Breaking Down the Top 10 SEC Likely Returnees

Posted by Greg Mitchell on April 10th, 2014

No player on the lengthy 2013-14 all-SEC first team will be back next season (barring a couple of unlikely reversals), leaving the conference leaderboards completely up for grabs. The top returnees feature a heavy number of sophomores, and could be shaken up depending on some of the announcements out of Lexington over the next few days. Here are the top 10 SEC players to watch for in 2014-15.

Bobby Portis will anchor Mike Anderson's 2014-15 Arkansas squad (wholehogsports.com).

Bobby Portis will anchor Mike Anderson’s 2014-15 Arkansas squad (wholehogsports.com).

  1. Bobby Portis, Arkansas. Portis’ offensive efficiency stood out most during his freshman year, but he also was in the SEC’s top 10 in rebounds and blocks per game. He also has experience as a marked man as he became the Razorbacks’ primary option as the season wore on. Portis should flourish in his sophomore campaign, especially if Mike Anderson relents and plays him more than 30 minutes per game.
  2. Jordan Mickey, LSU. Mickey had a better statistical season than Portis, but he did so with Johnny O’Bryant commanding the bulk of attention. O’Bryant is now gone, and Mickey will become the Tigers’ top option in the low post. If his jumper continues to improve (39.3% on two-point jump shots) he’ll be a load on offense. Mickey also had the sixth most blocks in the country as a freshman.
  3. Andrew Harrison, Kentucky. Harrison and his brother are expected to return to Lexington, but it wouldn’t surprise anyone if they both left school either. If they do stick around, they’ll look to turn solid play in the NCAA Tournament into breakout sophomore seasons. Andrew gets the nod here merely because his position is more important, but he’ll need to improve on the 1.4 assist-to-turnover ratio he posted as a freshman. He could become a Tyreke Evans-type lead guard who looks to score first and creates offensive rebounding opportunities for his frontcourt with penetration and shots at the rim. Read the rest of this entry »
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SEC M5: 03.26.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on March 26th, 2014

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  1. Billy Donovan has a great chance to win his third national title at Florida. If that were to happen, the pull of the NBA (which temporarily swooped him up for a few days in 2007) would seem even stronger. But that nightmare scenario for Gators fans became less likely on Tuesday as Donovan signed a contract extension that runs through 2018-19 at $3.5 million a year. This is big news for Florida, but it’s also important for the SEC as a whole as it struggles to boost its overall basketball profile. As long as Donovan is at Florida and John Calipari is at Kentucky there’s a good bet the conference will have two strong contenders that demand national attention every season. That’s not a bad base from which to build.
  2. The storm that had been brewing around Cuonzo Martin might have reached a fever pitch had Tennessee lost its First Four game to Iowa. Auburn had just snatched up Bruce Pearl, and the thousands of people that signed an online petition to return Pearl to his perch in Knoxville would’ve had quite a bit of ammunition. Getting to the Sweet Sixteen, however, can cure a lot of ills. A few hundred fans greeted the Vols as they flew in from Raleigh at 2:30 in the morning, and the Tennessee allotment for an ultra-tough ticket in Indianapolis sold out quickly. It turns out that winning at this time of year gets people’s attention in a positive way. An interesting subplot to the Vols’s upcoming game against Michigan is Martin coaching against Glenn Robinson III, since he played with Robinson’s father, the Big Dog, at Purdue.
  3. Not surprisingly, Gary Parrish has the Kentucky-Louisville game as one of the games he can’t wait to watch in the Sweet Sixteen. The magnitude of this game doesn’t top the one two years ago in the Final Four, but it comes close since it’ll be played less than 200 miles from each school’s campus. And of course there is the ever-present intrigue of two highly-quotable coaches, and Rick Pitino’s history at Kentucky. The current state of this rivalry has so many sideshows and subplots that we as a college basketball audience need to be thankful for getting two NCAA Tournament games between the two powerhouse schools in the last three years.
  4. Arkansas’ season finally came to an end late Sunday night with a 75-64 loss at Cal. It was the Razorbacks’ first game in the state of California since 1973, which seems like an especially long time. Fittingly the season ended with a road loss, but there were plenty of positives in Arkansas’ 2013-14 campaign. The late collapse that washed away a likely NCAA bid can’t be sugarcoated, but this was the Razorbacks first 20-win season since 2007-08 and Mike Anderson picked up a postseason win in the NIT. Rashad Madden and Bobby Portis (if he returns) will form a solid duo next year, with Portis a legitimate contender for preseason SEC Player of the Year. Anderson’s recruiting class isn’t as highly-ranked as it was this year (two three-stars, a two-star and an unranked player on Rivals.com), but Anderson had great success with less-heralded recruits at Missouri.
  5. LSU was also shown the door in the NIT on Sunday, courtesy of a blistering shooting performance from SMU (57.9% FG, 9-of-14 from three). It was good to see Andre Stringer (15 points) and Shavon Coleman (eight points, seven rebounds, four steals) go out with nice games. Like Arkansas, we’ll look at the bright side of things for the Tigers. Johnny Jones got himself a postseason win and finished with an RPI almost 20 spots higher than last year. The Tigers may also have some of the best long-term prospects in the SEC outside of Kentucky and Florida. Jones has proven he can bring in talent (Jordan Mickey, Jarell Martin, incoming five-star freshman Ben Simmons), and that’s the fastest way to ascend in the standings. If Mickey, Martin and Johnny O’Bryant stick around (a big if), LSU has to be in the discussion as a favorite to win the league next year.
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NIT Breakdown in the SEC: Arkansas and Missouri Open With Home Games

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on March 18th, 2014

It might not be Super Tuesday, but flip over to ESPN and ESPN2 tonight and you will find two SEC teams in action. Arkansas and Missouri both kick off their respective NIT campaigns with home games against teams from smaller conferences. Here’s all you need to know about Indiana State and Davidson ahead of this evening’s alternative March fun:

Indiana State at Arkansas, 9 PM ET, ESPN

Senior Jake Odum will be tasked with breaking the Arkansas press.

Senior Jake Odum will be tasked with breaking the Arkansas press. (Getty)

  • Indiana State’s Story: Last we saw the Sycamores, they had pulled within five points (55-50) of Wichita State in the Missouri Valley Conference championship game. Getting that automatic bid was their only chance ending up in the NCAA Tournament, so the Shockers’ late surge (they won 83-69) sent Indiana State to the NIT. The Sycamores, however, were pretty clearly the second best team in the MVC, and the only realistic challenge to Wichita State. They picked up a win at then #21 Notre Dame in mid-November, which didn’t hold up given the Irish’s slide (they finished 15-17). Indiana State avoided a bad loss in its non-conference slate, losing only to Belmont and tournament teams Tulsa and Saint Louis. Unfortunately for the Sycamores, their resume simply lacked quality wins, and while they went 12-6 in the MVC, the down-nature of the conference outside of Wichita State doomed them. Read the rest of this entry »
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SEC M5: 02.07.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 7th, 2014

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

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 14th, 2014

After one week of conference play, unbeaten Georgia and Texas A&M sit atop the SEC standings along with Florida and Kentucky. While the Bulldogs have to travel to Gainesville for a tough roadie tonight, the Aggies will take on South Carolina and Mississippi State next. It’s not crazy to think that Texas A&M could sit at 4-0 when it travels to Rupp Arena next week for a showdown with the mighty Wildcats. But will Kentucky remain undefeated after visiting Fayetteville this evening? There are a lot of reasons to look forward to this week as the conference race begins to take shape, but first we have to look back at how we got here.

Here are three observations from the past weekend of SEC play.

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  • While Kentucky’s perimeter defense has improved, the Wildcats have allowed offensively deficient Mississippi State and Vanderbilt to play alarmingly well in the post. The Bulldogs scored 36 of their points in the paint, while the Commodores put in 30 down low. Through two games of conference play, Kentucky is allowing opponents to shoot 51.3 percent on two-point jumpers (11th in the SEC), and blocking just 11.8 percent of their overall attempts (seventh). This is an area of major concern for a program that has dominated on the interior since John Calipari’s arrival in 2009.

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SEC M5: 01.08.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 8th, 2014

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  1. Tennessee entered SEC play feeling good about itself after a dominant win over Virginia. Conversely, LSU entered on a low note after a home loss to Rhode Island. The momentum for both teams stayed the same after Tuesday night’s first conference game of the season. The Vols went to Baton Rouge and hammered the Tigers, getting a monster game from Jarnell Stokes (15 points, 15 rebounds) and good production from Jordan McRae (19 points) and Antonio Barton (14 points). For the second straight game, LSU was battered on the glass, getting outrebounded by 12 boards. Unlike Rhode Island, the Vols are a good rebounding team, but Jordan Mickey and Johnny O’Bryant are too big and talented to let this happen to that degree. LSU got an ice cold shooting night out of its backcourt as its guards combined to shoot a miserable 6-of-24 from the field. The Tigers won’t get the benefit of doubt from the selection committee in March, so it’s imperative that Johnny Jones’ squad turns things around quickly after two distressing home losses.
  2. Vanderbilt’s Kevin Stallings is running out of scholarship players after Eric McClellan, the Commodores’ leading scorer, did not make the trip to Tuscaloosa. A school release said the timetable for McClellan’s return is unknown. Nonetheless, the Commodores fought back from an 18-point deficit to get within three before Alabama pulled away with the win Tuesday night. Rod Odom (20 points, 10 rebounds) and Damian Jones (16 points, five rebounds) keyed the comeback in part by continually beating the Tide on the glass after it appeared they’d let up with a big lead, but a late Retin Obasohan three put the game out of reach. Stallings should be pleased with the resolve of his undermanned team in making this one competitive. On the other side, however, Anthony Grant should be happy with the play of freshman forward Shannon Hale, who was efficient (15 points on 6-0f-8 shooting) and could be a nice offensive complement to Trevor Releford and Obasohan. 
  3. CBSSports.com’s Jerry Palm threw the SEC some respect in his latest bracketology update. In addition to Kentucky, Missouri and Florida, Palm has Arkansas in the tournament as an #11 seed and Tennessee in as a #10 seed. The Vols are the less surprising of the two since they brought considerable hype and expectations into the season, and despite a few early losses, they haven’t fallen off a cliff. Arkansas, however, has yet to prove anything, especially away from home. The Razorbacks avoid the “first round” in Palm’s bracket, meaning that they are safely in the field of 68. It’s just one person’s opinion, but perhaps the national perspective on Arkansas is a bit more positive than it feels within league circles. In total Palm views the SEC as a five-bid league right now, which would be an improvement over the last two seasons.
  4. There were repeat winners for both of the most recent SEC weekly awardsJordan McRae picked up his second SEC Player of the Week honor on the strength of a stat-stuffing performance against Virginia (21 points, five rebounds, five assists, and two steals). The senior is averaging the most assists per game of his career, and it couldn’t come at a better time with the point guards issues the Vols have had. Bobby Portis got the nod as SEC Freshman of the Week after a double-double performance against UT-San Antonio. This is the second time this season that Portis has won the award.
  5. Frank Haith’s transfer mill at Missouri keeps on churning as the Tigers appear to have picked up a commitment from Notre Dame transfer and St. Louis native Cameron Biedscheid yesterday (although Biedscheid later claimed that he had not decided yet). The 6’7” sophomore was redshirting in South Bend this year, but he will be eligible to play at the semester break next season. Biedscheid averaged 17.4 minutes per game in 2012-13, and his experience could be valuable for Missouri next year. It’s conceivable that Haith will need to replace his entire starting backcourt — Earnest Ross will graduate and both Jordan Clarkson (likely) and Jabari Brown (less likely) could enter the NBA draft — so sliding Baylor transfer Deuce Bello and, eventually, Biedscheid into open spots on the perimeter could be a big help for next year’s Tigers.
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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: 12.10.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on December 10th, 2013

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  1. Florida has a big game against Kansas tonight and it appears they will be as close to full strength as they have been all season. Billy Donovan said Scottie Wilbekin and Kasey Hill will return from their respective ankle injuries and play together in a real game for the first time. Neither has a minutes limit, but Donovan’s comments make it sound like Wilbekin is closer to being completely healthy than Hill. “Because [Hill's] been out and been out of practice so long – it’s been nearly about three weeks right now – I just don’t know what I’m going to get from him,” said Donovan. “We’ll give him an opportunity. He’ll have another day of practice under his belt. Hopefully he will get back to feeling more comfortable. He feels pretty good right now and as long as that continues we’ll use him as we need him.” Wilbekin’s mobility will be important for a few reasons: 1. He’s one of the best on-ball defenders in the SEC. 2. An underrated part of Kansas’ vaunted freshmen class has been point guard Frank Mason’s ability to penetrate and either get to the free throw line or create opportunities for the Jayhawk big men. If Wilbekin’s ankle isn’t too tender he should be able to contain this.
  2. Kentucky‘s toughness and effort are being questioned after last Friday’s loss to BaylorKentucky.com‘s John Clay writes that, “intense teams don’t give up more offensive rebounds (18) than it gets defensive rebounds (15) — something that’s happened just three previous times in the Calipari Era.” The rebounding struggles are certainly concerning. Rebounding isn’t like three point shooting: since it’s mostly effort-based it’s harder to have an off night with it. Kentucky should be an elite rebounding team. Rico Gathers and Corey Jefferson are both above average rebounders, but Julius RandleWillie Cauley-Stein, and Kentucky’s cadre of big guards should have been able to wipe that out. They weren’t able to do this, and most glaring were no shows from Cauley-Stein (3 rebounds) and Alex Poythress (2 rebounds, albeit in only six minutes). The Wildcats will run into more teams that can rebound this season and know now that simply walking on the floor doesn’t equal dominance on the glass.
  3. Vanderbilt forward Josh Henderson will miss the rest of the season after tearing his ACL and MCL in the Commodores win against Marshall last week. Losing the junior center hurts Vanderbilt’s already thin front court. He was posting career highs in points and rebounds, and had made improvements on his rebounding metrics from last season. The Commodores have been competitive in all of their losses this season, and that’s encouraging for a team that is clearly rebuilding. Kevin Stallings will need to find some silver lining out of the Henderson injury to further that rebuilding effort. That could be more experience and minutes for talented freshman Damian Jones, who has been the team’s best rebounder. Freshman center Luke Kornet will also be needed for more than the 11 minutes per game he’s currently averaging. The development of these two big men could be a positive out of a sad situation.
  4. We touched on Ole Miss’ loss to Oregon yesterday, but it’s worth exploring again because Marshall Henderson did hoist up 27 shots, and you don’t see that everydayCBSSports‘ Gary Parrish got the following quote from Andy Kennedy after the game about Henderson: ”‘The only way to stop him from shooting is to sit him down, and I’ve tried that a few times here and there, and I’ll continue to try that,” Kennedy said. “But he’s a volume guy, he’s been a volume guy since Day 1, and he was a volume guy when I recruited him. I realized that. So I just try to put him in a position where he can help our team, and he’s certainly done that.’” Parrish goes on to write that Kennedy and Ole Miss are certainly better off with Henderson than they’d be without, and there’s no doubt about that. An under the radar story this season is that it appears at least from afar that Henderson hasn’t been a distraction. He’s saying all the right things about coming off the bench (“My favorite players are J.R. Smith and Jamal Crawford, so I just take that mentality into it”), and willingly served as a decoy on Jarvis Summers‘ game-tying three against Oregon. This came after Henderson had hit two three’s to bring the Rebels back, and given his mentality he must have been itching for the ball in the final seconds.
  5. Missouri picked up its third player award this season, as Jordan Clarkson was named SEC Player of the Week. The Tulsa transfer continued his excellent start to the season scoring 25 and 21 points against West Virginia and UCLA respectively. He finally showed the ability to hit from distance against the Bruins. Clarkson received plenty of hype before the season, and it appears this was warranted as he kept up his scoring prowess against better competition. Arkansas freshman Bobby Portis picked up the first hardware of his career, being named SEC Freshman of the Week. Portis only scored 13 points in a win against Clemson, but he did something he hadn’t done yet this season: get to the line (7-of-8 FT’s). He should be able to do this consistently given the athletic advantage he has over most other players his size.
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Early Returns: Arkansas Razorbacks

Posted by Greg Mitchell on November 25th, 2013

Arkansas leaves the comfort of Bud Walton Arena and heads to Maui this week for a stretch of games that will define its non-conference season. The road hasn’t been kind to the Razorbacks under Mike Anderson, so getting some neutral site wins would be a nice confidence booster. Reaching potential later round games with teams like Syracuse, Gonzaga, and/or Baylor is also important because the rest of Arkansas’ non-conference schedule is devoid of quality opponents. They also won’t play another game away from Bud Walton Arena until their SEC season begins in College Station on January 8 against Texas A&M.

No surprise: Mike Anderson's Razorbacks are turning opponents over at a high rate. (AP)

No surprise: Mike Anderson’s Razorbacks are turning opponents over at a high rate. (AP)

Here’s a look at what the Razorbacks have shown in their first three games:

Wins: (plus KenPom rating) Southern Illinois-Edwardsville (#329), Louisiana-Lafayette (#170), SMU (#67)

The Good: Turning the opponent over and defending the three. It’s not a big surprise when it comes to forcing turnovers because that is what Anderson’s teams do. The Razorbacks have forced 61 turnovers in only three games, and currently hold a 19-turnover advantage over their opponents in that area. They are also doing a good job pressuring opposing three-point shooters, allowing a meager 28 percent from beyond the arc. Contrast that with the 41 percent Arkansas has shot from three and you’ve got a recipe for success. Read the rest of this entry »

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Welcome to the Show: Identifying the Impact Freshman for Each Team in the SEC “West”

Posted by Christian D'Andrea (@TrainIsland) on October 29th, 2013

Christian D’Andrea is an SEC microsite contributor and Managing Editor of Vanderbilt’s SB Nation site Anchor of Gold.

After suffering through one of the worst overall seasons in conference history, the Southeastern Conference is ready to rebound behind a strong group of freshman newcomers. SEC teams constituted six of ESPN’s Top 25 recruiting classes for 2013, and that includes Arkansas and LSU, two “West” programs that are looking to regain past glory after a disappointing start to this decade. Four and five-star big men like Jarrell Martin, Bobby Portis, Jordan Mickey and Moses Kingsley will join a league that seems to be shifting away from the small-ball lineups that dominated most of the conference’s rosters in 2012-13.

Mike Anderson now has an intriguing young duo to work with. (AP)

Mike Anderson now has an intriguing young duo to work with. (AP)

Last week, we took a look at the incoming players who could lift their squads to new heights in the former SEC “East.” Today, we’ll take a look at the new guys who will be cutting their teeth on the other side of the conference. Here are the true freshmen – one per team – who are slated to have a major impact for their new teams this winter.

Alabama: Jimmie Taylor. Anthony Grant had very little to rely on up front in 2012-13, but he still guided the Crimson Tide to the NIT with an unorthodox four-guard lineup last winter. Now, raw center Moussa Gueye has transferred to Valparaiso, giving 6’10″ forward/center Taylor the chance to play a major role for Alabama from the outset. The in-state recruit is a long, lean player who has great instincts for shot-blocking and solid athleticism for a big man. He should provide a consistent presence in the paint and on the boards for a team that was hurting for rebounds in conference play.

Arkansas: Bobby Portis. Mike Anderson’s 2013 haul was small, but potent. The Razorbacks added two big men who combined to receive nine stars between them from both ESPN and Rivals last spring. That’s a huge boost for a team whose best rebounder was 6’7″ combo forward Marshawn Powell, pulling down fewer than six rebounds per game in 2012-13. Portis, a five-star power forward, will give the Hogs some much-needed bulk up front, and 6’10″ center Moses Kingsley will provide an imposing presence next to him. Anderson was forced to play plenty of small-ball last season, but the addition of two impact players who can thrive in the paint will give Arkansas some much needed flexibility. While the team will still feel the sting of losing Powell and B.J. Young to NBA Draft declarations, the future is bright in Fayetteville.

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SEC M5: 10.25.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on October 25th, 2013

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  1. Last week, Ole Miss got the go-ahead to borrow $80 million to build a new basketball arena. Initial plans for the arena were approved last March, and it will be located to the west of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Tad Smith Coliseum has the smallest capacity (9,061) of any current SEC arena, just behind Auburn Arena (9,121). The new arena won’t add that much more seating (9,500) but it still a needed upgrade, especially given the Coliseum’s leaky ceiling incident in 2011. Andy Kennedy can also use the promise of new facilities to continue the momentum generated for the program by last season’s SEC Tournament championship and NCAA Tournament win.
  2. CBS’ Jon Rothstein put together a list of his top 20 freshmen under the radar. Three SEC freshmen made the cut: Ole Miss forward Sebastian Saiz, Tennessee guard Darius Thompson, and LSU guard Tim Quarterman. Saiz and Thompson make a lot of sense as both will be looked to to replace key departing players. At 6’9″, Saiz needs to help fill the frontcourt void left by the graduations of Murphy Holloway and Reginald Buckner. Thompson should get minutes at point guard that would have gone to Trae Golden had he not transferred to Georgia Tech. Quarterman is a 6’6″ point guard who will add a different dimension to the LSU offense when the smaller Anthony Hickey is not at the position. The Michael Carter-Williams comparisons are inevitable for the ESPN top 100-recruit. Johnny Jones will probably be pleased as a peach if Quarterman gives LSU a fraction of what Carter-Williams gave Syracuse the last two seasons.
  3. Mike Anderson is adding a slew of talented forwards to his third Arkansas team. The highest profile frontcourt newcomers are ESPN top 50 recruits Bobby Portis and Moses Kingsley. Houston transfer Alandise Harris is also in the mix after sitting out last season, and he brings experience, something the other two don’t yet have. Plodding up and down the court in Anderson’s pressure system is not easy on big men, making a deep rotation a necessity. Portis and Kingsley should be instant contributors, but Harris’ experience will be valuable if they initially struggle while transitioning to the college game.
  4. The least heralded Kentucky freshman, Derek Willis, is surprising John Calipari.”“Derek Willis is going to be a really good player,” Calipari said. “He’s learning (and) he’s creating good habits. This team is going to be a hard team to steal minutes (from), but I’ll tell you what, he’s playing as well as anybody.” Yesterday, I shared a quote from former Kentucky assistant Joe Dean about the risks of taking certain Kentucky high school stars like Willis. “When I was there, there was a train of thought with Kentucky high school players that if you were going to bring them to Kentucky, they had to be capable of starting at Kentucky at some point in their career. If they were not, then the fan base in Maysville, Paducah, Danville, Pikeville would be upset because they think those kids are the greatest thing in the world.” I’m not sure this approach applies as much these days. Recruiting gets such expansive coverage that fans have a good understanding of a player’s realistic outlook before he plays his first game. I find it hard to believe a fan of any team would be dismayed if someone as exceptionally talented as Julius Randle gets minutes so that someone like Derek Willis does not. In my opinion, taking a flyer on a local player is rarely a bad idea.
  5. Missouri will take the court in the Hearnes Center tonight for the first time since 2003-04. The Tigers have not played in the building since moving to Mizzou Arena for the 2004-05 season. The exhibition game against Oklahoma City University commemorates the 20th anniversary of Missouri’s 1993-94 Big Eight championship team, which included an undefeated conference mark. That season also included a 52-point loss against Nolan Richardson and Arkansas in the second game ever played at Bud Walton Arena. Talk about not letting one game define a season. Yesterday I wrote about Kentucky and UTEP planning to play a game in 2016 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1966 NCAA title game. It’s neat that schools are finding creative ways to keep history alive (though the UTEP-Kentucky game is far more significant). This a win-win situation, as it educates younger fans while providing older fans with nostalgia.
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