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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SEC M5: 01.06.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on January 6th, 2014

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  1. Alabama enters SEC play at a disappointing 6-7 after slogging through the third toughest non-conference schedule in the country. “In the SEC, no game’s going to be easy,” Trevor Releford said. “It’s going to be a fight every night. I think it helped the young guys a lot to prepare them for what’s ahead. I think they’re ready for it and I think everybody on our team as well will be.” One of the young players who will be worth watching is guard Retin Obasohan. He was in a massive slump before getting somewhat back on track against Robert Morris. He had a combined 16 points in the three previous games, and got to the line only 8 times. While he didn’t get to the line much on Saturday, he did convert two of three three-point attempts, and his development from deep will be key. The sophomore takes 50% of his shots at the rim and things will become wide open for him if he improves on his 25% 3-point shooting.
  2. Unlike most of Missouri‘s games this season, Jordan Clarkson did not play a starring role Saturday. Instead, he had a ho-hum 11 points and got to the line only 3 times in the Tigers’ win against Long Beach State. But Missouri was able to survive a sluggish start against the 49ers because of an efficient 22 points from Jabari Brown (8 of 12) and 18 from Earnest Ross. Each of Frank Haith’s “Big Three” enter conference play with usage rates above 23% and scoring at least 14 points per game. Haith has been able to give each player enough touches because there frankly isn’t anyone else that demands the ball. Ryan Rosburg did pick up 11 rebounds against Long Beach State, and he’ll need to continue to crash the boards and improve on his 12.3% rebounding percentage as SEC play begins.
  3. Here’s your players/minutes watch for Arkansas33-point against UT-San Antonio: Mike Anderson got 12 players in for at least 12 minutes. That’s five wins for the Razorbacks by at least 29 points since December 3, all obviously coming in the friendly confines of Bud Walton Arena. As Brian pointed out yesterday, Arkansas needs to show it can win more than one game on the road before they can be taken seriously. Alandise Harris made the most of his 14 minutes with seven points, three rebounds, three assists, and a steal. The Houston transfer was the Razorbacks’ leading scorer in their first few games, but has slid back to third on the team (10.5). Still he’s been a valuable, balanced piece for Anderson as he leads in the SEC in defensive rating (85.3).
  4. Don’t look now but Auburn is on a four-game winning streak heading into conference play. Their list of victims doesn’t include any eye-grabbers, but included are two power conference teams (Clemson and Boston College). And after the dreadful loss to Northwestern State earlier in the year, no win can be discounted. Tony Barbee’s team avoided another embarrassing loss and has a one-two punch in Chris Denson and KT Harrell that will be difficult to deal with. Each guard knows what he does well and plays to it. Denson isn’t a good three-point shooter so he takes a remarkable 66% of his shots at the rim. Harrell is the opposite, and takes 45% percent of his shots from deep and connects on 42% of them.
  5. SEC play will be great fun for Commodores fans if Vanderbilt shoots the way they did Saturday against Northeastern. Kevin Stallings squad shot 62.5% overall and 66.7% from three. “You never expect to shoot the ball like that,” [Stallings] said. “I thought our guys did a really good job this week in preparation for their defenses. They play a zone that has given a lot of people trouble, and they went to it in the first half and we knew they would if we had any success against their man. We were very prepared, and our guys executed extremely well on their shots.” Every Commodore besides Dai-Jon Parker shot better than 50% for the game. While this is impressive, it did come against 270th best field goal defense in the country, and Vanderbilt won’t see a unit that bad the rest of the way. The more sustainable (and realistic) path to victory for the Commodores is the excellent field goal defense they’ve played this season. Vanderbilt has the 40th best effective field goal defense (allowing opponents to shoot just 44.8%) and 8th best three-point defense (27.2%).
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SEC Non-Conference Schedule Round-Up: Part I

Posted by Christian D'Andrea on January 3rd, 2014

Christian D’Andrea is the manager of Anchor of Gold and an SEC Microsite writer. He can be found @TrainIsland on Twitter. 

New Year’s Eve has come and gone, and the only resolution that we’ll get in college basketball is the clarity that comes when cupcake schedules are abandoned and league rivalries begin. The replacing of the calendar means that conference play is just around the corner, and the teams of the Southeastern Conference are ready to tear each other up after a disappointing 2012-13 season. Currently, three SEC programs are ranked inside the Top 25, while five other programs have three losses or fewer with league play on the horizon.

SEC Hoops Tips Off on Saturday With a Full Slate

SEC Hoops Tips Off on Saturday With a Full Slate

To prep for the upcoming SEC season, let’s take a look back at how each team fared in their non-conference slate. We’ll break the programs down alphabetically, with five schools getting called up in the first installment of this three-part series. While Florida and Arkansas have made their case for the league this season, teams like Alabama and Georgia are proving that depth isn’t necessarily a priority in this football-first conference.

Alabama

  • Record: 5-7
  • Best Win: A 12-point home win over 7-5 Texas Tech.
  • Lowest Point: Losing 64-66 to give South Florida its only non-conference win over a power conference opponent.

The Crimson Tide are better than their 5-7 record indicates, but not by much. Their seven losses have all come against either ranked teams or power conference opponents, with the exception of a three-overtime loss to 8-4 Drexel in the Preseason NIT. If you’re in to silver linings, Alabama made things respectable in a 10-point loss to Duke, cutting the Blue Devils’ lead to six points with under three minutes to play. They also pushed #11 Wichita State into deep waters before falling in the final minute of a five-point home loss.

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SEC M5: 12.20.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on December 20th, 2013

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  1. Tennessee stubbed its toe against North Carolina State at home on Wednesday, and it will now need a spectacular conference record to get into the NCAA Tournament this season. Rocky Top Talk‘s Will Shelton points out that the SEC will likely offer few opportunities for signature wins, putting the Volunteers in an all too familiar tough early spot for head coach Cuonzo Martin. The last two years it has taken frantic finishes from the Vols to generate NCAA consideration, but this hasn’t led to anything substantive for Tennessee’s postseason. Shelton writes, “those 8-1 runs were indeed special during every second of them, right up until the moment we didn’t hear our name called because we screwed it up just bad enough beforehand to miss out.” The Vols can pull themselves out of their 6-4 hole, of course, but there’s simply no room to drop another winnable game at home. There are wins to be had in the soft underbelly of the SEC but at this point it will take a lot of wins to avoid another disappointing Selection Sunday in Knoxville. The shame is that Tennessee’s schedule hasn’t been brutal. Xavier looks like a solid team, but is only #57 in Kenpom‘s ratings; outside of Wichita State, the Vols shouldn’t have run into the problems that they have.
  2. For what seems like the first time this season, Auburn is in the SEC M5 with some positive news. The Tigers picked up their biggest win of the season over Clemson, beating the (other) Tigers 66-64 last night. The picture isn’t yet clear on Clemson this season, but they stood at 8-2 before the game with reasonable losses against UMass and at Arkansas. Auburn was outclassed against Iowa State and Illinois, so getting a win against another power conference team should be a confidence booster for Tony Barbee’s squad. Chris Denson again led the Tigers in scoring and only committed one turnover despite playing 33 minutes and constantly handling the ball. Right now he’s in serious contention for an all-SEC spot and he might in fact be the most improved player in the conference. A lot of it has to do with the loss of Frankie Sullivan, but Denson’s scoring average is up nearly nine points per game along with his other averages as well.
  3. Mike Anderson’s pair of highly-touted freshmen forwards lived up to the hype last night, and that could be the key for better times away from Fayetteville this year for the Razorbacks. It was a night of highs for Moses Kingsley in a win against Tennessee-Martin, as he played the most minutes (20), scored the most points (12), and grabbed the most rebounds (12) of his young career. Bobby Portis also continued his steady improvement, scoring 15 points and grabbing nine rebounds of his own. The development of these big men is important not only because they’re talented, but also because Anderson’s teams have historically had rebounding issues. If these two can help reverse that trend, Arkansas could actually get enough wins away from Bud Walton Arena to truly be in the NCAA tournament discussion later this winter.
  4. Mississippi State conquered the remnants of Dunk City last night, beating Florida Gulf Coast 66-53 at home. The win runs the Bulldogs’ record to 8-2, which has reached a level that merits some attention. Mississippi State is still probably a lower-third SEC team when it’s all said and done, but through 10 games last year, Rick Ray’s team stood at 4-6 (albeit with a much tougher schedule). Even if the Bulldogs own no notable wins and barely hung on against a couple of low-major teams, that’s still a drastically different record. Ray needs to build momentum for this program and piling up wins no matter how it’s done or who it’s against is important. This is especially so because the major contributors will all be back next year and, in some cases, beyond: I.J. Ready is a freshman; Craig Sword, Fred Thomas and Gavin Ware are sophomores; Roquez Johnson is a junior.
  5. This was a disastrous week for South Carolina, and that might be sugarcoating it. The Gamecocks fell to Manhattan on Sunday then followed that up with a loss to 6-5 USC Upstate last night. Both of these losses happened at home. To be fair, USC Upstate has beaten Virginia Tech (so Carolina is not its first power conference victim), but you can only make so many excuses for a loss like this. The Gamecocks have a long ways to go, and maybe this isn’t surprising given the program Frank Martin inherited. Michael Carrera was suspended for the game because of an “altercation” following the Manhattan loss, and although it’s good to see passion in players, Carrera didn’t help his team by sitting at home last night. The Carolina guards outside of Sindarius Thornwell didn’t help much either. Brenton Williams, Bruce Ellington and Tyrone Johnson went a combined 8-of-28 from the field.
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SEC M5: 12.09.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on December 9th, 2013

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  1. CBSSports.com‘s Gary Parrish wonders whether former Kentucky stars Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist set an unrealistically high bar for freshmen adjusting to the college game. Both the Wildcats and Kansas each picked up their second losses of the season over the weekend, and Parrish says both young teams struggled with confusing zone defenses. Kentucky will be just fine, and an undisciplined, weird game against a good Baylor team in a largely empty football stadium isn’t indicative of how their season will unfold. He writes that calling the Wildcats a great team to begin the season may have been premature, but there’s no reason to think they can’t eventually get there. Much of the problem lies with perception of what a great team is supposed to do. Going undefeated is not a prerequisite to being considered a great team and neither is blowing away the competition in the season’s opening weeks. Kentucky has had two close losses to good teams, but they’ve happened in the first month of the season. The Wildcats’ ultimate story for this season is yet to be written.
  2.  The last five days can be summed up as a big missed opportunity for Ole Miss. The Rebels lost a close game to struggling Kansas State on the road, then came home and played a back and forth game with Oregon until they were outplayed in overtimeMarshall Henderson had a terrible shooting night against the Wildcats (4-of-18), and missed a potential game-tying three in that one. He was the opposite against Oregon, scoring 39 points on a dizzying 27 shots. He is what he is, and hitting a double-clutch three to draw Ole Miss within a possession with under a minute to go is as vintage Henderson as last year’s jersey pop against Auburn. At the end of the day, the Rebels missed a chance at a win that would’ve been valuable for their resume come March. A cause for concern is that the Ole Miss frontcourt was beaten in two different ways in the second halves of both games. Against Kansas State, Thomas Gipson bullied Ole Miss in the low post, getting a number of easy looks at the rim. In the Oregon game, the Rebels couldn’t cover Mike Moser and his mid- to long-range shooting, particularly struggling on pick-and-pop plays. Ole Miss needs to learn from its defensive struggles against forwards with different offensive skill sets if it hopes to make it back to the NCAA Tournament next March.
  3. Add Missouri’s starting trio of guards to the elite backcourts in the country, says CBSSports.com‘s Jeff Borzello. Jordan ClarksonEarnest Ross and Jabari Brown each scored at least 20 points in the Tigers’ win against UCLA Saturday. Ross’ three-point shooting was the biggest reason for Missouri’s second half comeback, but Clarkson and Brown each showed components that could make them close to unguardable. Clarkson has gotten to the rim at will this season but has struggled shooting from distance. He has a slightly awkward low release, but hit three three-pointers against the Bruins. Brown, on the other hand, has a nice long range shooting stroke but was intent on attacking the basket on Saturday. If both continue to improve on those facets of their respective games, Missouri should be set offensively.
  4. That thunderous sigh of relief you just heard? That was Billy Donovan, who will have Scottie Wilbekin back for Florida’s Tuesday game against Kansas. The high ankle sprain Wilbekin suffered in the final moments of last week’s Connecticut game was not as serious as originally thought. Without Wilbekin, Donovan would have had to cobble together point guard play from Michael Frazier and Dorian Finney-Smith, among others, taking away from what those players do best. Frazier is a good three-point shooter and is thus more valuable off the ball, spacing the floor for Casey Prather’s driving opportunities. Finney-Smith is an excellent offensive rebounder, so having him farther away from the basket while playing point guard partially takes that away. Wilbekin probably won’t be 100 percent for this game, but given that he’s a senior he’ll likely find ways to contribute.
  5. Auburn didn’t look like it belonged on the same court as Illinois Sunday afternoon, trailing the Illini 73-41 at one point in the second half. The Tigers put together a late “rally” to get within 20, but this is concerning nonetheless for Tony Barbee. Auburn allowed Illinois to shoot over 50 percent from three, and over 60 percent overall. SEC leading scorer Chris Denson and KT Harrell have been a good offensive duo, but that doesn’t matter if the Tigers’ field goal defense continues at that clip. On the season Auburn is allowing its opponents to shoot 44 percent from the field, so the hope is that the Illinois game was an anomaly. Another disappointing showing was the number of seats filled in Atlanta’s Phillips Arena. The attendance was reportedly just over 2,000 fans. One would think a few more of the thousands of Auburn fans in town for the SEC football championship game would’ve shaken off their victory hangovers to see their basketball team play.
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SEC M5: 11.27.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on November 27th, 2013

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  1. Texas A&M is off to a 6-0 start after beating Arkansas Pine-Bluff yesterday. This is obviously the start Billy Kennedy needed after being told his job depends on a postseason berth, but it hasn’t really revealed anything about the Aggies. The schedule has been incredibly weak, with KenPom #198 Buffalo the most difficult test thus far. A bid to the NCAA tournament still seems unrealistic, but Texas A&M should get to conference play with only one or two losses. Stockpiling wins, regardless of the opponent, could be a recipe for getting a job-saving NIT bid. An encouraging sign for A&M from yesterday’s game was junior college transfer Jamal Jones scoring 18 points, including 5 of 7 from three. The 6’8” guard can be a match-up nightmare for other teams, especially when he can space the floor like that.
  2. Alabama has a showcase game against Duke tonight at Madison Square Garden. This is the highest profile game for the SEC since the Champions Classic. The Blue Devils don’t have a true center, and this a good thing considering Alabama’s primarily guard-oriented lineups. However, there will be still be match-up problems with Jabari Parker and Duke’s other big perimeter players. “It’s always going to be a team game, but Jabari is certainly an outstanding talent,” Anthony Grant said. “He’s a guy that has the ability to face the basket in terms of his ability to put it on the floor and create shots and also his size and physicality inside. We’re going to have to do a good job as a team on their team.” The Tide have offensive firepower on the wings, and will need a hot start from Trevor Releford and Co. to put a scare in Duke like the one they got from Vermont this past weekend. The problem with following what Vermont did is that the Catamounts got big offensive nights out of 6’7” and 6’8” forwards, something Alabama might not be able to do.
  3. The point guard position has been a strength for Tennessee thus far despite losing last year’s starter Trae Golden. Antonio Barton and Darius Thompson have been careful with the ball while sharing minutes at the position. The Bradenton Herald writes, “In a 74-65 victory over USC Upstate, Tennessee committed five turnovers, its lowest single-game total since Feb. 15, 1992. Barton has nine assists and two turnovers this year. Thompson has 11 assists and three turnovers.” The periphery pieces around stars Jarnell Stokes (who will certainly play better) and Jordan McRae (the reigning SEC Player of the Week) executing in their roles can make the Volunteers a dangerous team. Barton and Thompson are off to excellent starts in that regard. Robert Hubbs falls into this mold too, and can elevate Tennessee even higher if he begins to shoot better and becomes a reliable scoring spark off the bench. He has shown signs of this the last two games, reaching double figures in both.
  4. There is some light-hearted talk around Kentucky about whether Julius Randle can get a double-double in every game this season. From Kentucky.com: “Teammate Andrew Harrison suggested it was possible, especially if opponents would cooperate by assigning one defender on Randle. ‘If they don’t double- and triple-team him, he’ll get 25 and 25,’ Harrison said.” John Calipari said it would be difficult for Randle to pull this off, and he’s certainly right. Randle is one of three players to be a perfect on double-doubles this season, along with Arizona State’s Bachynski and New Mexico’s Alex Kirk. But bad nights happen, and despite Randle’s big-time talent, the ball won’t always bounce his way. Consider Michael Beasley, who put up even bigger scoring and rebounding numbers in his first five college games. Beasley ruled the NCAA in 2007-08, but missed a double-double in five of Kansas State’s 33 games. That’s an eye-popping stat nonetheless.
  5. Auburn beat winless Tennessee State in uninspiring fashion last night, as the Tigers found themselves only up two with under 40 seconds to play. SEC leading scorer Chris Denson put the game away with four free throws, but the Tigers continued to struggle from three and this was not the confidence-instilling win that would have been helpful considering their next four games. Auburn sees four straight “power conference” schools, with Iowa State up first. At the end of the day, however, the Tigers didn’t saddle themselves with an embarrassing loss, and have responded with three straight wins after being blitzed for 72 points in a half in a loss to Northwestern State. Those are the positives.
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Early SEC Trends: Kentucky’s Rebounding & Auburn’s Three-Point Shooting

Posted by Greg Mitchell on November 19th, 2013

The 2013-14 season has two weekends under its belt and we have a small sample size of SEC basketball to consider. Still, we’ve identified a couple of trends that have emerged in the young season, and what they could mean going forward.

Kentucky is in even better shape if Alex Poythress keeps rebounding the way he has in his first four games (photo courtesy vaughtsviews.com).

Kentucky is in even better shape if Alex Poythress keeps rebounding the way he has in his first four games (Credit: vaughtsviews.com).

Kentucky’s rebounding, Alex Poythress included. The Wildcats have flashed elite rebounding potential thus far. Kentucky has three rotation players with total rebounding percentages greater than 20 percent: Julius Randle (24.3%), Alex Poythress (22.6%), and Willie Cauley-Stein (20.7%). As a team they have outrebounded their four opponents by a combined total of 80 boards (199 to 119). This includes beating Michigan State on the boards by 12, and it’s not easy to do that to Tom Izzo’s Spartans. Poythress’ rebounding is especially worth keeping an eye on because he’s made marked improvement over last season’s rate (13.2%). It was a safe assumption that Randle and Cauley-Stein would be elite rebounders, and it’s only been four games, but adding Poythress to this category creates an even bigger advantage for the Wildcats since all three can feasibly play in the same lineup. Kentucky will likely have times where it struggles to execute its offense given the team’s relative inexperience, as in the first half against the Spartans. But their ability to limit second chances for their opponent and create some for themselves will help Kentucky weather these rough patches and avoid big deficits.

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SEC M5: 11.18.13 Edition

Posted by Justin Bridgman on November 18th, 2013

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  1. Florida got their star transfer Dorian Finney-Smith back from a suspension on Saturday night, and he scored 17 points despite battling a virus. Finney-Smith is going to make an impact all over the court for the Gators, covering up holes inside and outside with his versatile game. Most importantly, he will help the Gators rebounding. Florida had been out rebounded in their first two games, but won the battle of the boards in their first game with Finnney-Smith back. During SEC play, Finney-Smith will be counted on even more against the big front lines of Kentucky, Tennessee, and LSU. Smith presents the kind of size and athletic ability that won’t be overwhelmed by those ultra-talented front lines. The Gators now await the return of Scottie Wilbekin and the NCAA approval for top recruit Chris Walker.
  2. Speaking of coming back from suspension, Marshall Henderson came back from his and led Ole Miss to a win. Naturally Henderson couldn’t resist showing off a few antics, and he let loose after a dunk late in the game. Antics aside, Henderson is the heart and soul of this Ole Miss team. It might not be ideal, but he makes all the difference. He’s able to destroy college defenses coming off screens and using his non-stop energy to create chaos. The Rebels offense is not the same without Henderson playing, and he is a good enough scorer to bail his team out when they do silly things like miss five of 10 free throws at the end of the game.
  3. Something quite amazing happened in the second half of Auburn‘s 111-92 loss to Northwestern State. The Tigers allowed a shocking 72 points in the second half at home. Northwestern State shot 68 percent in the second half, made 14 threes in the game, and earned 29 free throw attempts. That sort of thing only happens when a team simply does not care defensively. Auburn is not going to win any SEC games if they don’t play harder on defense. At some point, a team is no longer just “hot” and that point was reached Friday night. A cool moment for Northwestern State, but an embarrassing showing by a supposed major conference basketball team.
  4. Just two SEC teams made Gary Parrish’s Top 25 (and one) this week, and it is a trend likely to continue all season. There is a legitimate chance, with LSU and Tennessee both losing early, that entering conference play only two SEC teams will be ranked. Missouri has a chance to sneak in based on stacking up a lot of wins, but otherwise it doesn’t look good. This may seem trivial, but sheds light on the overall problem that continues to plague this league. Nationally the league is regarded as a playground for John Calipari and Billy Donovan, and yet again this season the rest of the league has fallen flat out of the gate.
  5. LSU, the SEC, and all of basketball lost a legend on Sunday. Joe Dean Sr, one of just three LSU players in the basketball Hall of Fame, passed away at the age of 83. He was a legendary broadcaster, and his signature call of “string music”  for a swish is infamous to many basketball fans. In addition to his impact as a broadcaster, Dean became the athletic director at LSU and the school won 40 SEC titles under his watch. Dean lived an accomplished athletic life and was able to enjoy great success in every endeavor. Not many players will make the All-SEC team, go on to be a broadcast titan, and finish their career by helping birth an athletics powerhouse. What a truly amazing life.
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SEC M5: Opening Day Edition

Posted by Justin Bridgman on November 8th, 2013

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  1. ESPN’s Paul Biancardi did a fantastic job breaking down the individual skill sets of Kentucky’s hyped freshman class. His breakdown reveals a group of ultra-talented basketball players who should play wonderfully together. Last year’s Kentucky team suffered because the freshman did not mesh together the entire season, and their games were not well suited for one another. Based on their scouting reports as well as preseason reports, it appears that will not be the case this season. Offensively it seems obvious that the Harrison twins have games that will compliment each other. James Young will thrive in two roles, either as a spot up three point shooter or as an extra rebounder. The easy layups and dunks that Julius Randle gets his two centers will give teams nightmares every night. At least headed into the season, it seems like the chemistry and fit questions that faced Kentucky last season will not face them this season.
  2. Going into this season, one that will likely decide the coaches’ future, Auburn’s top scorers are excited about their two point guardsMalcolm Canada and Tahj Shamsid-Deen are praised by Tony Barbee for their chemistry with one another and the way it will benefit the entire team. Barbee thinks that the combination of Shamsid-Deen shooting from the outside and Canada slashing towards the basket will give the Tigers an exciting offensive dimension. Obviously, the time right before the season is when everyone is a great player and everything is supposed to go well. Hopefully for the sake of Barbee’s employment, these two talented guards can turn into the dynamic duo he is projecting them to be. He will need them to be able to open up space for the two best scorers on the team, KT Harrell and Chris Denson. Harrell and Denson are both very good scorers that can carry a team for a night at times. Without help from their teammates though, opposing defenses will lock in on those two and try to take them out of the game.
  3. Brace yourselves SEC fans, there are new rules in the NCAA this season, and the amount of fouls called per game is going to go up. With an emphasis on cutting down on physical play, it is likely that free throw attempts will be high at the start of the season. This is an idea that excited Auburn coach Tony Barbee, who thinks the game has been too bogged down the last few years and needs to be more open for offenses to run. Meanwhile, Billy Donovan admits he has changed the way he calls fouls during his practice to help his team adjust to the new rules. Donovan in particular is going to have to adjust his team to the new rules, because he is missing almost half of his team right now. With SEC Men’s Basketball officiating coordinator Jake Bell estimating 45 to 60 fouls will be called a game at the start of the season, teams without much depth will be forced to adapt. Big men in particular will be challenged to stay out of foul trouble while the officials are adjusting to the new points of emphasis. Eventually, I would expect the foul calls to cut back down, especially if a controversial incident occurs towards the end of a big game. For now though, coaches need to be prepared to deal with foul issues earlier in the game than usual.
  4. LSU has still not gotten word if freshman power forward Brian Bridgewater can play this season or not. Bridgewater needs clearance from the NCAA, and in a shocking turn of events, that is taking longer than expected. Bridgewater is an undersized power forward who relied on brute strength in high school to impose his will. As he transitions to the collegiate level Bridgewater will need to increase his basketball skills, because his 6-6 frame will not allow him to overpower all of his opponents. Even if Bridgewater cannot make a big impact on the court this season, the NCAA delay keeps him out of practice, which is where he needs to be. Developing skills is the next step in his career, and for right now, that is all on hold.
  5. Buried in this piece about Mississippi State coach Rick Ray admitting his team needs to win more games is a very interesting nugget. Ray says that he felt his team struggled to rebound last season in part because of the way he ran practices. Now instead of stopping a play to correct every fundamental flaw, Ray is going to let the play run until completion and then make his corrections. It will be interesting to see if this small adjustment actually makes an impact on the team’s rebounding ability. As they say, repetition breeds success, so the practice can’t hurt. Still, it reads as the type of preseason optimism that is running rampant across SEC basketball blurbs right now. It will be great to finally get the season started tonight and let the results do the talking.
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SEC M5: 11.06.13 Edition

Posted by Justin Bridgman on November 6th, 2013

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  1. It seems that narrowly escaping exhibition games is the thing to do in the SEC this year, as Alabama needed overtime to beat West Georgia Monday nightTrevor Releford was the star of the night, scoring 27 points including two key free throws to send the game into overtime. Releford is the type of player who could have a great scoring night and contribute heavily to an upset of one of the top SEC teams. He’s an offensive force, and his ability to draw fouls can change the game in an instant. He tallied 12 total free throw attempts on the night, and Alabama fans should expect that continue into the regular season. Releford was rightfully named to the preseason all-SEC team, and if there is one player in the conference who should scare Kentucky and Florida, it is him. Alabama is a great candidate to pull off at least one big home upset this year.
  2. Building on yesterday’s theme of weak non-conference schedules, LSU has high hopes for this season but could find itself paying the price in March for a weak slate. The SEC does not provide many opportunities for RPI-building wins, so ideally LSU would have some other strong wins to bolster its resume. Unfortunately, the Tigers’ schedule is not very strong and it could hurt them in the NCAA Tournament selection process. I mentioned yesterday that Florida can count on its strong non-conference schedule to cover up for a weak conference slate. The opposite might be the case for LSU because in January and February the Tigers are going to be desperate for resume-padding wins. In the future Johnny Jones needs to make sure he is challenging his team throughout the entirety of its schedule, and putting them in the best possible chance to be on the right side of the bubble in March.
  3. Georgia desperately needs someone to replace the void left by Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and two candidates emerged during the team’s first exhibition game. Kenny Gaines finished with 19 points and Charles Mann added 18 with four assists. Although the Bulldogs struggled overall with turnovers and offensive rhythm, having two players show the potential to be solid scorers is important. Without another NBA-level talent there to bail out the offense each trip down the floor, one or both of those guards needs to become a more consistent threat. Georgia won’t enjoy the size advantage they had Monday night in every game, which will make its perimeter scoring even more important throughout the season.
  4. Auburn was not very good last year, and might not be very good this year. Just don’t tell that to the Tigers, as they are ignoring the critics this season. With a fresh crop of new players on board, optimism is in full force right now and the pressure is on head coach Tony Barbee to win more games. His overall SEC record is a paltry 12-39, including 3-15 last season. Even at a school like Auburn, which quite frankly does not care much about basketball, that simply will not cut it. Barbee is a likely candidate to be fired after this season if he cannot bring this new crop of players together and finish the season with a better record. Nobody is expecting much from this team, but with the SEC carrying a number of bad teams, it is not unreasonable for fans to expect six or more conference victories this year. Kudos to the players and coaching staff for coming into the season with optimism, but they need to show they can start backing up that optimism up with some wins.
  5. In his massive season opening column Jay Bilas mentions Tennessee’s Jarnell Stokes as one of the top rebounders in the country. Stokes averaged 9.7 rebounds per game last season, and headed into his junior year it is likely that he is going to be an even better player this year. Tennessee has big plans for this season, and right now look like the third best team in the SEC. Stokes is a big part of that, and is one the challengers to Kentucky’s stable of freshmen for SEC Player of the Year honors. If the Volunteers are going to compete inside with Kentucky and Florida’s plethora of big men, Stokes will have to be at his best — when he is playing as well as he can, Tennessee is going to give even the best teams all they can handle down low.
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SEC M5: 10.31.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on October 31st, 2013

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  1. James Young was the star of Kentucky’s Blue/White scrimmage. The 6’6” freshman wing scored 25 points, including three out of five from beyond the arc. Young with his length, athleticism, and ability to shoot is a type of player John Calipari hasn’t really had since taking over at Kentucky. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Terrence Jones had plenty of length and athleticism, but neither was a reliable outside shooter. If Young’s exhibition play is any indication of what he will be, then Kentucky will truly be able to hurt teams in a variety of ways given the low-post options they have. Another interesting tidbit is that Alex Poythress took only five shots. Last week we discussed Poythress’ importance to this Kentucky team, and the need for him to be more aggressive. It’s only one scrimmage, but this isn’t a good start for Poythress in that regard.
  2. Marshall Henderson‘s suspension is no longer indefinite. Ole Miss announced on Tuesday that the reigning SEC scoring champ will miss three games this upcoming season. Athletic director Ross Bjork and the Ole Miss administration got creative: Henderson will miss the season opener against Troy, but the balance of his suspension will be carried out in the Rebels’ first two SEC games against Auburn and Mississippi State. Henderson’s “flair for the dramatic” (to put it lightly) first got widespread attention after his interactions with the Auburn crowd, but the January 9 game he will miss is in Oxford. The January 11 Mississippi State game is in Starkville, and I imagine Bulldog fans will be upset they won’t see Henderson on the court (for a number of reasons). Ole Miss did a good job making this suspension look meatier than a brief absence against lesser competition while not sacrificing their season.
  3. Auburn cruised in its Tuesday exhibition game against Victory University winning 109-67. Chris Denson led the team with 21 points and asserted himself early by going 5-6 in the first half. This is a positive sign for Auburn because Denson will be counted on to replace Frankie Sullivan’s scoring. Tony Barbee gave point guard minutes to freshman Tahj Shamsid-Deen and junior college transfer Malcolm Canada, and liked what he saw. ““Those two together, they play well off of each other,” Barbee said. “They both bring something different to the floor. You look at their assist-to-turnover numbers, that’s unbelievable. We will take that every night if we can get it.” Shamsid-Deen hit three three-pointers as well, and should be an intriguing young player for a program that needs excitement. Christian talked about him in his impact freshman piece, and I (foolishly) failed to discuss him in my piece on SEC freshman poised to see big minutes at point guard this season.
  4. Billy Donovan secured another blue chip recruit on Wednesday, as five-star 2014 forward Devin Robinson committed to Florida. Robinson is a big signing for Donovan because he will need to replenish his frontcourt after this season. Patric Young, Will Yeguete, and Casey Prather are all seniors. Despite this loss of talent the Gators should still be in good shape in 2014-15, at least in terms of potential. Robinson’s offensive game is apparently more perimeter-oriented, but at 6’8” it’s likely he can defend post players. Five-star 2013 forward Chris Walker will be around, if he doesn’t leave for the NBA after becoming eligible this December. Since this is such a strong draft class it’s likely Walker stays. Transfers Dorian Finney-Smith and Damontre Harris will also be around, and we pointed out, Finney-Smith could be a breakout rebounding star.
  5. South Carolina plays USC Aiken this Sunday in an exhibition game, and Frank Martin wants his team to learn from their in-state opponents. “I love being around people that love the game of basketball, and [USC Aiken coach Vince Alexander] and his staff love the game and have done an incredible job here,” Martin said before the Pacers’ Tip-Off Banquet, where he was the guest speaker. “They’ve created a culture of winning here at Aiken, which is something we’re trying to build at Carolina.” Martin has spent a lot of time around Alexander and the Aiken program, and it’s neat he’s made these efforts to enter the state’s basketball culture. Exhibition games are ho-hum experiences for many fans. But it’s nice that Division II schools like USC Aiken and their players get a chance to play in the in-state Division I arenas.
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