Freeze Frame: Florida’s Three Point Defense

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 28th, 2014

Last year’s scoring-deficient Tennessee offense put up 0.67 points per possession twice in embarrassing back-to-back losses against Georgetown and Virginia. It doesn’t get much worse than a pair of showings like that, but this isn’t last year’s Volunteers either. Cuonzo Martin’s squad ranks 33rd in offensive efficiency this season, even scoring above a point per possession in a road loss to Kentucky last week. Florida, on the other hand, boasts one of the nation’s most efficient defenses, but not even the biggest Gators’ homer expected the domination that we witnessed between the two schools on Saturday. Florida held Tennessee to just 0.69 points per possession, limiting the Volunteers to 26.8 percent shooting from the field  in a defensive clinic.

Casey Prather's perimeter defense is helping Florida become dominant on the defensive end of the court. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Casey Prather’s perimeter defense is helping Florida become dominant on the defensive end of the court. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

In a box score filled with reasons why the Gators put this one away on their home court, I was most impressed with Florida’s ability to defend the three-point shot. The Vols aren’t a good long range shooting team this year, but they are certainly better than the 5.3 percent that they shot from distance on Saturday. Less than two weeks ago, Sports Illustrated‘s Luke Winn looked at how effective the top teams in his power rankings were at defending the arc. He didn’t look specifically at the Gators, a team on the rise in his weekly analysis, but now seemed like a great time to follow up on his work in the wake of Florida’s dominant performance.

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Handicapping the SEC Race Two Weeks In

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 21st, 2014

And they’re off … Florida has jumped out as the early leader in the SEC race, but it’s still early enough for other teams to catch up with some adjustments. While the records at the top of the conference indicate that the regular season crown could be up for grabs, there will be only three teams in serious contention to finish at the top after an 18 game schedule. After four games in conference play, we handicap the remainder of the SEC regular season and areas to watch for if each contender are to make a run at the number one spot.

Billy Donovan's Gators are the frontrunner in the SEC until they prove otherwise. (AP)

Billy Donovan’s Gators are the frontrunner in the SEC until they prove otherwise. (AP)

The Favorite

Florida is in the lead, and it’s hard to imagine a scenario where Billy Donovan’s squad isn’t around for a photo finish at the end. The Gators are 4-0, and appear to be solid both at the O’Connell Center and away from it in the unfriendly confines of the SEC’s best venues. Florida was tested early on without its best player in Casey Prather on the road at Arkansas but still came out with an overtime win. The best news for the Gators right now is that they were still efficient even without Prather in the lineup.

Florida's efficiency numbers remained relatively constant without Prather in the lineup.

Florida’s efficiency numbers remained relatively constant without Prather in the lineup.

This team is obviously better with its best player in the game, but UF isn’t solely dependent on him like it has been in the past with players like Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton. Prather returned against Auburn with 21 points, six rebounds, and a 148 offensive rating, but if he needs to sit for a few minutes Donovan can be confident that he can continue to get highly efficient play from the rest of his team. The Gators’ efficiency with or without their best player in the lineup makes this team a tough out through conference play, and Dan Hanner agreed when he analyzed the Gators’ lineup. Read the rest of this entry »

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SEC M5: 01.03.14 Edition

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

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

Posted by Brian Joyce on December 27th, 2013

The Tennessee Volunteers were expected to compete near the top of the Southeastern Conference this season. Cuonzo Martin’s squad returned stars in Jarnell Stokes and Jordan McRae, regained forward Jeronne Maymon from injury, and added veteran guard and Memphis transfer Antonio Barton to run the point. On paper everything was in order for the Vols to become a real contender, but something hasn’t clicked as the team is currently 7-4 with losses to Xavier, UTEP, Wichita State and North Carolina State. Martin is struggling to find consistency at the point guard position; he occasionally has difficulty reining in McRae on a bad shooting night; and he hasn’t been able to get Stokes to the next level in his performance.

As Jarnell Stokes goes, so does Tennessee.

As Jarnell Stokes goes, so does Tennessee.

While Tennessee has several issues, none are more important for Martin to figure out then Stokes’ ongoing struggles. The junior forward was expected to take a huge leap forward this season, but that hasn’t yet happened. And as Stokes goes, so goes Tennessee. Stokes correlation with the team’s overall results aren’t unexpected, but the strength of the relationship is uncanny. In Tennessee’s four losses this season, the junior has struggled with a significant decline in his offensive rating, usage, points per game, rebounds per game, and effective field goal percentage.

The difference in Jarnell Stokes' performances by wins and losses.

The difference in Jarnell Stokes’ performances by wins and losses.

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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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Tennessee Blows Golden Opportunity For Resume Enhancers in Loss to UTEP

Posted by David Changas on November 29th, 2013

For Tennessee, the causes for concern following Thursday night’s loss to UTEP are numerous. The Vols showed no ability to run any semblance of an offense against Tim Floyd’s triangle-and-two and box-in-one defense, hitting only 34.9 percent of their shots, including 3-for-21 from three-point range. They allowed the Miners to shoot 58.0 percent on the other end, and played a wholly uninspired game against a Miners team that previously had given no indication it would be able to compete with the team many expect to finish behind Kentucky and Florida in the SEC race. And while Tennessee has a long way to go at this point to even be mentioned in the same breath as the NCAA Tournament, it’s still November, and what may be the most troubling aspect of losing in the first round of the Battle 4 Atlantis is that it created missed opportunities for two more games against teams certain to be part of the Big Dance.

Cuonzo Martin Missed a Good Opportunity This Weekend (AP/Adam Brimer)

Cuonzo Martin Missed a Good Opportunity This Weekend (AP/Adam Brimer)

With the loss, the Vols fall into the tournament’s losers’ bracket, and Friday will seek to exact revenge against a Xavier team that dealt them a 67-63 loss in the season opener. While Tennessee appeared to be the more talented team in that game, it got virtually no offensive production from forwards Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon (11 combined points), and shot a paltry 7-of-19 from the free throw line. The Vols also let Matt Stainbrook, who led the Musketeers with 15 points and nine rebounds, control the game. Xavier is expected to finish in bottom half of the revamped Big East, and it is coming off a performance in which it blew a 15-point second half lead and lost 77-74 to Iowa in overtime Thursday. The Musketeers could turn out to be a quality opponent Tennessee will now have on its resume twice, but a win against UTEP would have given the Vols games against the Hawkeyes and either Kansas or Villanova, each of which appears to be sure-fire NCAA Tournament teams. Now, after playing the Musketeers, Tennessee will draw either USC or Wake Forest, neither of which is expected to compete for a bid to the Big Dance.

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SEC M5: 10.24.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on October 24th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. The hype is so great around Kentucky that it seems newsworthy when someone doesn’t pick the Wildcats to win the SEC. Five voters in the preseason SEC media poll picked Florida to win the league, and one of them was former Wildcats assistant coach Joe Dean Jr. Dean likes Florida’s veteran edge, and anticipates two great games between the teams this season. Kentucky cruised to the SEC regular season crown in 2011-12 with a six-game lead, and Florida won last season with a two-game margin that was never really in doubt. Having both programs at the level they are expected to be at this season should make for a tighter race. This isn’t to say Tennessee, LSU or another school won’t be in contention too. Dean also had an interesting take on the potential risk of John Calipari adding Kentucky high school stars Dominique Hawkins and Derek Willis to the class: “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.”
  2. Several national college basketball voices have highlighted the drastic difference in penalties handed out to Frank Haith and Bruce Pearl for what appears to be similar misconduct (lying to NCAA investigators). No one will likely ever know what happened in those respective meetings with the NCAA, and it’s possible Haith’s behavior wasn’t as comparatively bad as Pearl’s. Still, there’s no denying that Haith’s five-game suspension looks golden compared to Pearl’s multi-year show-cause penalty and subsequent absence from the sport. But Haith might not be totally free and clear of this scandal once he returns to the Tigers’ bench. His record at Missouri is excellent but he has yet to win an NCAA tournament game, and the lingering stigma of a #15 seed (Norfolk State) over a #2 seed is hard to escape. Haith is by no means on the hot seat, but if his teams continue to disappoint in postseason play, the Miami scandal could resurface as ammunition for boosters and fans that want him gone.
  3. Jarnell Stokes is taking to heart the feedback he received from the NBA Undergraduate Advisory Committee after last season. “It wasn’t anything like you’re too short to play in the NBA or you just don’t have skills,” Stokes said. “They were basically saying you have to be able to run the floor better and find different ways to score, be able to show you can shoot the ball and improve my overall skills.” DraftExpress has Stokes as a late first round pick in its current 2014 mock draft. Like all coaches who have pro prospects on their teams, Cuonzo Martin faces the difficult situation of allowing his players to showcase the skills and development NBA scouts want to see while keeping with the overall team scheme. This is a fine line coaches must deal with since the statement “I can help get you to the next level” is undoubtedly a common refrain on recruiting visits.
  4. Julian Terrell will return to Vanderbilt to serve as the director of video operations on Kevin Stallings’ staff. Terrell played at Vanderbilt from 2002-06 and was a member of the Commodores’ 2004 Sweet Sixteen team. Since then he’s made numerous stops playing abroad. Kentucky video coordinator Tim Asher said that five SEC schools still don’t have positions dedicated to video operations, instead relegating these duties to graduate assistants. Given its importance to scouting, it seems almost irresponsible to not have a full-time staff member doing this type of work nowadays. One would think teams would want every possible advantage, and video wouldn’t seem to be the philosophical jump advanced metrics is for some coaches. However, this could also represent a budget issue for some schools.
  5. Kentucky and UTEP are set to play at Maryland in 2016 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1966 NCAA championship game between the two schools (UTEP was Texas Western at the time). The 1966 game, also the focus of the 2006 movie Glory Road, was historically significant because Texas Western started five African-American players versus the Wildcats, representing the first all-black team to play in a championship game. If it all works out, the game may even take place on Martin Luther King Day three seasons from now. Kudos to both schools for putting this game together; it’s a well-deserved homage to a college basketball game that transcended the sport. Pat Riley (a Kentucky forward in 1966) is the most famous person to have played in that game, so it’ll be interesting to see if he gets involved.
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20 Questions: Can a Third SEC Team Emerge as a National Player?

Posted by Bennet Hayes on October 17th, 2013

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Throughout the preseason, RTC national columnists will answer the 20 most compelling questions heading into the 2013-14 season. Previous columns in this year’s series are located here.   

Basketball in the Southeastern Conference has long been dominated by Kentucky and Florida. Since 1997, those two schools have combined for four times as many National Championships as the rest of the conference has Final Four appearances. LSU’s 2006 national semifinal appearance was a proud moment for the Tiger program, but outside of that showing and a more recent flourish from Tennessee (six straight NCAA Tournament appearances from 2006-11), it’s hard to find too many SEC teams not named Kentucky or Florida that have made waves nationally. The forecast for 2013-14 doesn’t look a whole lot different than usual, with the Gators and Wildcats climbing into most experts’ preseason Top 25s, the two powers again finding separation from their conference mates. But is there another team in the league capable of surprising the experts and making a push into the national consciousness? The track record of the rest of the conference makes it difficult to be overly optimistic about the prospects of any team making that leap, but a talented Tennessee team with some valuable newfound stability could prove capable of pulling up a third seat at a dinner table that has long sat only two.

Good Luck Finding A Tougher Inside Duo -- SEC Or Elsewhere -- Than Tennessee's Pair Of Bruisers: Jarnell Stokes And Jeronne Maymon

Good Luck Finding A Tougher Inside Duo — SEC Or Elsewhere — Than Tennessee’s Pair Of Bruisers: Jarnell Stokes And Jeronne Maymon

Given the recent success of the Bruce Pearl era (at least when he wasn’t doubling as a grill-master) and the expansive women’s basketball tradition in Knoxville, Tennessee would certainly seem like the most natural program to be poised for a step up in national notoriety. Cuonzo Martin’s first two seasons at the helm in Knoxville exhibited some of that promise, but the Vols would up just short of the NCAA Tournament in each campaign. This season, the talent is in place to not only make the field of 68, but also do some damage upon arrival.

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Morning Five: 07.19.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on July 19th, 2013

morning5

  1. There were a couple of significant moves in the Ed O’Bannon case over the past two days. The bigger move was the announcement of the six players (all football) who were added as plaintiffs in the case. We obviously do not follow football as closely as we follow basketball, but none of the names jump out at us so we are not sure how much traction this will get with the general public. Still it is a significant move and we hope that the NCAA will treat the players fairly and not target them for investigations into their eligibility. The other move in the case was the NCAA’s decision to cut ties with EA Sports has sparked a lot of debate about how the NCAA is using this to position itself against additional lawsuits if it should lose the Ed O’Bannon case. The decision means that NCAA Football 2014 will be the last game for the time being that will feature the NCAA’s logo and name. It does not mean that EA Sports games will not feature select schools as many schools work with Collegiate Licensing Company, a separate entity that manages the trademarks of the schools. What that means is that you may not notice a significant difference in the game aside from the name and the absence of the NCAA’s logo as Collegiate Licensing Company still can license out the names/logos of schools as well as the likenesses of the various players for those schools.
  2. If Auburn fans expected their program to start to turn around with the improved recruiting they have experienced under Tony Barbee they may have to wait as one of the keys in utilizing those recruits is keeping them around. Yesterday, the school announced that it had kicked Shaq Johnson off the team after he was arrested for marijuana possession. Johnson’s departure means that the school has lost both of its top incoming freshman from last season as Jordan Price announced his decision to transfer back in April. While Johnson’s production last season (5.3 points and 3 rebounds in 18.6 minutes per game) might not seem like much, but Auburn fans could have expected those numbers to continue to climb over the next three seasons and for a team that has been stuck at the bottom of the SEC recently the loss is certainly not insignificant. We know that basketball is a distant second (or third depending on whether you count spring football as a separate sport), but we wonder how long Tony Barbee can endure more losing seasons at the school and keep his job.
  3. The World University Games may have ended with a disappointment for Doug McDermott as the team finished ninth, but that will not be his last national team experience for the summer as McDermott was invited to the US National Team Mini-Camp. McDermott joins Marcus Smart as the only college player at the mini-camp and will be part of a group of 30 players, who might not be our “A” team (no LeBron, Wade, etc), but does feature several prominent players including Kyrie Irving. McDermott will also get a chance to show his skills against several solid NBA players. The mini-camp will be closed to the general public, but we will be interested to hear about how McDermott and Smart perform and how it translates into their performance next season.
  4. It must be nice living in a world where you can get a $50,000 raise, but is just a few percentage point increase in your salary. Such is the case of Cuonzo Martin, who received a $50,000 raise bringing his annual compensation to $1.35 million (a little over a 3.8% raise). Martin took over the Tennessee program in the wake of Bruce Pearl’s firing amid NCAA violations so his two trips to the NIT in two years should not be seen as a total disaster, but we still have a hard time trying to figure out why he needed a pay raise based on his performance so far. The Volunteers are expected to be near the top of the SEC so perhaps Martin can prove that he is worth the extra money this season.
  5. A little over two years ago we discussed a medical study analyzing sudden cardiac death in Division I athletes. The vast majority of sports fans are only aware of a few very public cases like that of Hank Gathers, but we are sure many of you can remember other cases of players of varying ability dying suddenly during practices or games. That is part of what makes the story of Silas Green so remarkable. Green was at an AAU tournament when he collapsed necessitating the staff there to use a defibrillator to return Green’s heart to a normal rhythm. We do not have many details outside of what Green’s father has released–cardiac tests were negative and that it was believed to be due to hypokalemia–but the take home point (outside of Green’s life being saved) is the advances in preparation by the staff given the surprisingly high rate of sudden cardiac death in basketball players.
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SEC M5: 04.03.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on April 3rd, 2013

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  1. After three straight seasons of being ousted in the Elite Eight round of the NCAA Tournament, some are wondering if the Gators are capable of making the leap to the Final Four. Marketing of the Final Four has made that level of the Big Dance the standard of success as opposed to a previous round as the ultimate measure (the Sweet Sixteen or even making the Tournament for that matter). “People deem this NCAA Tournament journey of different pinnacles,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “Getting out of the first round, getting to the Sweet Sixteen, getting to the Final Four. At the end of the day for the people that are involved in it and coaching it, there’s no easy exit out of the NCAA Tournament.” The Gators will look completely different next season, losing at least three starters, but the talent level next season could take Donovan back to the Final Four that fans in Gainesville crave.
  2. Regardless of your emotions regarding the Gators failing to make another Final Four in 2013, the Gainesville Sun points out that there is a different way to look at this year. “Florida overachieved this season. This was hardly Billy Donovan’s most talented team, but the Gators found a way to win 29 games.” That they did. And they won another regular season SEC championship, just UF’s fourth in school history. Three straight Elite Eight appearances are nothing to scoff at considering there is no other SEC team that has even made three straight NCAA appearances in the same span. While Florida came very close to a Final Four this year, as previously mentioned, it could be right back in the mix next season. With as much talent as Florida will suit up in 2013-14, there will be no way the Gators can overachieve next season.
  3. Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin will coach the East squad in the 2013 Reese’s Division I College All-Star Game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta on Friday. The game doesn’t have any SEC players participating, but plenty of other talented players will be showcasing their skills. D.J. Cooper (Ohio), Larry Drew II (UCLA), and Rodney McGruder (Kansas State) headline the East team, while Pierre Jackson (Baylor), Mike Muscala (Bucknell) and Kwamain Mitchell (St. Louis) lead the West squad which will be coached by Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg.
  4. Incoming Kentucky center Dakari Johnson found inspiration from an SEC villain to deal with the hatred he might see on the road while playing away from Lexington. “I’m looking forward to it. I want to embrace it,” he said. “I know a lot of people hate Marshall Henderson, but he just embraces it. He lives in the moment and he just does what he does. And we’re going to do what we do.” UK’s next point guard, Andrew Harrison, is already accustomed to playing in difficult environments with his twin brother Aaron. “In Houston, they hate on us no matter who we play or where we are,” Andrew said. “We take that and we turn it around as motivation. It helps us play harder, actually.” Winning, of course, is the ultimate cure when it comes to quieting down a rowdy away crowd.
  5. The SEC will be on full display in the McDonald’s All American game, but LSU commitment Jarell Martin rested for the dunk contest, otherwise known as the Powerade Jam Fest. He is nursing a knee injury that has been bothering him. He will, however, play in the prime time game on Wednesday with several other future SEC foes including six Kentucky players, two Florida signees, and a future Arkansas Razorback. Martin is the 14th ranked prospect in the country according to Scout.com, a site that also has him as the fifth best power forward in the 2013 class.
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Tennessee Inches Closer to NCAA Bid, Win Over Alabama Could Seal Deal

Posted by David Changas on March 14th, 2013

David Changas (@dchangas) is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from Thursday afternoon’s SEC Tournament game between Tennessee and Mississippi State.

While the SEC has endured a significant amount of well-deserved criticism for its share of mediocre (well, bad) basketball this season (the fact that Mississippi State not only didn’t finish last in the league and was even able to win a game in the conference tournament – albeit against equally woeful South Carolina – is Exhibit A of the league’s futility), perhaps no conference presents more bubble scenarios as we roll towards Selection Sunday. Thus, while the usual Kentucky-related buzz is absent from this weekend’s festivities in Nashville except to the extent the Wildcats are on the bubble themselves,  there is a lot of intrigue about which teams will emerge and land a spot in the field of 68. As of now, it is assumed that only Florida and Missouri are locks for the field, with Kentucky, Ole Miss, and Alabama, and Tennessee seeking bids.

Tennessee Bowled Its Way One Step Closer to the NCAAs

Tennessee Bowled Its Way One Step Closer to the NCAAs

Clearly,  no team is more squarely on the bubble than the Volunteers, who dispatched of the significantly undermanned Bulldogs 69-53 behind 17 points from Jordan McRae Thursday afternoon at Bridgestone Arena. The win arguably will do nothing to help the Vols’ standing in the RPI and with the committee, but a loss would have crippled Tennessee’s chances to receive a bid. Now, they must face a much tougher test on Friday, as they take on co-bubble dweller Alabama. While some view the contest as a “play-in” game of sorts, Tennessee comes in with a better resume than the Crimson Tide, which has no wins over the RPI top 50. And Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin doesn’t think the bid is in question any longer. “I said after we beat Mizzou that we’re in the NCAA Tournament, so I’ve moved past that,” Martin said, unconvincingly, after the game. Still, for Tennessee, Friday’s game is an opportunity to win another game against a quality opponent and solidify its standing with the selection committee.

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SEC M5: 03.11.13 Edition

Posted by DPerry on March 11th, 2013

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  1. In one of the best weekends of college basketball that we’ve seen this year, the SEC may be able to lay claim to the top highlight. Trevor Releford hit a half-court shot as time expired to give Alabama a 61-58 win over Georgia, keeping the Crimson Tide in consideration for an at-large NCAA Tournament berth. Bama appeared well on its way to an easy win when they took a 14-point lead into halftime, but the Bulldogs stormed back in the second. “I felt like in the second half they really picked their tempo up and really attacked us,” coach Anthony Grant said. “The zone caused us some problems.” Releford put the finishing touches on a strong regular season, adding an iconic moment to his case for SEC Player of the Year.
  2. Florida went into Lexington over the weekend looking for its first win at Rupp Arena in six years. A back and forth game had finally swung in the Gators’ favor after Kentucky center Willie Cauley-Stein was forced to bench with four fouls, but even with a seven-point lead with eight minutes to play, Florida went ice cold. The Gators did nothing with their last 14 possessions the rest of the way, committing five turnovers and missing all 11 of their field goal attempts. “In these situations, someone has to step up and make a play,” guard Scottie Wilbekin said. “Someone has to make a shot.” Florida couldn’t get that shot to fall, doing nothing to dispel the notion that they can’t deliver in close games.
  3. Kentucky’s win over Florida certainly had a do-or-die feel, but Gary Parrish believes that Kentucky shouldn’t rest easy just yet. The Wildcats’ Tournament resume remains marginal. A 21-10 overall record, a 7-9 record against the RPI top 100, and only two wins against the top 50 doesn’t exactly scream “lock.” “There’s a tendency in college basketball to react strongly to every single thing that happens,” writes Parrish, “and the byproduct is that analysts and fans are constantly punching everybody’s tickets for the Big Dance.” A win over Florida filled a big hole in Kentucky’s argument, but a loss to Arkansas or Vanderbilt in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament would cancel out a lot of that progress and put the Cats right back on the fringes of the bubble.
  4. The teams at the bottom of the SEC needed overtime to settle their season finale, with Mississippi State beating Auburn, 74-71, putting Bulldogs coach Rick Ray in a celebratory mood. “Just finding a way to gut out a win and to go in the locker room to see so many people happy,” he said after the game. “You read some things were they say we are the worst team in SEC history, so I guess we can’t be that if we finished 13th out of 14.” Touche, Rick. Mississippi State has been ridiculed all season as one of the worst power conference teams in college basketball, but thanks to a strong start and finish to the conference schedule (book-ending that 13-game losing streak), the Bulldogs finished outside of the SEC cellar.
  5. Tennessee overcame an eight-point second half deficit to beat Missouri, 64-62, on Saturday, maintaining its status as the conference’s hottest team. The Vols have won eight of nine to turn what appeared to be a lost season into a potential at-large NCAA Tournament berth. Tennessee is currently on the outside looking in according to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, meaning that the Vols are another SEC team in need of SEC Tournament success. “I feel like we’re an older group,” forward Jarnell Stokes said. “We know that we have to do damage in the SEC Tournament. I’m not going to let another one slip away like we did last year.” A year ago, Cuonzo Martin’s team was in an almost identical position. Tennessee had ended the year winning eight of nine, but were upset by Ole Miss in their first SEC Tournament game, relegating the Vols to the NIT.
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