, but Texas A&M is the more talented team, having completed a sweep of the Tigers just 12 days ago. Ultimately, though, the Aggies were done in by their inability to consistently score. “Danuel House, I mean, he’s our go-to guy. He’s a big moment guy. He’s handled the pressure for us for the most part all throughout the season. We really needed somebody else to step up,” Kennedy said afterward. Nobody else did, as only Alex Caruso (11 points) and Alex Robinson (11 points) reached double-figures, and the team as a whole contributed 0.83 points per possession. For Kennedy’s club, the loss probably ends the notion of an NCAA Tournament bid that seemed so likely just a few days ago. The future is still very bright in College Station. Kennedy signed what is currently ranked as the nation’s third-best incoming freshman class, including four players ranked in Rivals.com’s top 66. Additionally, the Aggies are expected to only lose Kourtney Roberson and Jordan Green from this year’s team. Still, Texas A&M had a really good chance to get a head start on that bright future with a scouting trip to the Big Dance this year. Now the Aggies will almost certainly head to the NIT, wondering how it all went wrong and what could have been.

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SEC Tournament Preview: What Teams Are Playing For

Posted by David Changas on March 11th, 2015

As Nashville awaits the inevitable Big Blue mist that will descend upon it Friday afternoon, let’s take a look at what each of the 14 SEC teams has to play for with the start of tonight’s SEC Tournament.

SEC tournament bracket 2015

The Outsiders

  • Missouri (9-22, 3-15). After winning its SEC opener against LSU, Missouri earned only two more conference victories all season — at home against Florida and Auburn. Kim Anderson’s first year at his alma mater has been a trying one, and there likely will not be much sadness when this campaign comes to a merciful end sometime soon.
  • Mississippi State (13-18, 6-12). Given that Rick Ray won seven league games in his first two seasons in Starkville, this year’s six-win campaign is a substantial improvement. This appeared to be a team that would struggle to win any conference games, so getting six has surely earned Ray the right to coach a fourth season at Mississippi State. While the Bulldogs have nothing to play for beyond Nashville, expect them to be motivated to move into Thursday’s round against Texas A&M.

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The SEC Week That Was: Volume IX

Posted by Greg Mitchell on March 3rd, 2015

For the next three weeks or so, we’ll run down a few weekly superlatives from league play, take a look at how conference teams look in the eyes of the NCAA Tournament selection committee, and anything else that merits discussion. Here is Volume IX, including games from February 24 to March 1.

Team of the Week: With all due respect to undefeated Kentucky (which won its highest-profile SEC game by beating Arkansas), this week’s award goes to LSU. The Tigers avoided a black mark by picking up a road win at Auburn, and then added a top 50 RPI win by knocking off Ole Miss at home. The win over the Rebels also gave LSU the tie-breaker for conference tournament seeding purposes if the two teams are still knotted at the end of the week. The question for the Tigers, at least in terms of how high their ceiling is, was always going to be how well the roster developed around big men Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin. Depth hasn’t arrived and Josh Gray has struggled his way into Johnny Jones’ doghouse, as he hasn’t logged more than 21 minutes over the last five games. But Jones seems to have found a five-man lineup that he likes and is having success with. Tim Quarterman recorded only the seventh triple double in program history, and first since Shaq did the trick in 1992, against Ole Miss. This was an indicative of the all-purpose role he’s played all year. Jalyn Patterson has also stuffed the stat sheet all season (nine points, five assists, four rebounds against the Rebels) and has clearly improved throughout the year and earned Jones’ trust as a freshman. Along with Keith Hornsby, the Tigers have three solid parts to plug alongside their two stars and a team that is athletic, defends well and is deadly in transition. The concern is that Jones has still played fast (seventh highest adjusted temp according to KenPom) despite the thin rotation, and this could catch up to LSU, especially in a back-to-back game tournament setting. But the Tigers know what they are, and there’s something to be said for that at this time of year. Honorable mention goes to Missouri, which snapped its 13 game losing streak against Florida midweek. And let’s also say something for Vanderbilt, which picked up solid wins over Alabama and Tennessee and sits at a respectable 7-9 in SEC play.

Trey Lyles had a career week for Kentucky (collegebasketball.ap.org).

Trey Lyles had a career week for Kentucky (collegebasketball.ap.org).

Player of the Week. At this point in the season it doesn’t hurt to spread the love as much possible, so let’s split the award among three freshmen: Trey Lyles, Wade Baldwin IV and Namon Wright. Lyles had his finest week as a college player, at least in terms of scoring, with a career-high 18 points in back-to-back games. Often times this season defenses have been content with the Wildcat offense settling on two-point jump shots from Lyles, so it was encouraging that he scored those 36 points on an efficient 15-of-22 shooting. Baldwin has quietly had a strong freshman season, and this week put up 28 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists and just four turnovers while leading Vanderbilt to two wins. He’s a big, aggressive lead guard that should be fun to watch over the next few seasons, especially alongside Riley LaChance and the other young Commodores. Wright carried Missouri for much of its streak-busting win against Florida, dropping in a career-high 28 points and going six-for-eight from three. Besides a season-opening hot stretch from Teki Gill-Caesar, none of the Mizzou freshmen have shown the type of offensive explosion Wright did in that win over the Gators. Not to get greedy, but Quarterman deserves some more ink for his triple-double too.

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Freeze Frame: Analyzing Kentucky’s Post Game

Posted by Brian Joyce on February 24th, 2015

Teams known for their defensive efficiency might not normally hang 110 points in conference play, but that’s exactly what Kentucky did when it met Bruce Pearl’s Auburn team on Saturday evening. Ken Pomeroy lists the Wildcats as the eighth most-efficient offense in the nation (118.4 points per 100 possessions), but that end of the floor has not consistently been the Wildcats’ calling card this season. John Calipari’s offense does, however, seem to be impvoing at just the right time. Kentucky’s 1.34 points per possession performance over the weekend was the third-best in SEC play for the Wildcats during the Calipari era (2010-15).

Most efficient games in SEC play during the John Calipari era.

Most efficient games in SEC play during the John Calipari era.

The Wildcats were good at just about every aspect of their game against Auburn, but Kentucky dominated the low post, with its 62 points in the paint tied for the most of any SEC team this season. In this edition of Freeze Frame, we will examine Kentucky’s post play to see how the bigs use screens on the low block to find and hold good post position.

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SEC Quotable & Notable: Volume I

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 29th, 2015

Periodically throughout the rest of the season, we will use this column to take a look at who’s making history and who’s saying what around the SEC. Here’s Volume I of what’s Quotable and Notable right now in college basketball’s Southern reaches.

“I just went strong to the hole.” Florida’s Dorian Finney-Smith on his game-winning dunk against Alabama.


No player in the country will have a minute as impressive and unlikely as Finney-Smith did in the final 60 seconds of Florida’s recent win against the Crimson Tide. His fierce drive and dunk ended up being the game-winner, and it was sandwiched around two crucial blocks: a body-straight-up rejection on Michael Kessens to keep the game knotted at 50, and a help defense block of Levi Randolph’s potential game-tying shot as time expired. This all coming after the junior had gone scoreless to that point.  Finney-Smith’s magical minute, which helped end Florida’s three-game losing streak, should be one of the highlights of Gators’ season.

Georgia is probably the second best team in the league and, by far, the most physical team.” Mississippi State head coach Rick Ray after his team’s loss to Georgia last weekend. “I thought they hurt us on the boards in the first half, but then you look down and see they hit 50 percent from the field in the second half and over 90 percent from the line… you can’t beat anybody like that.” Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings after Georgia hit 23-of-25 free throws and outrebounded the Commodores by 10 in an eight-point victory.

Georgia is taking on the feel of a team that can grind out wins, and in this league, that can be the key to a shiny conference record. Just take care of business. The Bulldogs squeaked by Mississippi State because of a Herculean effort from J.J. Frazier (37 points), and against Vanderbilt, they were sloppy with the ball (16 turnovers) but did enough elsewhere to control the game throughout. Neither win is all that impressive alone, but SEC teams have perfected the art of losing winnable games. The Bulldogs will end up in the NCAA Tournament if they have finally bucked that trend.

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SEC M5: MLK Day Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 19th, 2015

SEC_morning5

  1. So many potential narratives started swirling around after Kentucky’s shaky outings against Ole Miss and Texas A&M. Had the Wildcats become unfocused and vulnerable? Would they respond? Was the sky falling? At least for now, it seems the close calls indeed got the ‘Cats attention. “I think those struggles just reset our mind,” Willie Cauley-Stein told the Louisville Courier-Journal. “Now we’re back to like, ‘OK, we’re trying to shut people out.’ We’re not just trying to play with them. We’re trying to demoralize them.” After allowing Ole Miss to score more points per possession than it had any team this season (1.09), Kentucky broke Missouri’s soul (0.58) and then stifled a good Alabama squad (0.83). Given Alabama’s length, athleticism and desperation for a marquee win, the game in Tuscaloosa may have been one of the tougher road assignments Kentucky will face this year. They passed it easily, and it seems the appropriate narrative is that the Wildcats’ slow start to conference play may have in fact been a positive thing.
  2. Kentucky isn’t the only team that took something away from its SEC opener against Ole Miss. The Rebels weren’t intimidated in Rupp against a seemingly invincible opponent, and they brought that same confidence to Fayetteville when they whacked Arkansas 96-82. If you combine their shooting stats from both games, the Rebels shot 53.1 percent on 32 three-point attempts. That is precisely the way to give yourself a chance against good teams in tough environments. The abundance of bravado has to be tied to Ole Miss’ veteran backcourt of Jarvis Summers, Stefan Moody and Snoop White. The trio has guided the Rebels to a 2-2 record against arguably the best the SEC has to offer: Kentucky, South Carolina, LSU and Arkansas. Ole Miss may be able to make some hay as the schedule eases up, especially if it keeps lighting it up from deep.
  3. Is Texas A&M’s Jalen Jones the most important player in the SEC? Probably not, but the Aggies are 2-0 with him in SEC play and 0-2 without him. Billy Kennedy’s leading scorer returned from an ankle injury to score 16 points in a win over Mississippi State and then 18 points in Saturday’s win over LSU. The latter performance was all the more impressive since it came against the Tigers’ ultra-talented front line. Would a healthy Jones have given the Aggies the slight edge they would’ve needed to drop Kentucky? We will never know, but with how Texas A&M has struggled to score this season, it needs Jones to remain healthy if it has any chance of ending up on the tournament bubble.
  4. Auburn’s big recruits a year away. The team was coming off a 20 point loss. Kentucky wasn’t in town. And this is Auburn, after all. Nonetheless, Auburn Arena was rocking Saturday night during the Tigers’ quality win over South Carolina. This is the Bruce Pearl effect. We heard about the spike in season ticket sales during the offseason, and actually saw it come to life against the Gamecocks. Cinmeon Bowers – who is becoming a star in the SEC – ripped down an offensive rebound and converted a tough layup to extend the Tigers’ lead to three with under four minutes left and the arena exploded. Last year, a scene like that seemed a world away. But there is truly excitement around Auburn basketball, and with home wins over Missouri and Carolina, not to mention the emergence of Bowers as a double-double machine, there is tangible progress on the court too. Again, this is the Bruce Pearl effect, and the entire league is better for it.
  5. Florida’s 24-game conference win streak came to an end with an unusual sight. Michael Frazier and Dorian Finney-Smith were glued to bench for a large swath of the second half in the Gators’ loss to Georgia, and not because of foul trouble. “For me, it was just, let’s play (freshman) Devin Robinson, Chris Chiozza. Let’s get them some experience. Let’s let them play. These older guys aren’t playing at the level we need them to play at,” Billy Donovan told the Gainesville Sun. Despite the loss, Florida’s 3-1 conference record does not have it in a helpless position so the benching was a somewhat bold move from Donovan. It might signal that this season has become as much about building for the future as it is contending in the present. And that’s not a bad thing, because except for senior Jon Horford, this same Florida team will likely take the floor together next year.
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SEC M5: 01.12.15 Edition

Posted by David Changas on January 12th, 2015

SEC_morning5

  1. The recruiting hits just keep on coming for Johnny Jones and LSU. On Friday, Arizona transfer Craig Victor committed to the Tigers, and will be eligible to play in the second semester of the 2015-16 season. Victor is from New Orleans, so his choice cannot be much of a surprise. He picked LSU over Oklahoma State. Victor was ranked No. 37 in the ESPN 100 Class of 2014, but never saw any important minutes at Arizona. Victor’s commitment comes on the heels of Jones signing Ben Simmons, the nation’s top-ranked player in the class of 2015, and of a getting a verbal pledge from another five-star recruit, Antonio Blakeney, earlier this month. So while the Tigers have not quite played up to expectations thus far this year – they came back from the dead to get their first SEC win at home against Georgia Saturday night – the future looks bright in Baton Rouge.
  2. Reality finally hit Tennessee squarely in the face during their offensive meltdown against Alabama Saturday, as the Vols scored only 2 points in the game’s last 13-plus minutes in their 56-38 home loss to Alabama. Tennessee was 9-4 coming into the contest, despite having only nine healthy scholarship players. On Friday, coach Donnie Tyndall changed that, as he surprised walk-on Galen Campbell, a Knoxville native, by awarding him a scholarship. The redshirt junior guard has played in only 14 games during his time with the Vols, and he did not see any action in the loss to the Crimson Tide. The move by Tyndall was a neat one, and as can be seen in the video, is one that was very popular among Campbell’s teammates.
  3. After Kentucky escaped its double overtime game against Texas A&M with a win, John Calipari wasted no time heading home and hitting the recruiting trail. He and assistant Kenny Payne were in Paducah within three hours of the Wildcats closing out their dramatic victory over the Aggies, checking out signee Skal Labissiere of Memphis, among others. Calipari and Payne were also there to see 2015 targets Malik Newman and Thomas Bryant, as well as Thon Maker and Josh Jackson, who are part of the class of 2016. Such is the life of a college basketball coach: pull out a tough double overtime win in the afternoon and jet 730 miles to catch high schoolers in the evening. Of course, when you’re Calipari, knowing you essentially have your pick of the best of each incoming class makes that grind a lot easier.
  4. Last week, Arkansas showed its faith in Mike Anderson‘s efforts in his three-plus years as the head man in Fayetteville, as well as the direction in which he appears to be taking the program by giving him a two-year extension through the 2019-20 season. From the moment the school hired Anderson, a long-time assistant under Arkansas’s most successful coach, Nolan Richardson, the fit appeared to perfect. Things have not quite gone according to plan, however, as Anderson did not make the NCAA Tournament in his first three years at the school. This year, though, the Razorbacks, who are 2-0 in the SEC and have separated themselves as the league’s clear second-best team, appear to be a shoo-in to make the Big Dance. Anderson has assembled enough talent and has had enough success graduating players that the powers that be are convinced he’s the right man to lead the program for a long time.
  5. Bruce Pearl got his first SEC win since 2011, when he was the coach at Tennessee, as Auburn downed Missouri 85-79 Saturday night at Auburn Arena. And while any win the Tigers get in conference play will be big news, as they likely won’t get many, the bigger story coming from the game was the presence of a famous basketball alumnus who was in attendance: Charles Barkley. As he did at Tennessee, Pearl will pull out all the stops to promote the program at Auburn, and he will especially work hard to honor former Tiger players who can bring positive recognition to the program. Inarguably, there is no one who can better do this than Barkley, who is not only the most famous player in Auburn history, but is still one of the biggest names in basketball. Having Barkley around can only help Pearl in his promotion efforts, and bring some much-needed attention to a program that likely will bring little to itself because of what happens on the court this year.
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SEC M5: Christmas Eve Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on December 24th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. Kentucky’s clash with Louisville this Saturday might be the most anticipated game until the NCAA Tournament, and according to ESPN’s Seth Greenberg, it also might be the last realistic chance for the Wildcats to lose a game before the Big Dance. Kansas, North Carolina, Texas and even UCLA (before the game, of course) looked like potential challenges, and Kentucky easily got by them all, so Greenberg has a point here. Nonetheless, I’m betting against the undefeated season. As great as it has been, this Kentucky team has not been immune to slow starts, as exhibited in the Boston University and Columbia games. And although it’s a cliche, the Wildcats will almost certainly get everyone’s best effort in the SEC — a slow start in Tuscaloosa or Athens or Columbia could prove fatal. But the fact that we are using a magnifying glass to find one potential loss among 18 chances tells you just how well the Wildcats have played this season.
  2. Slowly but surely, Florida is working its way back towards national relevance this season. The Gators beat Wake Forest over the weekend, and while that isn’t particularly noteworthy, their roster seems to finally be taking shape. Alex Murphy made his Florida debut with an impactful nine points, four rebounds and two blocks in 29 minutes. “I thought he played great,” Billy Donovan told the Gainesville Sun. “The best part about coaching him is he has got a really good feel and he can play multiple, different positions.” Versatility in the frontcourt might turn out to be one of the Gators’ calling cards this year. Murphy joins Dorian Finney-Smith and Devin Robinson as athletic, mobile bigs who can play on the perimeter. Depth down low is also something Donovan has to work with as Jacob Kurtz (4.5 points per game; 4.9 rebounds per game) played well while being forced into action, and Jon Horford and Chris Walker have seen significant minutes this year.
  3. Johnny Jones is being careful with his LSU Tigers, and it may pay off in the long run. Josh Gray’s injured ankle kept him out of the team’s recent win over College of Charleston, but according to Jones, he could have played if it had been a conference game. Jarell Martin was also held out of the starting lineup and played eight minutes under his season average (34.0) because he missed part of Monday’s practice due to a minor car wreck. Amid all of this, Jones used the opportunity to give minutes to several players who have sparsely played this season, such as Jalyn Patterson, Elbert Robinson and Aaron Epps. Patterson played eight minutes over his average, and Robinson played 14 minutes after not appearing in the team’s previous two games. LSU desperately needs more quality depth, and it’s nice for Jones that he can work players into the rotation while still winning games comfortably.
  4. Georgia is forging its way down a novel path. Instead of letting disappointing early losses to Georgia Tech and Minnesota compound themselves in a negative way, the Bulldogs have ripped off consecutive wins against Colorado and Seton Hall in the last week. In fact, the win against the Pirates is arguably the best non-Kentucky win of any SEC team thus far. If nothing else, it’s up there with LSU’s win at West Virginia, Arkansas’ win at SMU and Tennessee’s win over Butler. The Bulldogs look viable going forward and are more than a two-man show that depends entirely on Charles Mann and Kenny Gaines. Marcus Thornton has been a low post scoring threat (14.7 points per game), and J.J. Frazier has gone from little-used freshman to a dependable lead guard (8.7 points per game; 3.4 assists per game; 4.2 rebounds per game). Frazier has also been a consistent threat from three-point range (41.4%) which was a question mark for Georgia heading into the season.
  5. Several of SB Nation’s SEC basketball writers got together for a roundtable on the state of the league. One of the questions they discussed was which team has surprised the most, and answers included Vanderbilt (good), LSU (good) and Missouri (bad). You can’t disagree with any of those three, and two weeks ago I would’ve personally submitted Auburn as a surprise on the negative end of the spectrum. The Tigers were never going to compete for an NCAA Tournament spot this year, but with their experience (KT Harrell, Antoine Mason) and Bruce Pearl on the sidelines, losses to Clemson and Coastal Carolina were unexpected. Better late than never, but the Tigers turned it around in a big way with a double-overtime win over Xavier last weekend, showing the type of team it can become. Part of what has helped is the emergence of Trayvon Reed, who in his just his fourth college game helped cover the Tigers’ hole in the post with five rebounds and five blocks in 25 minutes. Auburn did, however, nearly undo that good will with a loss to a two-win Texas Southern team last night, but Pearl’s team was able to survive that one by the slimmest of margins.
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SEC M5: 12.22.14 Edition

Posted by David Changas on December 22nd, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. When a team starts a game on a 24-0 run and leads 41-7 at the half, people will take notice. When that team is a Kentucky squad that had people already wondering if anyone could beat it, even prior to its dominant performance against UCLA, the college basketball world’s collective head will be left spinning. We could provide links to an endless number of columns that offer takes on just how good this Kentucky team can be, but this piece from FoxSports.com‘s Reid Forgrave will suffice. As he points out, if the Wildcats can survive next Saturday’s test at Louisville, it really is reasonable to think that this team could be the first to go undefeated in 39 years. At this point, the biggest problem John Calipari may have the rest of the way might be keeping his team focused and blocking out any distraction from its pursuit of perfection.
  2. As if Tennessee wasn’t thin enough on the front line, it was confirmed Friday that freshman forward Jabari McGhee will miss six to eight weeks after having surgery to repair the fifth metatarsal in his right foot. McGhee suffered the injury in Wednesday’s loss to North Carolina State. McGhee averaged 4.4 points and 3.8 rebounds per game in the team’s first eight games, and while those numbers may not seem like much, with the recent departure of center Dom Woodson, McGhee’s injury leaves only fellow freshmen Willie Carmichael and Tariq Owens as true post players. While Carmichael has been more productive, and played 27 minutes in Friday’s win over Tennessee Tech, both are raw. The team will now have to rely even more on do-it-all senior Josh Richardson as they draw near to SEC play.
  3. The end of the first semester means that players who transferred at mid-season last year are now eligible. At FloridaAlex Murphy made his debut against Wake Forest Saturday, and it was a successful one. The former Duke Blue Devil scored nine points in 29 minutes, and it is clear that Billy Donovan was pleased with his performance, saying that Murphy played “great.” Donovan is also pleased that Murphy can play so many positions. Given the team’s struggles thus far this season, as well as its lack of frontcourt depth, the addition of Murphy could help the Gators in their quest to return to the NCAA Tournament.
  4. Auburn got its first big win of the Bruce Pearl era Saturday when it toppled Xavier 89-88 in a double overtime thriller. The win moved the Tigers to 5-5. In the bigger picture, however, it was the SEC’s first win over the Musketeers, which had beaten Alabama at home and Missouri on the road. After the game, Pearl talked about how the win not only was big for his team and the goals it has set, but also for the conference’s profile. While Pearl should be applauded for being such a cheerleader for the league he coached in previously, and followed closely while working as an analyst at ESPN, it’s hard to imagine this game mattering much come Selection Sunday. Certainly, the win will help the league’s RPI, etc. to a small degree, but beyond that, it appears to be little more than a nice boost for his team and program.
  5. At the start of the season, we speculated that Rick Ray potentially could be on thin ice if things didn’t start to get better at Mississippi State, and, well, things clearly are not getting better at Mississippi State. On the heels of a home loss to Arkansas State on Thursday, the Bulldogs fell to South Carolina-Upstate in Jackson on Saturday. The loss was their fifth in a row, and though lowly McNeese State and Jacksonville come calling before year’s end, things do not appear to be getting better for Ray, whose team dropped to 5-5. While this is only Ray’s third year at the school, Mississippi State won a total of seven conference games in his first two seasons, and it doesn’t appear the team is well-positioned to add much to that total. Though he still has time to turn things around with this club, another woeful performance in the league may mean lights out for Ray.
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SEC M5: 12.17.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on December 17th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. Without a doubt, Alabama blew a gigantic opportunity for a statement win by coughing up a lead in the final seconds of last night’s loss at Wichita State. There is no way to sugarcoat it. The Tide held an 11-point lead with five minutes remaining, but a combination of missed shots, bad rebounding and turnovers against the press allowed the Shockers to come back and win. The moral victory of hanging close against a very good team on the road likely won’t have any positive impact on the Tide’s resume, but let’s look for a silver lining. Alabama defended very well, holding the Shockers to 53 points — 25 fewer than their season average — in stifling the 10th most-efficient offense in the country. Much of Alabama’s second half lead was built on Wichita State settling for three-pointers (5-of-18) over an effective zone. Not to peek ahead, but a formula utilizing the Tide’s length and athleticism, could potentially hold up well against a Kentucky team that struggles from the outside (it always comes back to the Wildcats, doesn’t it?). Circle January 17 (home) and 31 (away) on your SEC calendar.
  2. LSU held on to win a competitive game against Sam Houston State last weekend to run its winning streak to four games. It wasn’t all rosy, though, as Josh Gray left the game with an ankle injury, and was seen afterward walking on crutches. Johnny Jones said on Monday that Gray was receiving “aggressive treatment,” but it’s unknown as of this writing whether he’ll miss any games. Ankle injuries can be tricky to heal, and if Gray does miss time it’ll trim down an already thin roster (Jones used only eight players against Sam Houston State). Tim Quarterman, a player who is enjoying a breakout season, would likely slide into the starting point guard role, with freshman Jalyn Patterson also seeing more minutes. The injury does come at a good time of the season for the Tigers, as their toughest non-conference stretch is now behind them and they have games against beatable teams like UAB, College of Charleston and Southern Miss over the next two weeks.
  3. Arkansas got back on track with a win over Dayton last weekend in a game that saw Mike Anderson shuffle his starting lineup. JuCo transfer Jabril Durham got the start at point guard over senior Rashad Madden, who went scoreless and turned the ball over five times in 31 minutes against Clemson. This also came a few days after Anderson said that Madden was “trying to do too much.” Booting a senior from the starting lineup in favor of a first-year player is a precarious road to walk, but it seemed to work out well enough as Durham hit two three-pointers early and Madden scored 12 points (including 8-of-8 from the free throw line). So far, it looks like Anderson knew what buttons to push, and that’s important because Madden’s scoring ability is a key to the success of the Razorbacks’ season.
  4. Two SEC players made College Basketball Talk’s list of the 10 most important midseason additions: Florida’s Alex Murphy and Auburn’s Trayvon Reed. Of the two, Reed seems to be the one needed the most. The article mentions that the 7’1’’ center is incredibly raw and likely won’t contribute much this season, but the guess is that Bruce Pearl will throw Reed into the fire early since this season was always going to be more about development than contention. Reed logged eight largely unproductive minutes (four fouls, one block) in Auburn’s recent loss to Clemson, and he’ll probably consume at least part of the 11.0 minutes per game going forward that was going to Devin Waddell.
  5. Jerry Palm’s first update to his NCAA Tournament bracket projection has three SEC teams in the fold: Kentucky (#1), LSU (#10) and Arkansas (#10). Alabama and Tennessee are among Palm’s first four out, and Florida is nowhere to be found on his board right now. All things considered, this is a pretty generous view of the SEC given how the season has unfolded thus far. The Tigers and Razorbacks have both notched some nice wins, but they also have experienced setbacks that threaten to snuff them from the conversation (e.g., both teams have lost to Clemson). The simple fact that, in Palm’s view, they are still squarely into the Dance should be encouraging. Neither Alabama (sorta) nor Tennessee (very much so) were thought of as NCAA Tournament teams prior to the season, so seeing them on the fringe in December is encouraging for the league. And finally there is Florida, which many believe will right its ship and find a way into the party, especially given Dorian Finney-Smith’s recent resurgence.
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