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 Bubble Action: Arkansas Takes Big Hit; Missouri Stays Alive

Posted by Greg Mitchell on March 13th, 2014

Oh momentum, you are a fickle thing. It was only a week ago that Arkansas was pounding Ole Miss and seemed like an NCAA tournament lock. But after the Hogs’ loss to South Carolina in their SEC tournament opener on Thursday, the only thing they’ve locked up is a bid to the NIT. A lot needed to go wrong to undo Arkansas’ six-game winning streak down the stretch that included a statement win at Kentucky. Unfortunately for Mike Anderson, that’s exactly what has happened. The loss last weekend to RPI #116 Alabama was bad, removing any margin for error this week. But following that up with a loss to RPI #146 South Carolina probably won’t be forgiven by the committee. The offense never got going in Tuscaloosa (0.842 points per possession), and while the Hogs played a tad better against the Gamecocks (0.995 points per possession), they squandered several late chances to reclaim the lead. Close misses by Bobby Portis and Rashad Madden in the final minute were reminiscent of the end of Arkansas’ loss at Missouri in mid-February.

Arkansas' NCAA hopes took a big hit with its loss to South Carolina (utsandiego.com).

Arkansas’ NCAA hopes took a big hit with its loss to South Carolina (utsandiego.com).

Had either shot gone in, the Hogs would have faced a quarterfinal with a likely NCAA bid on the line. Instead, they’ll need to sweat it out until Sunday evening. “I’m hoping for the NCAAs,” Coty Clark told the Associated Press afterward. “But right now, I don’t know.” The late season fall is disappointing for Anderson and the SEC, since Arkansas looked like a team that could help redeem the beleaguered conference in postseason play. Clarke had begun to emerge as a dependable, versatile match-up problem of a forward, and Portis had shown that he could carry a team with his 35-point performance against the Tide in early February. Arkansas also has a bevy of guards that get consistent playing time, and they all chipped in offensively in the stream-rolling of the Rebels. Depth like that would be hard to contend with in a one-and–done tournament setting. That six-game winning streak now looks like nothing but a missed opportunity.

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SEC M5: 03.05.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on March 5th, 2014

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  1. You can put that checkbook away, South Carolina. The Gamecocks couldn’t follow up their improbable win (and $5,000 “competition access area” violation) against Kentucky with an infinitely more improbable win over Florida, losing to the Gators by 26 points. The Florida defense frustrated South Carolina’s young guards on the perimeter all night, giving up few easy looks. But forcing 19 turnovers and holding South Carolina to 32 percent shooting wasn’t the story of this game. Michael Frazier, however, was, in a big way. Last week we wrote about Frazier bursting out of a mini-slump, and after last night’s career-high 37-point performance (11-of-18 from three), the sophomore’s narrative is much different. According to the Gainesville Sun’s Kevin Brockway, that’s the most points for a Gator since Joakim Noah scored the same number in 2006, and it was also a school record for three-pointers made in one game. Scottie Wilbekin and Casey Prather have had nights that they’ve carried the Gators offensively this year, but against South Carolina they combined for only nine points. Being an effective three-point specialist is one thing, but making 11 treys in one game is quite another. That’s the kind of elite consistency that can carry a team. If his shooting stroke is on like that at the end of this month, it should be smooth sailing for the Gators.
  2. It isn’t all bad news for South Carolina. Despite a non-conference season which featured home losses to Manhattan and USC Upstate and a 1-9 start to SEC play, attendance is up this year at Colonial Life Arena. Average attendance is near 10,000 people, the highest it has been in three seasons. This is interesting since “down attendance” has been a theme this season for the SEC (and college basketball in general), as the conference has asked ESPN for more convenient start times and even Kentucky (gasp) has seen fewer people in Rupp Arena’s stands. The progress at South Carolina might not be much, but it must be encouraging to the administration that the team still has a moderate pull on fans despite being near the bottom of the conference standings. If Frank Martin is eventually able to point the program in the right direction, the venue could become a major asset. With an 18,000-seat capacity, it’s one of the bigger arenas in any conference. If Gamecock fans have more to watch than just Sindarius Thornwell’s development, that could make for some serious noise.
  3. Blowing out Alabama by 20 points probably wouldn’t have eased the drama swirling around Kentucky since last Saturday’s loss in Columbia. Beating the Tide by seven in a sloppy game won’t either, but it was a bounceback victory that the Wildcats desperately needed. Their shooting is what it is at this point (they rank in the 200s in both free throw and three-point percentage), and designated three-point problem-solver James Young didn’t allay any concerns by going 1-of-10 from distance against Alabama. Still, his lone three created separation towards the end of a close game, and he has flashed a more diversified offensive game recently. Young has gotten to the line seven or more times in three of the past four games, including seven times last evening which allowed him to score nine points despite a horrid shooting performance. Kentucky has a unique opportunity in front of it right now. As long as the Wildcats don’t get embarrassingly blown out Saturday in Gainesville, it’s a no-lose situation. The “40-0 t-shirt” joke is long out of the bag, and losing a game on the road to the #1 team in the country isn’t earth-shaking. But if somehow Kentucky keeps it close or improbably wins the game, that’s one whale of a confidence-builder as the elimination games begin.
  4. Eamonn Brennan is not as impressed with Arkansas’ recent surge as some are. In his recent Bubble Watch piece, he warns against “reductive bubble-watching” and writes that a team’s entire resume shouldn’t be ignored. In the end, he has the Razorbacks still lounging on the bubble along with Missouri and Tennessee. I too have been puzzled by the notion that Arkansas is suddenly on the comfortable side of the aisle. Should Tennessee and Arkansas both win out this week, I’d like the Vols’ chances quite a bit better. Their computer numbers, especially in strength of schedule, are better than that of their competitors, and that win over Virginia is the gift that keeps on giving. The Razorbacks also have a sneakily tricky week ahead of them. First they get an Ole Miss team that they haven’t beaten in six tries, and then hit the road for an Alabama team that has more talent than its profile suggests. That game will also be Trevor Releford’s last hurrah in Tuscaloosa and seems ripe for some senior magic. Still, Arkansas is firmly on the bubble after disappearing for a few weeks.
  5. A big reason Arkansas is back in the Tournament picture is Coty Clarke, who has emerged as one of the most versatile players in the SEC. “I think guys are following his beat,” Mike Anderson said. “And if he can continue to play at the high level he is playing at right now, a lot of good things will continue to happen for this basketball team. … To me, the unselfishness that he brings to the table has kind of tripled throughout our basketball team.” Unselfish is a great way to put it, since Clarke is second on the team in assists per game (2.4) and first in assist percentage (20.3%). You don’t see that every day from a forward, and especially not from one who rebounds as well as Clarke (20.3% defensive rebounding rate). Anderson’s first NCAA Tournament team at Missouri (in his third year) was propelled by two versatile, top flight big men in DeMarre Carroll and Leo Lyons. If his third year at Arkansas similarly produces a Tournament team, it too will be propelled by two high quality forwards in Clarke and Bobby Portis.
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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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SEC M5: 02.25.13 Edition

Posted by DPerry on February 25th, 2013

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  1. Kentucky rose to the occasion for ESPN’s GameDay, knocking off Missouri Saturday night in overtime. The Wildcats have taken a ton of heat over the past week following assertions from John Calipari that some his players were “uncoachable” following a blowout loss to Tennessee. Two of the assumed targets of the comments came up big against the Tigers. Point guard Ryan Harrow scored 12 of his 16 points in the first half, while Archie Goodwin scored all 18 of his after the break. ”Oh man, I mean we fought hard,” said Goodwin. “That is ultimately what it came down to. We made a lot of mistakes, but in the end we just wanted it more than they did.” Saturday’s performance served as a huge statement from a few players who have had their effort widely questioned throughout the year.
  2. The elder statesman of this Kentucky squad had himself quite a game as well. Wright State transfer Julius Mays led the Wildcats in scoring with 24, including six game-icing free throws in overtime. Mays has done his best to seize a leadership role for Kentucky, and his efforts looked to pay dividends against Mizzou. “He’s a great leader and he’s a great big brother for me,” Goodwin said. “He’s like my best friend. He’s just always there for encouragement. Sometimes when things are not going our way, he’s always the person that pulls me aside and just tries to get my head back right.” With his more talented teammates singing his praises, “Uncle Julius” hopes his teammates will get on board for an NCAA Tournament push.
  3. Florida got the revenge it craved in Saturday’s easy win over Arkansas, but it came at a high price. The Gators lost reserve forward Michael Frazier II to a concussion after the freshman guard collided with Scottie Wilbekin chasing a loose ball. “I don’t know when he’ll be back. He was knocked out on the floor,” said Florida coach Billy Donovan. “It could be a week, it could be 10 days, it could be two weeks – I don’t know.” With Will Yeguete already sidelined, Donovan is down to only six regular rotation players and says he will turn to Braxton Ogbueze, Dillon Graham or DeVon Walker to pick up the spare minutes.
  4. Even a good night on offense rarely leads to victory for the road team at the O’Connell Center, but Arkansas’ two big shots didn’t give the Razorbacks much of a chance. BJ Young and Marshawn Powell, who led a balanced Arkansas attack in scoring in their upset of Florida in the first meeting, were held to only 10 points, with Young in particular being shut out from the field. A big night from Coty Clarke (8-of-8 from the field) kept Arkansas in the game in the first half before the Gators pulled away after the break. “It was a tale of two halves,” Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson said. “We scratched and clawed and gave ourselves a chance, even with some adversity with the early fouls. In the second half, Florida really attacked the glass and we didn’t make shots.
  5. They’ve been so hot over the past few weeks, 40 minutes wasn’t enough basketball for Tennessee on Saturday. Tied at 62 after regulation in College Station, Texas A&M and the Volunteers decided to play another two halves of hoops, resulting in a fifth straight victory for the visitors. Trae Golden led the way with 32 points, with both Jarnell Stokes and Jordan McRae eclipsing the 20-point mark in the longest game in Tennessee history. Cuonzo Martin’s team is getting hot at exactly the right time, and an upset victory over a depleted Florida team on Tuesday would really make the “at-large” whispers that much louder in Knoxville.
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Night Line: Dominating Display From Arkansas Revives Tournament Hopes

Posted by BHayes on February 6th, 2013

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Bennet Hayes is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @HoopsTraveler on Twitter. Night Line runs on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.

About a year and two weeks ago, Mike Anderson’s Arkansas team took down Michigan in a nationally-televised game at Bud Walton Arena. The Arkansas faithful had long waited for a win like this — their native son back and at the helm, famed arena alive again. The Razorbacks also walked off the floor with a 14-5 record and tentative March reservations, but the next two months would show why rebuilding jobs rarely happen overnight. Arkansas went just 4-9 after Trey Burke missed that three at the buzzer, finishing the season with an underwhelming 6-10 SEC record. Flash forward to this season, and this Tuesday night: Another marquee opponent in Fayetteville, national TV audience again watching at home, and Mike Anderson’s team in dire need of a signature victory. They got the massive win once again, this time dismantling #2 Florida — yes, that #2 Florida, who entered the night winners of 10 straight games. The Gators left Fayetteville losers of one straight game, and the Razorbacks are proud new owners of one of the single best victories of the season. It’s a win that will shine come Selection Sunday, but the Razorbacks have plenty of work to do to make that day even matter. The challenge is not just avoiding the late-year collapse of a season ago, but actually making a February push for inclusion in the field of 68.

BJ Young And The Razorbacks Were Dynamite On Tuesday Night

BJ Young And The Razorbacks Were Dynamite On Tuesday Night

Tonight, Arkansas accomplished many things that Mike Anderson preaches on a nightly basis. First and foremost for Anderson is forcing turnovers, and the Hawgs’ frenetic defense caused 16 Florida giveaways tonight. Many of the miscues resulted in transition opportunities for the home team, and Coty Clarke and company did well in turning those opportunities into finishes — many of them of the emphatic variety. Arkansas also did a serviceable job on the glass, ending the game essentially even in the category with the bigger, more physical Gators. The Razorbacks were the aggressor from the opening tip, and only a late Florida push made this final score respectable.

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SEC Transition Basketball: Arkansas Razorbacks

Posted by Brian Joyce on August 21st, 2012

It’s hot out there, and to many of us, college basketball is the last thing on our minds. But here at the SEC Microsite, we’re going to be rolling out mid-summer resets of each of the (now) 14 basketball programs in our league. We’re calling it Transition Basketball, and you can expect we’ll cover three or four teams a week until we’re done. By that time, we’ll actually start to be turning the slight corner into the fall, and from there it’s a smooth slope down to Midnight Madness in mid-October. Today’s update: Arkansas.

State of the Program

In year one of the homecoming of Mike Anderson, he had the Razorbacks on the brink of returning to the NCAA Tournament as they stood 16-6 on February 1 with an RPI inside the top 50. The final month doomed the squad, however as they won only two of their final 10 games. After starting 16-1 at home, they limped in with a 1-3 record in front of the home faithful, defeating only bottom-dweller South Carolina in that stretch. Inexperience and untimely injuries proved too much for the Razorbacks to overcome.

Mike Anderson is back in Fayetteville with enough talent to make the Razorbacks a contender in the SEC

The young Hogs return eight players from last season’s team including junior Marshawn Powell, who was averaging 19.5 points and 6.0 rebounds before suffering a season-ending knee injury, and second-team All-SEC sophomore guard B.J. Young, who led SEC freshmen in scoring.  The Razorbacks return 69 percent of their offense and 55 percent of their rebounding from a year ago. Returners made 125 of the 160 starts with only Marvelle Waithe (eight starts) and Michael Sanchez (27 starts) graduating. Many thought that Arkansas’ talent and new style could push the Razorbacks into the surprise team of the SEC last season. While the Hogs never made that push, the secret is out, and they won’t be sneaking up on anybody this season.

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SEC Weekly Five: 05.25.12 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on May 25th, 2012

  1. The biggest splash this week in the SEC again came from the defending champion Kentucky Wildcats and its scheduling choices. First, some group of stuffy faculty members chastised John Calipari’s decision to move toward more neutral site games. So what does Calipari do? He announced that UK has added Baylor to its schedule in a Rupp Arena game in 2012-13, but the Cats will travel to play the Bears in Cowboys Stadium in 2013-14. Now that’s an “experience.” But it’s not about playing Baylor. This move, as is seemingly everything Calipari does, is a strategic move to advance his program. First, four members of the 2013 high school class play in Texas, and all four are considering Kentucky. This is in part a recruiting move to gain an edge on his competitors. But first and foremost, Cowboys Stadium just happens to also be the host site for the 2014 Final Four. Calipari wants a practice run in the venue where his Cats hope to cut down the nets again in two years. That’s what scheduling huge neutral site games are all about — giving his squad a simulation of the biggest stage possible to prepare them for when the time comes.
  2. While Kentucky is adding Baylor to its schedule, another SEC school is calling off its match-up with the Bears. Mississippi State and Baylor have agreed to cancel the two remaining games on their contract. New Bulldogs coach Rick Ray realizes he has a rebuilding year ahead of him. “We play in the toughest tournament known to mankind out at Maui and then we come back from that and our next game is Baylor,” Ray said. “We open up our season at Troy. Our schedule — if I had my say so, we wouldn’t have that type of a schedule. So, that’s a concern.” Mississippi State was set to host Baylor this season in Starkville, but would have been required to travel to Waco in 2013 to return the favor. The decision to cancel was mutual.
  3. Yahoo Sports published a list of the top newcomers gracing the SEC with their presence next season, and a couple of Kentucky Wildcats were joined by a new member of the Missouri Tigers at the top of the list. Shouldn’t all of Missouri’s team be up for inclusion? Regardless, senior center Alex Oriakhi, a transfer from Connecticut, joins Kentucky freshmen Alex Poythress and Nerlens Noel as the players most likely to make an impact next season. From the article: “Noel is a defensive difference-maker. While he lacks bulk, he is athletic and already has advanced shot-blocking skills. His offense is raw, but his defense and rebounding make up for that.” Hey, that sounds familiar. Here’s what the site said last year at this time about Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis: “His shot-blocking and rebounding ability make him a game-changer defensively. His offensive skill set is good and continues to improve.” Not a bad person to be compared to at this stage in his career.
  4. Arkansas added juco forward Coty Clarke to its roster earlier this week. Clarke averaged 14.5 points and 13.0 rebounds per game with Birmingham (AL) Lawson State Community College last season. Razorbacks coach Mike Anderson is excited about the addition. “Coty is excited about being a Razorback and that excites me,” Anderson said. “He is an athletic forward who can impact on both ends of the floor, offensively and defensively. Coty has a blue collar mentality which is needed on this team. He is an excellent fit for the ‘Fastest 40 Minutes in Basketball.’” Depth is an important issue for this year’s Arkansas team, as injuries impacted how far Anderson could go down the bench last year.
  5. Our very own Rush the Court profiled a couple of former SEC players in our NBA Draft Profiles. Vanderbilt senior Festus Ezeli is viewed as a late first round pick in the mold of current Houston Rockets center Samuel Dalembert. RTC compared him to the big man, saying, “Ezeli has a similar skill set as a defense-first center with ideal size who can protect the rim. Dalembert, though, transitioned from a raw prospect to a 10-year NBA veteran who has averaged 8.0 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks in a strong career thanks to the ability to adapt to the speed of the NBA game.” Kentucky senior Darius Miller is hoping to get picked up in the second round and RTC says he has at least has the look of an NBA player. “While his three-point percentage dropped from the blistering 44.3% he shot as a junior to a merely good 37.6% as a senior, he’s shown NBA range and a willingness to step into the right shot when needed. Throw in the fact that at 6’8” and 235 pounds he’s got the frame to handle the big boys at the next level, and Miller looks the part of an NBA wing.” Good luck to both of the seniors as well as the rest of the SEC athletes hoping to be selected.
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