SEC M5: 11.24.14 Edition

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

SEC_morning5

  1. Feeling down about LSU’s lackluster start to the season? Here’s something that should lift your spirits: Shaq and Dale Brown were inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame in Kansas City last night. Johnny Jones was an assistant during Shaq’s three years in Baton Rouge, when he scored 21.6 points per game and pulled down 13.5 rebounds per game. It’s surreal to think there was once a time when a player like Shaq actually played three college seasons. And speaking of Brown, if you missed Luke Winn’s story on him trying to recruit Arvydas Sabonis through the Iron Curtain, it’s definitely worth a read.
  2. It hasn’t been a smooth start to the season for Florida. The Gators have been undermanned all year with seemingly half their roster having missed time for various reasons. Friday night’s discouraging overtime win against Louisiana-Monroe continued that trend, as Billy Donovan was without Eli Carter and Dorian Finney-Smith. Carter injured his left foot in practice on Thursday, fresh off a coming-out-party-type game against Miami. It’s unclear at this point how serious the injury is, and Finney-Smith’s time table to return is equally murky as he wasn’t with the team on Friday night because of “academic issues.” If both these players miss significant you start to wonder whether Florida has the depth to put together a NCAA tournament-worthy resume. The good news for Donovan is that his team calls the SEC home, where even a mediocre team can feast like a king.
  3. While one Billy in the SEC loses players, another keeps adding them. Billy Kennedy and Texas A&M got news from the NCAA on Friday that Danuel House and Tony Trocha-Morelos are eligible immediately. David talked about the big impact House could have, and Trocha-Morelos will help out too. Kennedy played him for 10 minutes right off the bat in the Aggies’ win over New Mexico. He was understandably rusty (four fouls, one turnover), but his presence gives Kennedy six serviceable bigs on a team that suddenly looks like one of the deepest in the SEC.
  4. Kentucky was in crisis on Friday night. The Wildcats led Boston University by just five at halftime, prompting questions over whether the platoon system, and John Calipari in general, were in the program’s best long-term interests. Sarcasm aside, Kentucky didn’t leave anything to doubt yesterday against Montana State, posting the fifth-largest margin of victory in Rupp Arena history by beating the Bobcats 86-28. There were a lot of eye-popping stats from this game, including Montana State scoring just 0.39 points per possession and getting to the line just twice. The Wildcats will have their ups and downs this season, and you feel for a team like Montana State that catches them on a night when their talent is on full display.
  5. The season is just over a week old and South Carolina is already flush with missed opportunities. The Gamecocks hold three losses, all by five or fewer points, including yesterday’s 68-63 loss to Akron in the Charleston Classic third place game. The good news for South Carolina is that Frank Martin is relying on a lot of young players, such as Marcus Stroman and Demetrius Henry, who both had turnovers late in the game but should learn from that experience. I still think Martin can build a competitive program in Columbia, but at some point close games like the ones in Charleston against Charlotte and Akron need to end up as wins.
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Danuel House’s Immediate Eligibility Should Boost Aggies

Posted by David Changas on November 21st, 2014

According to TexAgs.com, Texas A&M received word on Friday that Houston transfer Danuel House, a 6’7  junior guard, is eligible immediately. House was not in the lineup for Friday morning’s win against College of Charleston in the Puerto Rico Tip-off, but for a team starved for scoring punch (currently 171st nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency), the former five-star recruit should make a big impact. House will command significant minutes in a lineup that features two freshmen guards who may not be ready to contribute immediately. The transfer is a big, physical guard who, though he struggled from three-point range himself (32.5%) during two effective years at Houston, has proven capable of getting to the basket to score. House averaged 12.4 points per game as a freshman and 13.6 last season while pulling down more than five rebounds per contest. He ranked second on the team in both categories to fellow transfer TaShawn Thomas, who was ruled eligible at Oklahoma earlier this week. His presence on the floor not only gives  the Cougars a legitimate scoring threat on the wing, but it should also open things up for his teammates on the perimeter.

Danuel House should make an immediate impact at Texas A&M (12thman.com).

Danuel House should make an immediate impact at Texas A&M (12thman.com).

House’s case with the NCAA was no different in that it was nearly impossible to predict whether he would be granted a waiver for immediate eligibility At the time of his transfer. House was precluded from transferring anywhere in the state of Texas by new head coach Kelvin Sampson, but he eventually worked something out and was given the go-ahead to join A&M, the only in-state school he was allowed to attend. Regardless of why the waiver was granted, new head coach Billy Kennedy has to be elated, and this news bolsters the roll that the Texas A&M leader is already on. He currently has the nation’s second-ranked class for 2015, having signed four of the country’s top 66 players, including three in the top 35, and he has some good young talent already on the roster. With House, SMU transfer Jalen Jones, and the uber-talented group coming in, big things appear to be on the horizon in Aggie-land. While Kennedy’s team will face some difficulties this season, having House on board should improve its ability to compete in what appears to again be a relatively weak SEC, and the Aggies should be ready to not only contend for an NCAA Tournament berth as soon as next season, but to make a run at winning a few games when they get there.

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Impressions From the SEC’s Thursday Games

Posted by Greg Mitchell on November 21st, 2014

Yesterday was a busy day in the always-interesting world of SEC basketball. Kentucky and Florida were both idle, but the league still managed to go 5-1 with the only blemish being Texas A&M’s loss in an ugly game against Dayton. That’s a successful day considering Dayton sits respectably at #50 in KenPom’s latest ratings and the SEC has already taken its fair share of lumps this year. Small steps, people. Here are a handful of thoughts from yesterday’s action.

Anthony Grant may have the personnel to run an effective zone this season (Bamahoops.com).

Anthony Grant may have the personnel to run an effective zone this season (Bamahoops.com).

  • Alabama flashes defensive potential against Southern Miss. We can finally mention Southern Miss on this microsite without discussing Donnie Tyndall. The story of this game, won by Alabama 81-67, was the potential of its defense. The Crimson Tide are flush with long, versatile guys this season who can play both on the perimeter and in the post. Anthony Grant ran a lot of 1-3-1 zone against the Golden Eagles, and while it didn’t exactly flummox them as they scored a point per possession, the strategy could turn into a nice season-long weapon for Alabama. Consider the personnel in Grant’s rotation: Levi Randolph (6’5’’), Rodney Cooper (6’6’’), Shannon Hale (6’8’’), Jimme Taylor (6’10’’), Michael Kessens (6’9’’) and Riley Norris (6’7’’). All of these guys are either natural wings or can hold their own on the perimeter. Ricky Tarrant also looked at home in picking up three steals out of the zone. It worked last night largely because the Golden Eagles went 8-of-29 from three, but it’s something for opponents to think about going forward.

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SEC Season Preview: Texas A&M Aggies

Posted by David Changas on November 12th, 2014

The SEC microsite will preview each of the league teams over the next few weeks, continuing today with Texas A&M.

Texas A&M Aggies

Strengths. The Aggies feature junior point guard and Cousy Award semifinalist Alex Caruso, as well as three of the team’s four leading scorers from last season. Texas A&M also landed SMU transfer Jalen Jones, who left the Mustangs last fall and will be eligible immediately. In the team’s exhibition opener, a win against Texas A&M-Commerce, Jones led the team in scoring and rebounding, something he figures to do frequently this year. He averaged 14.0 PPG and 7.7 RPG two seasons ago for SMU, a program he left because of a dispute with head coach Larry Brown over playing time. So while the junior forward may arrive with some baggage, he will make up for the much needed scoring and rebounding that was lost when Jamal Jones and J-Mychal Reese left the program. The Aggies also return forwards Kourtney Roberson and Davonte Fitzgerald, who averaged 9.8 and 7.3 points per game last season, respectively. In addition, they added a top-100 recruit in guard Alex Robinson, who is likely to start. Texas A&M was a solid defensive club last season, and even though leading scorer Jones left the program under inauspicious circumstances, there is some talent on this roster.

Alex Caruso led the SEC in assists last season. (d1nation.com)

Alex Caruso led the SEC in assists last season. (d1nation.com)

Weaknesses. According to Kenpom.com, Texas A&M ranked 267th in the country in offensive efficiency last season, and the Aggies were 308th in points per game. With the departure of the team’s most prolific perimeter shooter, the burden will fall on Jalen Jones to pick up the slack. Robinson appears to be a solid incoming three-point shooter, but Billy Kennedy’s club likely will struggle to put the ball in the basket once again. Caruso was the SEC’s assist leader last season, but he is a mediocre shooter from distance (33%) and Kennedy does not appear to have many options beyond that. The Aggies are picked to finish ninth in the 14-team SEC, and without more output on the offensive end, there is no reason to think they can outperform that prediction.

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SEC M5: 11.10.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on November 10th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. Ole Miss will be without Aaron Jones to start the season, as the senior forward was suspended last week for a violation of team rules. He missed the Rebels’ exhibition win against Delta State on Friday and will also miss the first two regular season games against Charleston Southern and Troy. Andy Kennedy figures to weather life without Jones by giving more minutes to Sebastian Saiz (who had 14 rebounds in Friday’s exhibition win), M.J. Rhett and Dwight Coleby. Coleby playing increased minutes could be a silver lining in terms of his development, since he only played 10 minutes per game as a freshman last year. The Rebels are also relatively deep at the guard positions, and Kennedy could use four-guard lineups at times to cover Jones’ absence.
  2. It wouldn’t be a preseason M5 without a list from CBSSports.com’s Matt Norlander. This time Norlander looks at 10 coaches who are on the hot seat entering the season, and he includes Alabama’s Anthony Grant and Tennessee’s Donnie Tyndall (a last minute addition) from the SEC. Last year’s 13-19 campaign in Trevor Releford’s final season was certainly disappointing, but Grant has built a solid but underappreciated program at Alabama with at least 21 wins in three of his five seasons in Tuscaloosa. At the end of the day, it depends on how the Alabama administration views its basketball program. Even without a trip to the NCAA Tournament this season, 91 wins, one NCAA Tournament invitation and two NIT invitations in five years may be enough to buy Grant another year if his young roster shows potential. But he is no doubt walking a fine line at Alabama.
  3. Platoons, platoons, platoons. You just can’t avoid talk of platoons, especially not on the SEC microsite. First-year Kentucky assistant Barry Rohrssen talked about whether the platoon system will be a one-year thing or become a program staple at a press conference last week. “Well, you don’t exactly know it’s going to be limited,” Rohrssen said. “That’s to unfold next season.” This comment was in response to a question about the risk of recruits being turned away by the limited minutes they would get in a platoon system. It says here that Coach Cal will get players no matter what system he runs or who figures to be on the roster. Thus far elite recruits have not been scared away by a clogged roster in Lexington, and that doesn’t figure to change as long as Wildcats keep getting drafted.
  4. The Dallas Morning News obtained details of Billy Kennedy’s two-year contract extension that was announced in September, and they appear “mostly cosmetic,” according to the newspaper. Extending the contract of a coach who is 50-49 with no NIT or NCAA invitations in three years seems curious, but the recruiting class Kennedy has put together for next season furthers the case for patience. Still, Texas A&M has enough talent to emerge from the middle-of-the-pack in the SEC this season, and there is nothing like on-court success to validate a contract extension.
  5. Several Tennessee players told Ben Frederickson of GoVolsXtra that the NCAA infraction rumors swirling around Donnie Tyndall are not a distraction. “We are just trying to move forward,” JuCo transfer Kevin Punter told Frederickson. “We have a whole bunch of other things to be worrying about.” One of those things is the Vols’ season opener against VCU on Friday in Annapolis. The Rams are easily the most difficult opponent an SEC team will face to open the season, and it’s asking a tall task to prepare for the HAVOC even in drama-free times.
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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.

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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.
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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.

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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.
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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.
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SEC M5: 01.03.14 Edition

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

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  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.
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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.

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