Assessing the SEC Coaching Hot Seat

Posted by David Changas on October 29th, 2014

As the college basketball season approaches, it’s time to assess how much pressure, or lack thereof, is on each of the SEC’s 14 coaches.

The Seat is ICE COLD

  • Billy Donovan (Florida) and John Calipari (Kentucky). It is hard to imagine two seats being any cooler than these two. The only way either leaves his current post is voluntarily for a high-profile and higher-paying job in the NBA. While that may still be a threat for both, Calipari would appear to be the more likely option to eventually take that route. Donovan, who remarkably is now entering his 19th season at Florida, does not appear to be headed anywhere, although he has flirted with — and once even took the Orlando Magic gig — several times in his tenure. For now, though, the two kings of the SEC are firmly entrenched at their respective schools and appear to be primed to dominate the league for the foreseeable future.
  • Bruce Pearl (Auburn). The Auburn administration did what many thought was unthinkable in March: It made Auburn basketball relevant again. The school’s hiring of Pearl was not just a home run; it was a grand slam, as the former Tennessee coach will have the Tigers playing at a high level within two to three years. He has already started recruiting well  – his 2015 class is currently No. 10 in Rivals.com‘s most recent ratings — and once his system is in place with the right parts, the rest of the SEC will be on notice.
Auburn is happy to have Bruce Pearl back in the SEC. (athlonsports.com)

Auburn is happy to have Bruce Pearl back in the SEC. (athlonsports.com)

  • Donnie Tyndall (Tennessee). Tyndall takes over a program that went to the Sweet Sixteen last season and was one controversial call away from having a chance to play for a Final Four berth. However, it is no secret that former head coach Cuonzo Martin was not beloved in Knoxville, and Tyndall’s engaging personality seems to be a better fit for the school. The Vols will certainly struggle this year and maybe a couple more after that, but Tyndall will get a pass in the short term to bring in players who fit his more frenetic system.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

SEC M5: 10.20.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on October 20th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. The ability to recruit was (and still is) a big question mark surrounding first year Missouri head coach Kim Anderson. To address this expected deficiency, Anderson added Huntington Prep coach Rob Fulford to his staff, and that decision has already paid immediate dividends in landing four-star wing Montaque (“Teki”) Gill-Caesar from – you guessed it – Huntington Prep. Fulford told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the time Gill-Caesar spent playing with Andrew Wiggins at Huntington was invaluable. “Teki would never back down from Andrew. Now, there were points in practice where Teki would get the better of Andrew until Andrew decided, ‘OK, enough’s enough.’” The Tigers will need that kind of confidence from Gill-Caesar as they replace Jordan Clarkson, Jabari Brown and Earnest Ross, three players that accounted for virtually all of the team’s scoring last season.
  2. Luke Winn and Dan Hanner continue their intricate, raw number modeling at SI.com, this time predicting which transfers will have the biggest impact at their new schools. Texas A&M’s Jalen Jones (SMU) lands the second spot on the list as the model predicts he will score 13.9 points per game for the Aggies. This infusion of scoring talent is vital for Billy Kennedy since his team was at times difficult to watch offensively last season. The addition of Jones and a healthy Davonte Fitzgerald should give Texas A&M the offensive boost that it needs. Florida’s Alex Murphy (#70) and Jon Horford (#90) check in pretty far down the list, but each will be heavily relied upon in the frontcourt while Chris Walker serves his three-game suspension, and they could shoot up this list if Walker’s off-court problems persist into the season.
  3. LSU junior guard Joseph Gray checked in at #12 on the SI.com list, and his journey to Baton Rouge has been tumultuous and at times heart-breaking. The Louisiana native, whose mother passed away while he was in high school, was spurned as a prep recruit by former Tigers coach Trent Johnson and ended up Texas Tech. He left the Red Raiders after one productive season (9.3 PPG, 3.2 APG) for Odessa Community College, where he averaged 34.7 PPG in his single season of JuCo action. New LSU head coach Johnny Jones gave Gray the chance to return home and he has a massive opportunity in front of him. He should be in position to earn a lion’s share of the minutes at point guard with Andre Stringer (graduation) and Anthony Hickey (transfer to Oklahoma State) now out of the picture. And despite all the movement in his young career, Gray has two years of eligibility to establish himself as a star at LSU.
  4. Unfortunately for Alabama, one of its transfers won’t see the court at all this season. Christophe Varidel, a graduate transfer from Chaminade, will miss the season because of a pre-existing knee injury, thus ending his collegiate career. Varidel was a part of Florida Gulf Coast’s Sweet Sixteen team in 2012-13, but transferred to the Islands when Andy Enfield left for USC after that season. First and foremost, it’s a sad situation for Varidel, as he will miss out on his only chance to play basketball in a power conference. It’s also an early blow for Anthony Grant since Varidel, a career 38.5 percent three-point shooter, would have played a part in trying to replace the scoring production that left with Trevor Releford.
  5. Frank Martin is angry — this time about criticism leveled at the lack of fan support for basketball at South Carolina. “It’s hard to tell me people don’t care, and yet you’re in the top 40 in the country in total attendance, you’re fifth in the SEC, and there’s an opinion that people don’t care,” Martin told the Charleston Post and Courier. The article points out that South Carolina was actually 41st in attendance with an average of 10,074 fans per game last season, but Martin’s argument is still well-taken. It’s rather impressive that a team without much success in recent history can post that kind of attendance figure, because winning leads to crowds no matter the sport and no matter the level. If Martin can turn the Gamecocks around, Colonial Life Arena and its 18,000-seat capacity will become a daunting challenge. For his part, Martin is about determined as a person can be to reach that point. “I’m not going to stop until the good Lord either takes me, or we put 18 [thousand] in that building when we play,” he said. Touche.
Share this story

SEC Tournament Preview: Which Coach Has the Most on the Line During This Postseason?

Posted by Brian Joyce on March 11th, 2014

In anticipation of all the action at the Georgia Dome later this week, the SEC microwriters will be previewing the SEC Tournament all week by answering several of the key questions heading into the event in a roundtable format. Today’s burning question has to do with the personalities on the sidelines. Postseason tournaments can make or break a coach’s reputation. Which coach has the most on the line during this postseason?

Is Bruce Pearl primed to return to the SEC next season?

Is Bruce Pearl primed to return to the SEC next season?

Brian Joyce (@bjoyce_hoops): The coach with the most on the line during this postseason is Tennessee’s Cuonzo Martin. Volunteer fans are clamoring for former head coach Bruce Pearl to return to the sidelines in his orange blazer after serving time on a three year show cause penalty. Pearl took the Volunteers to six NCAA appearances in his six seasons in Knoxville, including an Elite Eight and two Sweet Sixteen appearances. Pearl was wildly successful in orange, but one thing he never did was win an SEC tournament championship. Meanwhile, Martin hasn’t even made it to Saturday in the SEC tournament, much less Sunday for the championship game. Tennessee hasn’t won more than one game in the SEC tournament under Martin. The Vols didn’t make an NCAA tournament appearance either in his first two seasons at the helm, instead settling for early round exits in the NIT. Tennessee finally has a chance to return to the Big Dance as long as the Vols don’t slip up in the quarterfinals on Friday against fellow bubble team Arkansas, or worse, bottom dwellers Auburn or South Carolina. There is unrest in Knoxville, and it will only get louder with a slip up in the Georgia Dome. An untimely loss in the SEC tournament could ultimately leave Martin’s team on the wrong end of the bubble come Selection Sunday, and then the murmur among fans could become a full on uproar. The only way to quiet the desire for Pearl is to create your own success, and Martin and Tennessee have a chance to do that this March.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

SEC M5: 02.05.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 5th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. The most unlikely of Wildcats played the starring role in Kentucky‘s win over Ole Miss last night. A guy who had lost his starting spot and grabbed 13 total rebounds in the last five games suddenly looked like an NBA prospect again. I’m talking about Willie Cauley-Stein, who put up a great stat line (18 points, 11 rebounds, six blocks) to bust out of his slump in a big way. His effort contributed to Kentucky’s dominance on the glass (+15) despite Andy Kennedy starting a big lineup that included Aaron Jones, Anthony Perez and Sebastian Saiz. Cauley-Stein’s out-of-nowhere performance is part of what makes the Wildcats so dangerous. They’ve been inconsistent, but there are seven players on that team who will play professionally, and each can break out and carry the team for a few moments at a time. That’s something opposing coaches just can’t prepare for. On the Rebels’ side, Jarvis Summers had a disappointingly quiet 11 points and three assists. The junior has been one of the best guards in the SEC this season, and it was a shame he wasn’t able to make his mark on national television.
  2. There are teams that grind you to a nub, and there is Florida, which grinds you into oblivion. The Gators were sloppy with the ball in the first half and let Missouri hang around in Gainesville until deep into the second half. But Florida’s high-energy, effective defense finally wore the Tigers down, forcing them into a prolonged scoring slump midway through the second half that allowed the Gators to reach a comfortable lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Jabari Brown ended up with a decent stat line (15 points, six assists), but the Gators did a great job chasing him off of screens and denying him open looks. Florida’s offensive balance also showed up big time in this game. Casey Prather was held to a season-low five points, but Scottie Wilbekin got to the line 16 times while Michael Frazier had four second half threes to bury the Tigers. There are a variety of ways the Gators can score, and Chris Walker is now in that mix too. The freshman only played seven minutes, but snuck behind Missouri’s zone for two lob dunks in that brief time. Billy Donovan simply has an embarrassment of riches at his disposal this season. Earnest Ross’ play is somewhat concerning for Missouri. The senior scored just three points and is 3-of-15 in his two games (after scoring 24 points on 7-of-12 shooting against Arkansas). A two-game slump isn’t a death sentence, of course, especially when it comes against Kentucky and Florida, but Missouri doesn’t have the offensive firepower to overcome another low-output game from Ross.
  3. Jordan Mickey was bound to eventually get some national credit, and he finally broke through by winning last week’s Wayman Tisdale Watch’s Freshman of the Week award. He outclassed Kentucky’s bigs during the week, then outperformed Arkansas’ Bobby Portis over the weekend. CBSSports‘ Jeff Borzello writes, “He will continued to be overshadowed within the SEC by Kentucky’s stud group of freshmen and on a national level by the future top-five draft picks, but Mickey has shown for three months that he is one of the best freshmen in the country — at both ends of the floor.” He was also initially overshadowed in his own class by Jarrell Martin, but at this point it’d be hard to keep him off the SEC’s lengthy all-conference first team. Mickey is leading the conference in blocks per game (3.8), eighth in rebounds per game (7.3) and averaging a healthy 13.6 points per game. It’s nice to see him get some well-deserved recognition after spending all that time in the shadows.
  4. Alabama‘s tumble can be seen in a lot of places, one of which is the current RPI standings. The Tide dropped 27 spots to #114 after lopsided losses to Auburn and Tennessee in the last week. According to AL.com‘s Andrew Gribble, no team in the current top 175 took a bigger hit last week. Anthony Grant’s squad entered SEC play with a fair number of understandable losses (five losses against teams in the RPI top 25), but they can no longer hang their hat on that qualifier. The Tide now have four losses to teams with worse RPI ratings, and that is the real disappointment. It’s a shame that Trevor Releford, one of the SEC’s more productive four-year players in recent memory, is having to wallow through such a frustrating senior season. What’s scary for Grant is that he has only three players on his roster that are either freshmen or sophomores and he loses Releford’s stabilizing presence after this year.
  5. Apparently Billy Kennedy hasn’t shown much emotion since arriving in College Station, but he showed a sense of humor recently. That’s probably a good thing, since his team’s offense has been depression-inducing. The Aggies have averaged fewer than 0.77 points per possession in three of their last four games. This culminated in their 36-point, 0.57 points per possession performance on Saturday against Florida. What needs to change? For one, Kennedy could use a true point guard that would allow Alex Caruso to play off the ball, and he might have that next season in incoming four-star point guard Alex Robinson. Caruso is a great creator, but not a true point guard in terms of speed, and putting his abilities off the ball could really open up the offense. This all assumes that Kennedy is still the coach next season, which is not a sure bet in Aggieland.
Share this story

SEC M5: 01.15.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 15th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. Arkansas‘ NCAA tournament hopes yo-yo’d with every twist in last night’s game against Kentucky, and reached a fever pitch with Michael Qualls’ game-winning putback dunk. If you get points for “significance” in the Dunk of the Year contest, Qualls has to be the runaway winner. As David pointed out last week, the Razorbacks had a golden opportunity to make a statement with homes games against Florida and Kentucky, and although they let the Florida game slip away, they were able to follow it up with one of the few available statement wins in the SEC. This was an “effort” win for Arkansas, as they were outrebounded by 18 and outshot (48.2% to 37.7%) by Kentucky, but the Razorbacks had their usual turnover advantage (+11), and made the plays they needed to despite a disjointed half-court offense. Still, the win over the Wildcats and an better-than-even conference record likely won’t be enough to impress the selection committee. Games at Mizzou and Rupp Arena are the only remaining  opportunities for a statement win, but notching a handful of road wins against any other team would be a big help.
  2. Through all the injuries and suspensions one thing has remained the same at Florida this year: Billy Donovan can put out a dynamite defense. Despite missing Casey Prather last night, the Gators held Georgia to 33.3 percent shooting and ended the Bulldogs’ two-game conference winning streak. Leading the way for Florida offensively was Michael Frazier with 21 points. The sophomore picked up the Gators with big baskets late against Richmond, and picked them up again with Prather on the bench. That he’s shown the ability to lead by example obviously bodes well for the Gators; chances this year, and could be key for next season as well. He’ll be looked at to become a team leader with Scottie Wilbekin, Prather and Patric Young all expiring their eligibility.
  3. Growing pains or not, Frank Haith is determined to give more time to Missouri‘s first-year players. “I’ve got to get them out there,” Haith said yesterday. “I want them getting court time, so we’re going to sacrifice it getting them in there early and just letting them play through it. They’re going to make some mistakes. We’re not going to be fluid, but I think it helps us in the long run.” Torren JonesKeanau Post and Shane Rector have each seen the court more since SEC play began, after none of three saw significant action in close games against Illinois, North Carolina State and Long Beach State. Playing for the future might be more vital than usual for this year’s Tigers. Tony Criswell and Earnest Ross will be out of eligibility and Jordan Clarkson is very likely to leave for the NBA. Haith is a foolish decision from Jabari Brown away from having very little experience next year.
  4. Instead of investing in the next Google, SI.com‘s Luke Winn used his clairvoyant powers to reveal the eight teams that have a chance to win the national championship. Despite the RPI-beating the SEC has taken this year, Winn’s eight ball reliable predictive formula based on offensive and defensive efficiency ratings turned out SEC stalwarts Kentucky and Florida. Winn has found that national champions usually rank in the top 10 in offensive and defensive efficiency, and while neither team is there, both have room to grow and that’s why they’re attractive picks. Kentucky’s youth and talent mean its numbers will likely improve, while Florida hasn’t had a fully healthy roster yet, and (possibly) has Chris Walker on the way.
  5. Billy Kennedy has been on a roller coaster ride the last few weeks since he’s reportedly coaching for his job. The Aggies dropped an embarrassing game at home to North Texas, but have begun conference play with sold wins against Arkansas and at Tennessee. Aggiesports.com‘s Aubrey Bloom writes that what Kennedy needs to do to save his job is not an easy question. “That’s a simple question that has a complicated answer because an athletic director can’t just take a simple ‘x wins is enough’ approach. You have to look at the entire picture at the end of the year.” The entire picture may be pretty good for Kennedy, though, by season’s end. The Aggies have played excellent defense thus far, limiting opponents to just 37.9 percent from the field. Its offense hasn’t been as rosy, but Alex Caruso is emerging as one of the better, if not unconventional, play-makers in the conference, and Jamal Jones has also been a nice offensive surprise on the perimeter. Perhaps with some momentum, the pieces are there for Kennedy to hang around College Station for at least another year.
Share this story

SEC M5: 01.03.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on January 3rd, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. SI.com‘s Luke Winn always has interesting metrics nuggets in his weekly power rankings. This week he has Kentucky at #15, and writes that Willie Cauley-Stein is living up to the rim-protecting precedent set by Anthony Davis and Nerlens Noel. Cauley-Stein’s block percentage (13.8%) is identical to Davis’s and better than Noel’s (13.2%). He is also keeping a greater percentage of those blocked shots (64.2%) than Davis or Noel did. On the whole, the SEC has a handful of elite swatters, but not much after that. In addition to Cauley-Stein (who leads the league), only Asauhn Dixon-Tatum, Jordan Mickey, and Aaron Jones have block percentages greater than 10 percent.
  2. You have to go back a few days, but Tennessee picked up a momentum-building win on Monday night over Virginia. The margin they won by (35 points) was the largest in the Cuonzo Martin era, and all the more impressive because the Cavaliers are a good defensive team. Rocky Top Talk‘s Will Shelton writes that the Vols improved shooting percentage against Virginia could be a sign of good things to come. “Tennessee isn’t going to shoot 60+% from three and 85+% from the line every night.  But the fact that they did it [Monday] against such a great defensive team and got it from so many different contributors suggests the transformation we’ve all known this team needed is very possible.” The Vols have largely disappointed this season, but when their solid defensive and elite offensive rebounding is paired with shots falling, it’s not hard to see why they were given such lofty preseason expectations.
  3. Georgia‘s five game winning streak was snapped last Saturday in Boulder, but the Bulldogs can rebound in a big way with a road win tonight over George Washington. Colorado is a good team so Georgia’s 14-point road loss isn’t a head-scratcher. If you want to stretch optimism to its limits, you could say that the Bulldogs were nearly even with Colorado in the second half, losing just 38 to 35. Winning at George Washington would be no small feat, as the Colonials own an impressive win over Creighton this season. But they are coming off a loss to Kansas State on New Year’s Eve and have a weakness the Bulldogs could exploit. George Washington allows its opponents to grab 30 percent of their own misses. Georgia has also struggled giving up offensive rebounds this season, and must take advantage of extra opportunities that may come their way.
  4. It’s never good when a head coach starts apologizing. “I apologize to the fans that came to the game,” Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy said. “We are not that bad, but we sure looked like it at times,” Kennedy felt compelled to say that after the Aggies’ 20-point loss to North Texas at home on New Year’s Eve. The Aggies enter conference play without a quality win, and are now saddled with a demoralizing home loss. One issue Texas A&M has had this season is a lack of effectiveness from the three point line. The Aggies were just four of 18 against the Mean Green, and as a team have shot 30.2% on the season, good for just 286th in the country. That’s difficult for a team that lacks many impact athletes. Senior guard Fabyon Harris shot 45%last season but has followed it up at 33% thus far this season. The Aggies best three-point shooter, J-Mychal Reese (42%), is no longer with the team. Opposing coaches may be more willing to unleash a zone defense on Texas A&M if they continue to struggle from deep.
  5. It hasn’t been all bad news for the Aggies recently. Kennedylanded SMU transfer Jalen Jones, and if he’s granted a waiver to play immediately, will be a big help in avoiding a repeat of the offensive performance against North Texas. Jones was a respectable shooter last season (56% true shooting), and got to the line nearly 5 times a game. When paired together on the perimeter, the 6’7” Jones and 6’8” Jamal Jones should create challenge for play-by-play announcers and opposing defenses. It appears Jones left SMU because of playing time, so if there isn’t anything more to the move a waiver seems unlikely. If there is no waiver, it’ll be interesting to see if Kennedy even gets to coach his prized transfer in an actual game.
Share this story

Billy Kennedy Is Running Out of Players to Start a Crucial Season

Posted by Greg Mitchell on November 5th, 2013

Billy Kennedy faces a pivotal year at Texas A&M. The Houston Chronicle reported last week that Aggies’ athletic director Eric Hyman recently told Kennedy that he must make the postseason to keep his job. This comes after a 31-32 overall record with no postseason appearances in his first two years. Everything is on the line now for the third-year coach, and he’s been put in an even tighter spot as two players he is counting on for big contributions in 2013-14 will miss the start of the season. Sophomore guard J-Mychal Reese was suspended by the school last week for a violation of athletic department rules, and CBSSports‘ Jeff Borzello reports that Reese is expected to miss three games. As a freshman, Reese didn’t play particularly well last year, but he has the third highest assist percentage of returning Texas A&M players (a pedestrian 15.2 percent). His three-point percentage was a solid 36 percent on 55 attempts, but his field goal percentage (also 36 percent) leaves something to be desired. Still, he earned considerable experience (26.2 minutes per game) on a team where only four returning guards averaged over 12 minutes per game.

Billy Kennedy is down two important players in what is an important year for Texas A&M (photo courtesy usatoday.com).

Billy Kennedy is down two important players in what is an important year for Texas A&M (photo courtesy usatoday.com).

The Aggies are already without junior forward Kourtney Roberson, who is out indefinitely after experiencing a rapid heart rate last week. Fortunately, the condition doesn’t appear to be career or life-threatening, and he is expected to return to basketball activities in only a few weeks. The big man is an important part of the plan for the 2013-14 Aggies. He has excellent rebounding potential, as exhibited by a season in which he posted a defensive rebounding percentage of 20.8 percent and an offensive rebounding percentage of 12.8 percent. Roberson paired this with a solid 116.0 offensive rating, and he is tasked with replacing the production of Ray Turner.

There is some reason for optimism despite these early setbacks. Kennedy has length and athleticism that could be difficult for other teams to match. When Roberson returns, the head coach could run a lineup of the junior big man along with guards Alex Caruso (6’5”), Jamal Jones (6’8”), forward Antwan Space (6’8”), without a major sacrifice in ball-handling or quickness. Caruso and Jones are the keys to this idea. Caruso showed that he could distribute the ball as a freshman (27.9% assist percentage) but he turned it over too much (2.3 turnovers/game). Jones has offensive promise, averaging 18 points per game at the junior college level last year. If Caruso shows better discipline and Jones adjusts quickly to the next level, Kennedy will find himself in a good place with his backcourt.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

SEC M5: 11.01.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on November 1st, 2013

SEC_morning5

 

 

 

  1. Billy Kennedy is on the hot seat in College Station, according to sources close to the third year coach. Despite going to the NCAA Tournament from 2006 to 2011 under Billy Gillispie and Mark Turgeon, the Aggies haven’t even gotten a sniff of the Big Dance in Kennedy’s first two seasons at the helm. Texas A&M Athletic Director Eric Hyman expects a postseason berth at the end of the year, and it sounds like Kennedy likes his chances. “We’re deeper and more talented,” Kennedy said after his team’s exhibition win. “We’ve just got to find our identity and find a rotation, and guys have to start separating themselves.” Of course Kennedy needs all of his players on the court to be successful, and it appears that the Aggies are struggling in that department.
  2. Kennedy’s cause won’t be helped by Texas A&M guard J-Mychal Reese, who was suspended indefinitely for a violation of athletic department rules. Reese started 25 games last season for the Aggies averaging 6.2 points, 1.9 assists, and 2.3 rebounds per game. Reese will continue to practice with the team, and could be reinstated for game action in the “near future.” In A&M’s first exhibition game of the year, the backcourt got a 13-point contribution from Fabyon Harris and 11 points and six rebounds from guard Jamal Jones. The Aggies won by just 10 points over Texas Permian Basin, but perhaps the bigger absence at this point is forward Kourtney Roberson, who is still sidelined with a heart condition. Roberson plans to return to the team in a few weeks, but the Aggies can ill afford to lose any more key players in light of the number one item on today’s morning five.
  3. Florida coach Billy Donovan is also busy suspending players from his already thin roster. Donovan previously placed point guard Scottie Wilbekin on the pine, and now Dorian Finney-Smith and Damontre Harris will join him. While Wilbekin will sit out the first three games of the year, Finney-Smith and Harris will both be out for the first two. “Well, I mean, you know, it is what it is,” Donovan said. “We just try to go with the guys that we know are going to be available, going to be there to play.” The Gators have very few players available at this point. Donovan has just five scholarship players at his disposal because of the aforementioned suspensions and injuries or illnesses hampering Will Yeguete, Michael Frazier, and Eli Carter.
  4. It was no surprise that the Kentucky Wildcats came in as the preseason #1 in the Associated Press rankings. The Cats will play #2 Michigan State Spartans on November 12 as part of the Champions Classic. The #1 vs #2 match-up will be the first time the top two college basketball teams squared off in the regular season since 2008. And for the SEC history buffs, that last match-up of the nation’s best was when Memphis and the SEC’s own Tennessee Volunteers battled. But you probably already know that Kentucky coach John Calipari downplayed the honor by pretending his team isn’t very good. After learning of his team landing the top spot, he said, “we may be very talented, but I can’t imagine us being the best team in the country at this point.” That’s Calipari speak for, “we’re really, really good.”
  5. Speaking of UK, Calipari grabbed a 2014 recruit in 6’5″ guard Devin Booker on Thursday. Booker liked what he saw in Kentucky, and of course, in Calipari. “The history of Kentucky, coach John Calipari,” Booker said. “I’m a show-me type, and Coach Calipari showed me a lot of things he does with big guards.” Booker is the #31 player in the Scout.com rankings, joining point guard Tyler Ulis and center Karl Towns in what makes up the current Wildcats’ 2014 class. Of course, with the mass exodus scheduled out of Lexington at the end of the year, Calipari and company aren’t done securing a new crop of youngsters for the blue and white. However, in a rare recruiting setback, Calipari appears to have lost out on James Blackmon Jr., who recommitted to Indiana last night.
Share this story

Negative Recruiting Reaches Staggering Depths

Posted by Chris Johnson on September 18th, 2013

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

Most college hoops fans follow the game purely for their own enjoyment. They don’t see what goes on behind the scenes – the extreme measures programs often take to keep their student-athletes eligible and the hostile interplay between opposing players. And they most certainly do not know everything there is to know about recruiting. The practice seems simple enough: woo players with the promise of playing time, high scoring totals, and wins; drop huge sums on gaudy locker rooms, maybe a game console or two; superimpose a silhouette of your school’s logo/mascot at midcourt, just to give that four-star shooting guard something to look at, something the other schools don’t have, every time he takes the floor. All of this is fair game, but anyone with even scant knowledge of college basketball recruiting, particularly amongst the best schools and players, can tell you there’s much more to it than shiny facilities and the prospect of maintaining a gaudy scoring average in an uptempo offense. The presence of agents, shoe company representatives, and other third parties, all attempting to influence top-level recruits’ decisions in one way or another – and quite often funneling them to a particular school – has only increased in recent years. Coaches and players are not oblivious to this; it’s not hard for them to point out those who are not playing by the rules.

It's truly dispiriting to learn coaches would go so far as to use a coach's medical condition against him in recruiting (Getty Images).

It’s truly dispiriting to learn coaches would go so far as to use a coach’s medical condition against him in recruiting (Getty Images).

That’s just one unseemly aspect fans rarely, if ever, get to experience. The number of top-ranked players who don’t come across some type of illicit financial arrangement – who are not offered something from someone – over the course of their recruitment is probably smaller than anyone not directly involved with recruiting could possibly imagine. Another side, an arguably worse one, is the concept of negative recruiting, wherein coaches bash coaches from programs, or simply bash their programs, in an effort to lead players away from competitors. It can be anything from pointing out a particularly unsavory aspect of one coach’s resume, to critiquing his preferred style of play, to commenting on the lack of fan or institutional support at his program. Sometimes, things get ugly, and on Tuesday, we learned of one particularly disconcerting case involving Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Morning Five: 09.18.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on September 18th, 2013

morning5

  1. New Jersey’s effort to legalize sports gambling within the state took a hit yesterday as a federal appeals court upheld a prior ruling that New Jersey’s proposed legalization of sports gambling conflicted with current federal law. As we have mentioned before in this space the heart of the issue is the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act that only allows gambling on sports in any form in just four states–Nevada, Delaware, Oregon, and Montana. New Jersey has questioned the constitutionality of this law on several levels and although they lost the appeal 2-1 they appear to be encouraged (at least publicly) by the lone dissenting vote, which they claim is the first public vote against the law. We still are not sure what the overall outcome will be and what the NCAA’s response will be (it has threatened to stop allowing NCAA postseason competition in the state), but with the huge amount of money on the line we have no doubt that this case will drag on for years as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has already stated that the state will appeal the case to the US Supreme Court.
  2. The report that opposing coaches were using Billy Kennedy‘s battle with Parkinson’s Disease against him on the recruiting trail has generated plenty of criticism for the unidentified coach(es). While we understand that the approach will make almost everybody uncomfortable and would be classified as distasteful by nearly everybody we have a hard time finding it quite as offensive as many others have. Although few media members are willing to publicly acknowledge it, the health of a coach, who is theoretically going to be one of the guiding forces in your life the next four years, is something that should be under consideration for any recruit in the same way that the likelihood that the coach is going to leave the school for another job–NCAA or NBA–should be a consideration. Kennedy’s health issues, which are a private matter on some level, are made into a public one because of his job whether the fans and media like it or not.
  3. We have no idea why the Jalen Steele‘s departure from Mississippi State had to be so messy, but given the recent history of the program it should not come as a surprise. Early yesterday, the school put out a release stating that Steele would forego his senior year at Mississippi State to focus on graduating. On the surface this appeared to be nothing more than an unfortunate end to Steele’s injury-plagued college career. That is before Steele went off on the program on Twitter. Mississippi State later attempted to clarify the issue by saying it was an issue of open roster spaces for the 2014-15 season as Steele was wanted to redshirt this season and come back next season. Unfortunately, Mississippi State supposedly had already filled all of its roster spots for next season meaning that Steele was left on his own to try to move on to another school (Hello, transfer waiver!), which is a situation that clearly did not sit too well with Steele.
  4. Terry Lanier’s commitment to VCU on Monday may not have made major headlines, but it is another sign of how far VCU has come as a program since making it to the Final Four in 2011. This might seem like a fairly straightforward association that players want to play for successful teams, but as Borzello notes it has not necessarily been the case for other teams that have made surprise runs to the Final Four recently. There are multiple potential explanations for this–the most obvious one and also the most politically touchy–is that Shaka Smart, an a young, well-educated African-American, appeals more to recruits, who are predominantly African-American than his two Caucasian counterparts (Jim Larranaga and Brad Stevens), who also happened to both leave the schools they led to the Final Four. Whatever the reasons for his recruiting success are, Shaka Smart’s ability to continue to build on that Final Four run is another reason why he is among the most coveted coaches in college basketball.
  5. The NIT may have fallen off in terms of prestige for early season tournaments, but we have to give them credit for being one of the few that still requires you to win to advance to the showcase rounds. This year’s NIT field will be headlined by Arizona and Duke with the two schools hosting the opening round games along with Rutgers and Alabama. Looking through the fields Arizona, Duke, and Alabama should advance fairly easily, but the road for Rutgers appears to be much more challenging. One other interesting aspect of NIT Season Tip-Off is the fact that it includes two schools–Metro State and Stillman–that are not even Division I schools. Although we doubt that this tournament will be interesting until the championship game, we have to give them credit for making it a real tournament unlike most of the other ones out there.
Share this story

SEC M5: 02.01.13 Edition

Posted by DPerry on February 1st, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. Frank Haith has had a rough month. Questions over his job security in the wake of violations at Miami have been festering, and his Missouri Tigers, previously ranked in the top 10, were in free fall after heavy losses to Ole Miss and Florida. But forward Laurence Bowers’ return would solve the latter problem at least, right? Wrong. Missouri lost to LSU in Baton Rouge, and Haith is not amused. “We have no toughness in the first half; we have no resolve,” Haith said. “It’s disappointing. It’s really extremely disappointing. Guys are tending to do their own thing when the game’s getting tight or there’s adversity.” Star point guard Phil Pressey, despite finally finding his scoring touch, should shoulder as much of the blame as anyone. The Wooden Award nominee has become a gunner from long-range, and missed a hurried effort (one of his 8 3-point misses on the night) late in the game when Missouri had been steadily coming back. “We (had been) driving the ball, and we needed to keep driving the ball,” Haith said, noting there was plenty of time left. “We said that in timeouts.” The Tigers are 0-4 in true road games this season.
  2. “They’re real good.” -Frank Martin. He was talking, of course, about Florida, right after his Gamecocks succumbed to a nearly 40-point loss at their hands. The Gators, sporting a 7-0 conference record with a point differential of over 28, are making a mockery of the SEC. They’ve beaten up on the bottom of the league, but the sheer dominance of their victories, not to mention the shellacking of 17th-ranked Missouri, indicates that weak opposition isn’t the only explanation for their success. Florida isn’t unbeatable, but their balanced offense (the nation’s 4th most efficient) is somewhat of a safeguard against an unexpected upset. Four players average more than 11.0 points a game, and a fifth (Scottie Wilbekin), was just named SEC Player of the Week. Even if the odds are defied and every Gator has an off shooting night, coach Billy Donovan can just fall back on the 2nd best defense in the country. Your move SEC.
  3. Tennessee will be likely be shorthanded for their trip to Fayetteville this weekend. Junior guard Trae Golden suffered an injury to his right hamstring late in the Volunteers victory over Vanderbilt and is unlikely to recover by Saturday. “It’s tough for our team,” Vols head coach Cuonzo Martin said. “I thought he had really been assertive (lately) with the ball. So it’s tough for our team, but more importantly, it’s tough for Trae. He wants to be out there. He’s upset about it. But we have to keep moving.” Hometown walk-on Brandon Lopez should be the next in line to pick up the slack for Golden. The early scouting report on him features a lot of the standard buzzwords for walk-ons, so any offensive output will be a bonus. Arkansas’ up-tempo style and the loss of Golden puts points at a premium, so the Volunteers will have to count on Jordan McRae rediscovering his shooting stroke and Jarnell Stokes continuing his recent offensive resurgence.
  4. As if having 12 of your shots blocked by one person wasn’t painful enough, the hits keep on coming for Ole Miss in the aftermath of their loss to Kentucky. Reserve forward Aaron Jones suffered a torn ACL while senior guard Nick Williams re-aggravated a foot injury. Jones is obviously done for the year, while there is no timetable for Willams’ return. This represents a serious blow to the Rebels’ depth, affording coach Andy Kennedy no game time to adjust his rotation before traveling to Gainesville this weekend. Freshman Derrick Millinghaus, who has seen his minutes dwindle since the start of conference play, should see more time, while classmate Terry Brutus seems like the best bet to contribute a few minutes in the paint.
  5. I said a few months ago that we wouldn’t mention this guy on this microsite again, but circumstances are forcing my hand. Big Blue Nation favorite and apparent troll Billy Gillispie will be in attendance for Kentucky’s trip to College Station this weekend. In response to Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy‘s invite, Gillispie said “Actually, I’m playing golf [in College Station] on Friday. I said, ‘Who are y’all playing Saturday?’ They said, ‘Kentucky,’ and so I said, ‘I think I’ll go.’ But it’s no big deal.” Kentucky players will be focused on stopping Aggie guard Elston Turner, who scored 40 in his trip to Rupp Arena, but Wildcat fans will certainly be paying attention to an individual on the sideline. Expect one of ESPN’s cameras to be attached to Billy, treatment usually reserved at Kentucky games for Ashley Judd.
Share this story

SEC M5: 01.10.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 10th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. Alabama lost its SEC opener in a difficult contest on the road at Missouri to the tune of 84-68, but there were several aspects of the game of which the Tide had improved from an 8-5 start to the season. However, was rebounding actually improved as the article suggests? Missouri is leading the nation in rebounds per game and is second in rebounding margin, but advanced statistics tell a more in-depth story. Missouri is a strong offensive rebounding club (42.3 percent for seventh in the nation), but only a moderate defensive rebounding team (opponents grab 29.0 percent, which is 68th in the nation). In Tuesday’s game, the Crimson Tide grabbed 29 percent of available offensive rebounds, which is exactly on par with Missouri’s average and below Alabama’s previous average (33 percent). Anthony Grant’s club, however, grabbed a strong 82 percent of defensive rebounds, which is exemplary considering the Tide’s previous average and the Tigers’ strength on the offensive glass. Rebounding statistics do not adequately describe both sides of the ball, but advanced statistics can describe more of what occurred. Alabama’s offensive rebounding on Tuesday was mediocre, but defensive rebounding represented a major improvement for the Crimson Tide.
  2. Many SEC teams believe they have a chance to make a run at a championship, but one team isn’t mincing words. The Florida Gators are confident heading into SEC play. “I think we’re right up there at the top,” senior guard Kenny Boynton said when asked about UF’s chances in the expanded conference. “I think there are some great teams in the SEC. Honestly, I think Kentucky is a good team despite their record, I think we’ve got to respect them as a team, but overall I think if we do the right things we’re at the top and we can win it.” And Florida didn’t disappoint in its first game on Wednesday night, as the Gators blew out Georgia 77-44 in Gainesville.
  3. John Calipari isn’t done recruiting the class of 2013, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t working ahead. Five-star point guard Tyus Jones (class of 2014) is taking an unofficial visit to Kentucky over the weekend while the Cats take on Texas A&M at Rupp Arena. Adam Zagoria caught up with the number one point guard’s high school coach who confirmed the news. Jones is currently looking at UNC, Duke, Kansas, and Kentucky, Baylor, Minnesota, Michigan State, and Ohio State as his list of possible schools.
  4. Texas A&M opened up conference play on Wednesday night against Arkansas, and the Aggies were excited to begin play in their inaugural year in the SEC. “Obviously, like everybody, it’s conference time. There’s a buzz,” A&M coach Billy Kennedy said. “There’s a level of enthusiasm for us, especially with this being our first game in the SEC.” The Aggies are fitting in quite nicely in the conference with an embarrassing loss to Southern in the non-conference schedule, but when the nerves wear off and the Razorbacks leave College Station, the Aggies will head to Rupp Arena to take on Kentucky.
  5. Kevin Stallings conferred with Kentucky coach Calipari about Thursday’s meeting in Nashville between the Cats and the ‘Dores. “I think they only have a couple of guys that even played in that game, just like us,” Stallings said. “So I would say that it’s probably wise for everyone to move on because there’s nothing any of us can do about what happened. I’m still mad about the two games they beat us. I thought we had a chance to win all three.” Sound familiar? That’s because that is almost the exact same statement Calpari made about the game. After wading through the coachspeak remains the potential for a quality game. Memorial Gym is always a tough environment, and Kentucky’s freshmen haven’t fared well in true road games thus far.
Share this story