SEC M5: 12.05.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on December 5th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. Arkansas’ showdown in Hilton Coliseum with Iowa State last night went, well, as you might have expected it to go. The Razorbacks weren’t able to build on their rare-in-the-Mike-Anderson-era road win at SMU and were instead trounced by the Cyclones. This might yet be a team that can consistently play well away from the friendly confines of Bud Walton Arena, but it wasn’t apparent last night. To be fair, the Cyclones were an offensive buzzsaw (64.0% FG, 10-of-19 from three), as it seemed they were either hitting threes or making transition baskets on nearly every possession en route to 95 points. Arkansas ended up shooting a respectable 36.0 percent from three, but what did the Razorbacks in was their inability to put a stop to a first half Iowa State run that pushed the lead out to 20. The silver lining? Bobby Portis looked right at home (19 points on 8-of-10 shooting) against top quality competition.
  2. LSU picked up a big win for itself and the SEC by knocking off West Virginia last night in Morgantown. In what was probably the biggest win of Johnny Jones’ tenure, the Tigers notched another nice win for their ultimate NCAA Tournament resume. Whether it’s lucky, encouraging or just strange, the Tigers were able to win without Jordan Mickey scoring until after the last media timeout. Jarell Martin (18 points, 14 rebounds) did a lot of the heavy lifting, but LSU wouldn’t have won without Tim Quarterman (21 points, seven rebounds) and Keith Hornsby (15 points, five rebounds). Quarterman has now scored 14 or more points in the last four games, and the Tigers suddenly look like more than a two-man show in Baton Rouge.
  3. Vanderbilt came back from a nine-point halftime deficit to pull within two points against Baylor in the final minutes of its game Thursday night, but the Commodores couldn’t pull out the victory, as Riley Lachance missed a game-tying three at the buzzer. It’s especially disappointing because a win against a team that currently holds the #14 spot in KenPom’s ratings was well within reach. Vanderbilt now gets nine days off before another resume-enhancing game at home against a major conference team, Purdue. The good news is that Damian Jones and Luke Kornet are emerging as one of the more underrated frontcourt duos in the country. Kornet has been great from deep (15-of-26) and is a good complement to Jones’ low-post ability.
  4. An opportunity slipped away at Ole Miss last night, as the Rebels turned in an ugly offensive performance in a home loss to TCU. Ole Miss shot just 29.8 percent from the floor and Jarvis Summers had his worst game of the season (2-of-12 shooting, three turnovers). Worth noting is that Andy Kennedy kept Summers on the bench with the Rebels trailing by 12 points in the final two minutes. A comeback at that point was more than improbable, but you never expect a senior like Summers (who didn’t appear to be injured) to be sitting at a time like that. This game might be a reflection of how improved TCU is this season, but you would have expected a better showing from Ole Miss at home after two big wins against Creighton and Cincinnati.
  5. The Naismith Award top 50 watch list was released on Wednesday and it features five SEC players: Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns, LSU’s Jordan Mickey, Kentucky’s Aaron Harrison, Florida’s Michael Frazier and Kentucky’s Willie Cauley-Stein. This number of SEC players seems about right, and I can’t think of any glaring omissions off the top of my head. LSU’s Jarell Martin could probably make a case to be on this list, but he didn’t jump off the charts last year so it’s understandable he didn’t make it. It is interesting that Aaron Harrison got the nod while brother Andrew did not, especially because Andrew plays what many consider the more important position. It could be that the difference is the impression still left by Aaron’s late-game heroics in the NCAA Tournament last year.
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Freeze Frame: Can Arkansas Play Fast and Efficiently?

Posted by Brian Joyce on November 28th, 2014

As the old saying goes, defense wins championships. Fresh off of a .500 win-loss record and a losing campaign in the Big 12 conference, Mike Anderson’s 2008-09 Missouri Tigers increased its defensive turnover percentage and forced opponents into the lowest field goal percentage of his head coaching career. The extra steals, blocks, and opponents’ missed shots led to better play on the other end of the court too. By virtue of an increase in run outs, the Tigers got easy points in transition also improving its offensive efficiency. Since we’re sticking to worn out clichés, they say the best defense is a good offense. For Anderson and Arkansas, the best offense is in transition, which begins with solid play on the defensive end.

Mike Anderson is looking for his first NCAA postseason berth since coming to Arkansas.  (http://grfx.cstv.com).

Mike Anderson is looking for his first NCAA postseason berth since coming to Arkansas. (http://grfx.cstv.com).

Anderson’s teams are synonymous with playing fast. However, throughout his head coaching career, only his 2009 Missouri Tigers played fast (top 25 in adjusted tempo per KenPom.com) and remained in the top 25 of adjusted offensive efficiency (per KenPom.com). Not coincidentally, that 2009 Big 12 tournament championship was also the last championship trophy that Anderson has hoisted over his head. In this edition of Freeze Frame we analyze his current Arkansas squad’s recent away win over SMU to determine if the Razorbacks can reach the same level of success that has escaped Anderson since leaving Columbia, Missouri.

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Arkansas Conquers Past Demons, Takes Aim at the NCAA Tournament

Posted by Nate Kotisso on November 26th, 2014

Nate Kotisso is a Big 12 microsite writer for Rush The Court, but he decided to cover Arkansas-SMU in Dallas last night for a change. You can follow him on Twitter @natekotisso. 

There isn’t any doubt that when Mike Anderson made the decision to leave Missouri to help rejuvenate Arkansas’ basketball program in 2011, he and the school were in it for the long haul. Anderson signed a seven-year contract at $2.2 million annually and in year four, at last, Arkansas may have its best team in quite some time.

Perhaps last night was the night we witnessed the Arkansas Razorbacks best road win in the Mike Anderson era. (Andy Jacobsohn/Associated Press)

Perhaps last night was the night we witnessed the Arkansas Razorbacks’ best road win in the Mike Anderson era. (Andy Jacobsohn/Dallas Morning News)

During the first three years of Anderson’s tenure, you could look at an Arkansas game on a schedule one of two ways. First, if you had to travel to Bud Walton Arena, sure, the Razorbacks were a handful with a raucous crowd backing them, but they weren’t unbeatable at home. Second, if you played them in your own building, you could pretty much pencil them in as a W. It looks like we might have to change that initial scouting report. Three games into the season, all of them at home, the Razorbacks were doing Razorback things, dismantling Alabama State, Wake Forest and Delaware State with little regard. The SMU game on Tuesday night was big for a few reasons. It would be the first outing since being named an AP Top 25 team on Monday, their first such ranking since 2007. It also proved to be a golden opportunity for the SEC who could use a shot in the arm for its conference RPI.

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Introducing the RTC Preseason All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on November 13th, 2014

With the season tipping off on Friday night, there’s no better time to roll out our preseason All-America Teams. More than anything, these three groups of outstanding players are here to foster and encourage discussion over the next four months. Our crack panel of seven national columnists provided ballots over the last week or so, and this is where we ended up.

First Team All-Americans

FirstTeam

  • Marcus Paige, North Carolina – Paige enters his junior season at North Carolina following a sophomore campaign when the guard take his game to new heights. After a fairly productive freshman season (8.2 PPG), the 6’1″ point guard took home the ACC’s Most Improved Player Award by upping that average to 17.5 PPG as he led the Tar Heels to the NCAA Tournament. Paige’s season was good enough for him to be the first North Carolina point guard to be named first-team All-ACC as a sophomore since Tar Heels’ legend Phil Ford in 1976. Expectations are high in Chapel Hill again this season, and with Paige running the show, it is easy to understand why. Factoid: In an informal poll of college coaches taken by CBSSports.com in August, Paige was named as one of the players the pollsters would most like to have on their team this season. Once coach said of the Tar Heel, “he really doesn’t get enough credit for what he did for North Carolina last season. Won’t surprise me if he’s National Player of the Year.”
  • Juwan Staten, West Virginia – Not many guards can fill up the stat sheet like Staten. The highly productive senior returns for the Mountaineers following a season when he become the first player in West Virginia history to score 500 points (598), grab 150 rebounds (186), and dish out 150 assists (193) in a season. With the offseason transfers of Eron Harris and Terry Henderson, Staten will almost definitely see those numbers rise during his final collegiate season in Morgantown. After a two-year hiatus from the NCAA Tournament, Staten appears primed to lead what one expert is calling an underrated Mountaineers squad back to the Big Dance. Factoid: Following Staten’s first season at West Virginia, Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins gave his guard the assignment of watching tape from two of the great point guards Huggins coached at Cincinnati – Nick Van Exel and Steve Logan.
  • Montrezl Harrell, Louisville – It was a bit of a surprise in April when Harrell announced that he would return to Louisville for his junior season rather than enter the NBA Draft. Cardinals coach Rick Pitino is undoubtedly pleased with his big man’s decision, as Louisville is set to begin its first season in the arduous ACC. With Russ Smith and Luke Hancock gone, Harrell seems to be the best bet to pick up the slack in Pitino’s up-tempo offense. The junior forward has reportedly added what he and his coach call a more consistent 14-to-16 foot jump shot to his offensive repertoire. While that development unquestionably has Louisville fans giddy, it should worry the Cards’ new conference foes. Factoid: Harrell originally committed to Virginia Tech out of high school, but he reopened his recruitment following Seth Greenberg’s abrupt dismissal. A few weeks later, Harrell signed with Louisville and the rest, as they say, is history.
  • Jahlil Okafor, Duke – The Chicago prep superstar-to-Duke pipeline continues as Okafor is set to begin his freshman season in Durham. The consensus number one high school player in the Class of 2014 enters his college career with a tremendous amount of hype. He has been described as “one of the most skilled and poised back to the basket centers to come along in some time.” Duke brought in a star-studded recruiting class to help offset the early departures of Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood, and there is no question that Okafor is the jewel of that class. If the big man turns in the type of season that many expect from him, there is no telling what the ceiling for the Blue Devils could be. Factoid: Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has already acknowledged that he expects Okafor to be a one-and-done: “We won’t have him long. We’ll have him this year and then he’ll be one of the top NBA picks.”
  • Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin – Kaminsky entered the 2013-14 season as a relative unknown after averaging just 4.2 points in 10.3 minutes per game as a sophomore. He did not remain an unknown for long, though, as the junior emerged as one of the top big men in the Big Ten, taking home consensus first-team All-Big Ten honors. While his regular season was outstanding, what really turned Kaminsky into a household name was his 28-point, 11 rebound effort against Arizona to send Wisconsin to the Final Four. The Badgers return four starters from that Final Four squad, but none are more important than the seven-foot senior. Factoid: Kaminsky was lightly-recruited coming out of Benet Academy in Lisle, Illinois. In fact, he was a Plan B for the Badgers after one of their top frontcourt targets, Nnanna Egwu, committed to Illinois.

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SEC Season Preview: Arkansas Razorbacks

Posted by Brian Joyce on November 7th, 2014

The SEC microsite will preview each of the league teams over the next few weeks, continuing today with Arkansas.

Arkansas Razorbacks

Strengths. This is year four under head coach Mike Anderson, and he finally has the depth and firepower to run his “Fastest 40 Minutes in Basketball” style of play. Last year’s star freshman Bobby Portis returns for his sophomore year, along with Ky Madden, Michael Qualls, Alandise Harris, Anthlon Bell and Moses Kingsley, just to name a few of the expected contributors. In addition to depth, the Razorbacks have size with Kingsley and Portis standing at 6’10”, junior forward Jacorey Williams at 6’8”, West Virginia transfer Keaton Miles at 6’7”, and even Madden checking in at 6’5” from the point guard position. Anderson took both UAB and Missouri to three NCAA Tournament appearances each, respectively, and it is past time for his first trip as the head coach at Arkansas.

Mike Anderson is Big Dance or bust this season (Arkansas Business).

Mike Anderson is Big Dance or bust this season (Arkansas Business).

Weaknesses. Anderson’s Hawgs have struggled mightily on the road throughout his tenure. Arkansas won one road game in each of the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons before making a huge leap to three away victories last season (including a win in Rupp Arena over Kentucky). This season will present an arduous test for the Razorbacks venturing away from the friendly confines of Bud Walton Arena, with match-ups scheduled at SMU, Iowa State, and Clemson. Anderson’s squad could certainly use a signature win in non-conference play that demonstrates it can win outside of Fayetteville.

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One on One: An SEC Preview With Chris Dortch

Posted by Walker Carey on November 4th, 2014

RTC interviews one on one

Rush the Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you throughout the preseason with previews of each of the major conferences.

With the college basketball season nearly upon us, we thought it would be a good idea to gather some expert opinions on the nation’s major college basketball conferences. As part of our national preview with the SEC, RTC correspondent Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) recently had the pleasure of speaking with an SEC expert in Blue Ribbon College Yearbook editor Chris Dortch (@cdortch).

Rush the Court: How good is Kentucky and what makes it that good? The Wildcats begin the season as the overwhelming favorite to win the SEC title. Do you expect them to win both the conference title and the national title?

Chris Dortch: It would not surprise me at all if Kentucky wins both the SEC title and the national title. I think the team is so good that you can rank both its first five and its second five in the Top 25. The team has nine McDonald’s All-Americans and more talent than I can remember any team in the SEC possibly ever having. Having said that, the Wildcats do have a weakness or two. They have to prove that, other than Aaron Harrison, they have someone who can make outside shots. If they cannot do that, teams are going to try to pack it in the lane and negate their size and dribble-drive. I have said this a few times on some radio shows: If Kentucky shoots 35 percent or better from the three-point line for the season, I think the Wildcats will be undefeated going into the Final Four.

It's Gators and Wildcats at the Top of the SEC, Again

It’s Gators and Wildcats at the Top of the SEC, Again

RTC: Florida’s personnel losses are notable with Scottie Wilbekin, Patric Young, Casey Prather and Will Yeguete all moving on from Gainesville. However, Billy Donovan’s squad seems primed to have another impressive season. What is it about this year’s Gators that will make them a force to be reckoned with in the conference?

Dortch: I think Florida has some experienced personnel and some young guys who I believe are ready to step. Someone like Kasey Hill, who understudied Wilbekin last season, seems poised to take over the point guard position. I think Michael Frazier is one of the best shooters in the country and he is ready to take the next step in his development. Dorian Finney-Smith, who was eligible last season after transferring from Virginia Tech, is so versatile that he was used at the point a few times. He is going to be a guy who is going to be asked to do a lot more than he was last year. There are also a couple transfers who will help. Jon Horford comes over as a fifth-year eligible from Michigan and Alex Murphy comes over from Duke. I think those two will help fortify the team’s front line.

RTC: Arkansas is still waiting on its breakthrough campaign in the Mike Anderson era. With a talented team featuring star big man Bobby Portis, will this finally be the season that the Razorbacks find a way back to the NCAA Tournament?

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SEC M5: 10.31.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on October 31st, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. Who doesn’t love lists, especially preseason lists? SBNation put out a list of the top 100 players in college basketball this week and, without crunching the numbers, it seems the SEC is pretty well-represented. Karl-Anthony Towns led the way at #7, and he is joined by five other Kentucky stars. Outside of Big Blue Nation, legitimate pro-prospects Chris Walker (Florida – #20), Jordan Mickey (LSU – #27) and Bobby Portis (Arkansas – #75) also made an appearance. I give credit to SBNation for including the largely under-the-radar but certainly deserving Jarvis Summers (Ole MIss – #79) and Sindarius Thornwell (South Carolina – #82). The only “snub” I can think of might be LSU’s Jarell Martin, but he did get included in “50 more who just missed.”
  2. CBSSports.com‘s Jon Rothstein included two SEC players among his list of 20 under-the-radar freshmen. He writes that Georgia forward Yante Maten could end up as one of the better freshmen in the conference, and if this turns out to be true, the Bulldogs have a great chance to go dancing in March. Mark Fox returns a number of core pieces from last year’s surprising team, but there is a void in the frontcourt after Donte Williams graduated and Brandon Morris was booted from the team over the summer. Maten shouldn’t be pressed into a scoring role too early, though, with Charles Mann, Kenny Gaines and Nemanja Djurisic all still in the fold. Georgia, however, needs to replace Morris and Williams’ combined 8.5 rebounds per game, and Maten should be able to help in that area immediately.
  3. Mike Anderson has made rebounding a priority heading into his fourth and most pivotal season as the Arkansas coach. “Rebounding is the ending of the defense,” sophomore forward Bobby Portis told SI.com. “You can play defense for 33 seconds or 34 seconds and they can shoot, and they get the rebound back and there’s no point in playing defense.” Better rebounding would be a big way to reverse the struggles the Razorbacks have had away from Bud Walton Arena under Anderson. Incredibly, Arkansas still managed to go 8-1 when outrebounded at home last season, but this record flipped to just 3-8 when the Razorbacks were outclassed on the glass away from Fayetteville. Giving more playing time to Jacorey Williams (14.4 total rebounding percentage/9.2 minutes per game) and Moses Kingsley (13.1 total rebounding percentage/11.5 minutes per game) could be part of the answer this season.
  4. Kim Anderson faced an opponent for the first time as Missouri’s head coach on Wednesday, as the Tigers beat Division II William Jewell College, 72-31. One interesting tidbit from the game was that Anderson used all three of his point guardsWes Clark, Keith Shamburger and Tramaine Isabell – in the same lineup. “We practice it a lot, playing with two other point guards,” Clark told the Kansas City Star. “It makes it easier for me because the team has to spread out and play more, like, against the shooters, so it makes it easier for me to drive.” This type of tinkering and innovation will be especially important for Anderson as he replaces virtually all of Missouri’s scoring from last season.
  5. One of Mississippi State’s biggest problems in the Rick Ray era has been his team’s inability to hit the three. The Bulldogs were 321st in the country in team three-point percentage last season (30.7 percent) which was a slight tick up from 337th the year before (28.4 percent). Ray told the Associated Press that outside shooting will again likely be a struggle, so at least he is being honest. Junior Fred Thomas might be the best bet to help the Bulldogs turn around their long-range shooting fortunes. He seems to at least have the confidence and willingness to shoot the three (144 attempts, 31.9 percent), unlike fellow junior guard Craig Sword, who understandably only put up 44 three-point attempts (27.3 percent) last year despite a high usage rate. Thomas, or newcomers Maurice Dunlap and Travis Daniels, adding a three-point element would go a long way toward some improvement in Starkville.
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Kentucky Dominates All-SEC Picks, Tops Preseason Poll

Posted by David Changas on October 23rd, 2014

The SEC held its annual media day on Wednesday, going to the home of the SEC Network in Charlotte for the first time. Along with the usual glass-half-full comments from each team’s coach, the media selected its all-conference teams and predicted the order of finish in the league. To the surprise of absolutely no one, Kentucky was not only picked to win the league, but it also dominated the 10-player preseason all-SEC team. While shooting guard Aaron Harrison was the only Wildcat selected on the first team, the second team included four more Wildcats: Willie Cauley-Stein, Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Harrison, and Alex Poythress. Aaron Harrison, whose late-game heroics sent the Wildcats past Michigan in the Elite Eight and Wisconsin in the Final Four, was chosen as the Player of the Year. Towns, the only freshman to make the first or second team, is a 6’11” center who most expect to be the best of Kentucky’s latest All-America-filled recruiting class. He was ranked fifth in that class by Rivals.com. Florida, which lost a lot of talent from last season’s Final Four squad, put guard Michael Frazier II on the team, and he was joined by Ole Miss’ Jarvis Summers, LSU’s Jordan Mickey, and Arkansas’ Bobby Portis. The only non-Wildcat on the second team was Georgia guard Charles Mann
Preseason SEC Rankings (first-place votes in parentheses)

  1. Kentucky (20) 280
  2. Florida 258
  3. Arkansas 226
  4. LSU 223
  5. Georgia 204
  6. Mississippi 168
  7. Missouri 123
  8. Auburn 113
  9. Texas A&M 111
  10. Alabama 109
  11. Vanderbilt 89
  12. South Carolina 86
  13. Tennessee 75
  14. Mississippi State 35

It goes without saying that preseason all-conference picks mean next to nothing, but, as always, there were a few surprises. Tennessee’s Josh Richardson, who came on strong during the NCAA Tournament, could have been selected, as he will clearly be the Vols’ best player. Likewise, enigmatic Florida forward Chris Walker, who has already been suspended for the first two regular season games, is primed for a breakout season now that he will be a bigger focus of the Gators’ offense. LSU’s Jarell Martin, who received at least one vote for SEC Player of the Year, was a surprising omission. Certainly coaches are glad to have high-quality players left off of the team, as their perceived snubs will serve to motivate them to prove the media wrong.

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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

SEC_morning5

  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

SEC_morning5

  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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