SEC M5: 03.07.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on March 7th, 2013

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  1. Arkansas coach Mike Anderson made a return to Missouri on Tuesday night, but it certainly wasn’t the homecoming he had in mind. Missouri thumped Anderson’s Razorbacks by 30 points, and it certainly seemed personal. Anderson maintains that he left the Tigers in good shape after building the program into a contender in the Big 12. “When I got here it was empty,” Anderson said. “It was like, ‘Man, they’ve got a program over there?’ All of a sudden now it’s changed. I think that’s good. So the time has to be right to talk about it. That’s good.” The loss did more than sting Anderson’s ego, but severely dismantled Arkansas’ NCAA hopes. The Razorbacks needed to plead their case to the selection committee with a strong road victory, but the 30-point loss probably all but determined that Anderson will be watching his former team in the Big Dance while his new one heads to the NIT.
  2. Missing the NCAA Tournament could have serious financial implications for Kentucky coach John Calipari. Last year, the coach made an additional $800,000 in bonuses and incentives, of which $700,000 were directly tied to success in the NCAA Tournament. Calipari’s deep Tournament runs have become expected in Lexington, and he has been handsomely rewarded as a result. His Wildcats have advanced to at least the Elite Eight in every year he has been there, including two Final Four runs and a national championship team last season. However, it is not as though the head coach will struggle to make ends meet without a performance-driven incentive. He makes $3.8 million dollars in base pay, and he just signed on for an extension to take him through the 2018-19 season. The only problem here is that it doesn’t seem that it is the head coach that needs the incentive to succeed in this particular equation.
  3. Florida senior guard Mike Rosario sat on the bench for the final 12 minutes of the Gators’ victory over Alabama on Saturday. And being the mature player he is, Rosario says he understands. “I wasn’t playing the way my team needed me to play,” Rosario said. “I wasn’t playing what coach would say is the right way. Sometimes you’ve got to look at it as it not being about an individual. It’s about the team. That game, I wasn’t playing the right way, so I had to give our team what we needed.”Regardless of maturity level, every player wants to be out on the court. The 27 minutes he played on Saturday was the first time he’s played under 30 minutes in a game since a February 9 blowout of Mississippi State. Expect Rosario to be on the court when it matters, though, and his mature handling of this situation demonstrates why this team needs his leadership when the going gets tough.
  4. Florida coach Billy Donovan downplayed the significance that a No. 1 seed has on the outcome of the NCAA Tournament, and he uses his Gators from last season as a perfect example. “Does it make a difference? I don’t know,” Donovan said.  “I mean, you could look at the numbers and say the better seeding you have, the more likelihood there is to advance. But, I mean, we’re a No. 7 seed last year with an opportunity to go to the Final Four. We’ve got to go out and play regardless of what the number is next to our name.” The Gators are in the hunt for a No. 1 seed, but there isn’t a single NCAA Tournament venue site within 700 miles of Gainesville (that is, until the Final Four in Atlanta). In terms of a geographic advantage for Florida, there isn’t really one available. Even as a top seed, UF could be paired with a No. 2 seed that is closer to the venue site, removing any real advantage they would have in advancing.
  5. After losing to Georgia on Saturday, Tennessee understands it is in a position where it must win its remaining two regular season games for a chance to hear its name on Selection Sunday. “We’re in the exact same spot as last year so we know what we need to do,” Tennessee’s leading scorer Jordan McRae said. “We don’t like to label games must-wins, but these next two games, we’ve got to win.” The coach agrees. “Just get Ws and keep moving forward,” coach Cuonzo Martin said. UT has won six of its last seven games, but at this point another loss would be difficult to explain.
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SEC Depth Bolsters Tennessee’s NCAA Tournament Case

Posted by Brian Joyce on March 1st, 2013

Brian Joyce is a writer for the SEC microsite and regular contributor for Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about SEC basketball at bjoyce_hoops.

At the beginning of the year, the SEC was considered a top-heavy league with four competitors battling it out for supremacy. As the season progressed, the league looked more and more like that original assessment was plain wrong. There weren’t four competitors for the SEC crown;  it appeared there may be just one. The league became Florida and 13 sources of an endless supply of jokes. But nobody is laughing anymore. In fact, some are arguing that the SEC is deeper and better than anyone could have imagined this season.

Frank Martin says the SEC deserves way more credit than it has received.

Frank Martin says the SEC deserves way more credit than it has received.

Nine of the SEC’s 14 teams rank in the top 100 of the RPI (all RPI rankings are taken from RealTimeRPI.com). Florida (#5), Missouri (#43), Kentucky (#49), Tennessee (#53), Mississippi (#55), Alabama (#62), Texas A&M (#87), Arkansas (#89) and LSU (#92) certainly give the SEC one of the deeper leagues in the country. However, will overall conference depth translate into additional NCAA Tournament bids? That subject remains up in the air, but an improved perception of the league’s strength should help on Selection Sunday, particularly for those Tennessee Volunteers.

Just two weeks ago, the SEC looked like a one-bid league. Now, there are as many as seven teams that could be in the conversation for a berth. And just like last year, Tennessee is leading the rise. The Vols finished SEC play winning eight of its final nine games last season, and they are on another tear at the end of this year. Tennessee beat a shell-shocked Kentucky team by 30 points and is coming off a win against Florida on Tuesday to quickly work its way into the NCAA bubble conversation.

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SEC M5: 03.01.13 Edition

Posted by DPerry on March 1st, 2013

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  1. Missouri earned its second road win of the season at South Carolina last night, thanks to a fantastic shooting display. The Tigers hit nearly 70% of their shots, including 6-of-9 from three-point range. “I don’t think we could have played any better offensively,” head coach Frank Haith said. Guards Keion Bell and Jabari Brown enjoyed a size advantage over the smaller starting Gamecock backcourt, enabling them to combine for 47 points. Phil Pressey (one game after scoring 27 against Kentucky) didn’t attempt a single shot, opting instead to serve as a pure play-maker, finishing with nine assists. Missouri will head home for a two-game stretch before traveling to Tennessee for its regular season finale.
  2. After suffering its first three losses of its SEC schedule, the air of invincibility has vanished from Florida. Don’t be too quick to remove them from your list of title contenders, though, as the Gators are finally getting healthy. Billy Donovan announced Thursday that both Will Yeguete and Michael Frazier II have been cleared for this weekend’s game against Alabama. “Our guys that have been through the grind of most of the last month or so, they can’t rest and relax,” Donovan said. “They’ve got to understand that they’ve got to step up and they’ve got to play and they cannot take the approach of, ‘Well, we’re a little bit deeper. We have more guys available.’ Because I just don’t know if Frazier and/or Yeguete are going to be really able to be able to really provide some significant minutes for us.” Frazier missed only one game, but Yeguete has been sidelined since February 5, during which Florida desperately missed his rebounding ability, only out-boarding its opponent in two of six games.
  3. With the Gators finally having the luxury of a full squad, their biggest worry this Saturday will be Alabama guard Trevor Releford. The junior guard from Kansas City has been a revelation for the Tide this season, earning him quite a bit of praise. “I see a lot more confidence in his shot,” said LJ Goolsby, Releford’s AAU coach. “That’s been evident the last couple of games, most importantly. The bigger the game, the better he is a lot of times. That speaks volumes about his competitiveness. Competitors want the biggest challenges. They accept it and embrace it.” With the departures of JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell, the position of #1 scoring option was up for grabs in Tuscaloosa this season, and Releford has locked it down. He’s been especially hot recently (including a career high 36 points against LSU), and will have to be at his best to upset the Gators in Gainesville.
  4. Tennessee waited until the last possible opportunity to turn its season around, displaying some pretty remarkable composure during their late-season run. What’s behind this new and improved Volunteers team?  The Chattanooga Times Free PressPatrick Brown credits coach Cuonzo Martin and his stoic nature. “You can’t get overemotional in certain situations,” Martin says. “You’ve got to be even-keeled. But that’s easier said than done.” The second-year coach rarely changes his tone in his interactions with the media, even when some of the Vols’ early-season performances undoubtedly had him boiling inside. Consider leading scorer Jordan McRae impressed. “You guys see our practices, the way Coach Martin is, you would think we hadn’t won a game yet this year,” said the junior guard. “That’s just the way it’s going to be, and I think Coach Martin does a really good job of making us realize we always have a game after this one.”
  5. Kentucky fans were treated to a night of celebration on Wednesday. The Wildcats easily dispatched Mississippi State, as expected, but the real draw was the 1996 team’s return to Rupp Arena. With stars like Antoine Walker, Tony Delk, and Walter McCarty all in attendance, coach John Calipari will hope uber-recruit Andrew Wiggins, who was taking his official visit to the Lexington campus, was impressed by the tradition. The Bulldogs were a bit of a break for the Wildcats, whose NCAA Tournament hopes will be put to the test when they travel to Arkansas (undefeated at home in SEC play) on Saturday.
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Ten Tuesday (or Wednesday!) Scribbles: On Scoring, Rule Changes, Syracuse and More…

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 27th, 2013

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Brian Otskey is an RTC columnist. Every Tuesday during the regular season he’ll be giving his 10 thoughts on the previous week’s action. You can find him on Twitter @botskey

  1. Much has been made about the decline in scoring in college basketball over the last decade. These days, it is very common to see games played in the 60s, 50s or even 40s in some instances. It is true that scoring has decreased substantially over the last 10 years and the numbers bear it out. In the 2002-03 season, 172 teams averaged at least 70.0 PPG. That number has steadily declined, falling to 145 five seasons ago and 111 this year. With the advent of advanced statistics, one in particular stands out. Ten years ago, 123 teams averaged an adjusted tempo of 70.0 possessions per game. That was cut in half by 2007-08 (62 teams) and the number has continued to decline even since then. This season, only 28 of America’s 347 Division I teams play at that pace or greater. Why is this happening? Pace is certainly a factor but there are other issues at play here. With the proliferation of television coverage and video based scouting programs such as Synergy Sports Technology, scouting and video material is more available than ever. Head coaches and their staffs know everything about an opponent and that makes a huge difference for a lot of teams on the defensive end. A lot of teams run the same sets and it’s simply easier to prepare when you see the same thing over and over again. The elephant in the room, however, is the talent level in college basketball. Most of us probably wouldn’t like to admit it but the talent level has noticeably dipped in our sport over the last decade. I’m not talking about a once in 20 years type of player like Kevin Durant but the overall depth of talent in the game. There’s a reason a lot of people are saying this year’s NBA Draft class could be the weakest ever. That’s because it is. Until college basketball gets a much-needed infusion of talent, low scoring games will remain the norm.
  2. A lot of people would like to see the so-called “one-and-done” rule fade to black and that got me thinking about some much-needed rule changes in college basketball. I’m not going to discuss the one-and-done here, I’m talking about changes that need to be made during the actual games. If I had the power, the first thing I’d do is shorten the shot clock to 30 seconds. Five seconds may not sound like a lot but since there are roughly 66 to 67 possessions in an average Division I game, that would translate into another 10 possessions per game. Immediately you’d see an increase in scoring which makes the game more attractive to fans. One thing that annoys me is the amount of timeouts and stoppages in the game. There are already four mandated media timeouts every half and each team gets a total of five timeouts per game. In an era when coaches rarely leave timeouts on the table, there are 18 different timeouts in a typical college game, an average of one every two minutes and 13 seconds. It hurts the flow of a game in a big way and my proposal would be to reduce the number of timeouts to three per team and no extras in overtime. The end of every college basketball game these days seems to include a multitude of timeouts, fouls and official reviews. Officials reviewing plays has helped many sports get calls right, including college basketball. However, officials are abusing the monitor more than ever before. A big reason why is the NCAA rule change a few years ago regarding flagrant fouls and elbows thrown. I get why this rule was implemented (player safety) but there is no evidence this rule acts as a deterrent. Players have been taught from a young age to clear space with your elbows when being pressured by a defender. Now, a loose elbow can be deemed a flagrant foul even if there was no intent to injure by the offending player. This has to change. I have absolutely no problem with calling a flagrant foul for a malicious elbow or other physical contact. But calling a flagrant for an innocent or accidental elbow is wrong and is another thing that contributes to college games that lack an entertaining flow. A couple other changes I’d make include not resetting the 10-second count in the backcourt after a timeout, not being able to inbound the ball into the backcourt (it’s a bailout move for a team without a quality inbounds play) and starting the 1-and-1 bonus at nine fouls instead of seven. What are your thoughts on some of these proposals?

    Tubby Smith, Minnesota

    Tubby Smith has Minnesota pointed in the right direction

  3. This time of year, bubble talk dominates the discussion. My way of looking at bubble teams is simple: Did you beat quality opponents and what have you done away from home? This approach is one Jay Bilas mentions on television every year, something I wholeheartedly agree with. I remember years ago when Bilas went on ESPN and said something like, “Bubble teams have all proven they can lose. The question is, who did you beat and where did you beat them?” Truer words have never been spoken. You can’t dismiss all losses but when we’re talking about bubble teams, we’re usually looking at teams that have lost anywhere from 9 to 12 games, sometimes more. When I look at this year’s group of bubble teams, a few stand out. Minnesota is only 7-8 in Big Ten play but has multiple quality wins over Memphis (neutral), Illinois (away), Wisconsin (home), Michigan State (home) and last night’s massive upset of Indiana at the Barn on its resume. All of that trumps Minnesota’s loss to Northwestern and should get the Golden Gophers into the Big Dance.  Staying in the Big Ten, Illinois is in the same boat and I believe the Illini have done enough to warrant a bid at this point. Villanova is an interesting team. The Wildcats have a high number of losses (11) but wins at Connecticut and home versus Louisville and Syracuse have them in the NCAA discussion. I think Villanova is an NCAA-worthy team but the Wildcats need to do more to earn a bid because a pair of bad losses on their resume hurt the cause. Teams like St. Mary’s are harder to quantify. The Gaels have just one top 50 win (home vs. Creighton) on their resume and a pair of bad losses to Pacific and Georgia Tech. When a team wins a number of games against poor competition as St. Mary’s has, it’s very hard to determine if they’re NCAA-worthy. I think the Gaels are, but their resume leaves a lot to be desired. Beating Gonzaga in the WCC Tournament would prove to everyone that they deserve a spot. Read the rest of this entry »
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As Minority Head Coaches Decline Elsewhere, the SEC Sets the Standard

Posted by Brian Joyce on February 27th, 2013

Brian Joyce is a writer for the SEC microsite and regular contributor for Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about SEC basketball at bjoyce_hoops.

Twenty-five years ago, Tennessee broke the color barrier in the SEC when it hired Wade Houston as the first African-American head coach in the conference. Today, the SEC is a model for other conferences around college basketball. In an era where minority, and specifically African-American coaches, are not given the benefit of the doubt in hiring decisions and are given the hook far too quickly in times of trouble, doing the right thing isn’t always easy. Diversity is far too often a buzzword with no true culture of systemic change. The NFL institutionalized the “Rooney Rule” to encourage interviews of minority coaches, but the SEC demonstrated its commitment and value to diversity without the enforcement of a mandate.

Frank Martin is one of eight minority coaches in the SEC. (Bruce Thorson/US Presswire)

Frank Martin, a Cuban-American, is one of eight minority basketball coaches in the SEC. (Bruce Thorson/US Presswire)

The South isn’t exactly a region of the United States known for valuing its diversity, yet today the Southeastern Conference has eight minority head basketball coaches including seven African-Americans among 14 schools. “Sometimes you hear about the South — I grew up in the Midwest — and you have some negative connotations, especially when you start talking about places like Mississippi and Alabama and race relations,” Mississippi State coach Rick Ray said. “I think it speaks volumes about the hiring process in the SEC and the schools in the SEC that they would reach out and have this many African-American head coaches.” The seven African-American coaches currently in the SEC equals the most ever in a Power Six conference. The commitment to hiring the best candidates, regardless of skin color, is an accomplishment worth being applauded. “The thing the SEC should be most proud of is that us having this many African-American coaches is really not a big story. It means it’s accepted here in the South and that it’s really not a problem.” Frank Martin, a Cuban-American in his first year coaching at South Carolina and within the SEC, applauds the league’s commitment to diversity. “I think it’s awesome this league believes in everybody and not just in certain stereotypes,” Martin said. “I am grateful that Kansas State University and now South Carolina have believed in me to give me an opportunity to do what I dreamt of doing when I was a young kid.”

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SEC M5: 02.27.12 Edition

Posted by DPerry on February 27th, 2013

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  1. The red-hot Tennessee Volunteers extended its winning streak to six games Tuesday night, handing Florida their second loss in three games. Jordan McRae provided most of the offense with 27 points, while Jarnell Stokes (14 rebounds) dominated the glass in a game that was almost a must-win for the Vols to make the NCAA Tournament field. Florida began SEC play with 11 straight victories, looking almost infallible in comparison to the rest of the weak conference. However, injuries have taken their toll (Will Yeguete and Michael Frazier II, most recently) and the Gators have lost some of that shine, maybe enough to completely excuse themselves from the #1-seed conversation. With the loss, Billy Donovan’s record against Cuonzo Martin fell to 0-3.
  2. Anthony Grant charged Trevor Releford with putting the offense on his back through the rest of the season, and he started out in style. Behind 21 points from the junior guard, Alabama avenged an ugly February 6 loss to intrastate rival Auburn with an easy win Tuesday night. Nick Jacobs chipped in with 10 points and 10 rebounds. “We talked about the importance of every game going forward, but obviously any time you get a chance to play your in-state rival that adds a different meaning,” Grant said after the game. Alabama travels to Gainesville this weekend with, unbelievably, a chance to tie the Gators atop the SEC standings.
  3. Believe it or not, Georgia still has a chance to grab a first-round bye in the SEC Tournament. Show of hands: Who thought the Bulldogs would be able to say that at the end of February? Really? Really? Coach Mark Fox will face a challenge tonight, as he brings his young backcourt into the uncomfortable environment that is Vanderbilt’s Memorial Gym, the only venue in the nation that features benches along the baseline. “I’m probably more worried about it this year with such a young perimeter group,” Fox said of the Commodores’ court configuration. “There’s a lot of the game they’ll have to manage on their own on the floor.” Freshman Charles Mann has been seeing more time at the point, while classmates Kenny Gaines and Brandon Morris have earned their share of minutes as well. The Bulldogs have lost three of four games after a previous five-game winning streak.
  4. Andrew Wiggins, the top recruit in the class of 2013 according to both Rivals and ESPN, will take an official visit to Kentucky, probably while you’re reading this. He’s visited the Lexington campus before, but expects to see more than he did on his previous unofficial trip. “He’ll have a chance to meet different people: the academic people, the athletic director,” said Rob Fulford, Wiggins’ coach at Huntington (WV) Prep. “It’s more official as far as what you’re looking for and getting a feel for the school.” The forward originally from Canada is also considering Florida State, Kansas, and North Carolina. Also, watch this.
  5. Frank Haith hasn’t been hesitant to criticize his team this season. His most recent target is his team’s subpar defense on the road against Kentucky. “We had nobody play on that end of the court,” Haith said. “And when you have nobody play on that end of the court, you don’t have a chance. We had so many breakdowns where we didn’t rotate, we didn’t shrink the gap and allowed them driving lanes and loose balls and poor closeouts.” Kentucky entered Saturday’s game with Missouri without any momentum, but the Tigers’ lax defense allowed the Wildcats to shoot over 50% from the field, as well as over 40% from long range. Haith believes that his team only plays quality defense when their offensive game is on, which may help to explain much of the Tigers’ road struggles this season.
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Night Line: Vols Making Habit of February Revival

Posted by BHayes on February 27th, 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.

Attention bubble dwellers – it is time to make room for the Tennessee Volunteers. After a rousing victory over the SEC’s best in #8 Florida, the Vols are officially back in the NCAA Tournament picture. If you are feeling as if you have seen this movie before, it’s probably because you have. A year ago, Cuonzo Martin’s club ripped off eight victories over the course of its last nine regular season games, overcoming a disastrous 10-12 beginning to find their way into the March bubble talk. Losing to Ole Miss in their SEC Tournament opener would ultimately relegate last year’s Vols to the NIT, but this season’s bunch has a chance to script a different ending. More work left to be done for certain, but a late February six-game winning streak is a good place to start if you are looking to re-enter the NCAA discussion.

Trae Golden Has Been One Of The Major Catalysts For The Volunteer Revival

Trae Golden Has Been One Of The Major Catalysts For The Volunteer Revival

While the Vols may have reached their aesthetical nadir back in December after posting a total of 74 points in two games against Georgetown and Virginia (yes, I said total), it isn’t as if Cuonzo Martin’s club is all of a sudden winning pretty. Their adjusted tempo still places them in the bottom fifth of Division I basketball, and Tuesday night’s win over the Gators saw just one Vol in double figures, with Jordan McRae continuing his strong play by posting a game-high 27 points. Grinding pace aside, the team’s overall offensive efficiency (53rd nationally) is not bad, but the Vols are heavily reliant on getting to the free throw line and pounding the offensive glass — blue-collar efforts that may or may not appeal to the average fan, but that the tough-as-nails Martin has to love.

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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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SEC M5: 02.19.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on February 19th, 2013

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  1. Nerlens Noel’s high school coach said his torn ACL injury on February 12 at Florida could have occurred in large part because an injury during his sophomore year of high school did not fully heal. Noel rushed back to play basketball in the spring on the recommendation of his advisors despite being told to rest through the summer. “If the leg healed awkwardly and (Noel) had a malalignment in that knee,” Dr. Robin West, orthopedic surgeon for the Pittsburgh Steelers said, “that could predispose him to future injuries in that leg.” It’s certain those same advisors are now trying to get a piece of the pie if Noel can maintain his NBA Draft position throughout this process.
  2. Tennessee beat Kentucky by 30 points on Saturday, and now the Vols are feeling confident heading into the last portion of the season. “It’s amazing what confidence can do for you,” head coach Cuonzo Martin said. “It’s the same team. We haven’t changed anything, outside of tweaks here and there. It’s the same system.” The Volunteers are now on a three-game winning streak, but a blowout win over the Wildcats may be more about the hardships of UK than it is about Tennessee.
  3. Frank Martin’s first season in Columbia has been less than superb, but the fellas at Garnet and Black Attack say don’t blame Martin for that. Former coach Darrin Horn left the cupboard bare, but this year isn’t when the first-year coach will be judged. “This season isn’t the real test for Martin. It would have been fantastic for him to have managed to make something happen with this team, but barring a miracle, that’s off the table now. The test for Martin is to build a program where one wasn’t before. That’s going to require recruiting and getting talented players to buy into his philosophy.” And Martin is already well on his way to building a future with recruiting more talented players for the Gamecocks.
  4. It seemed clear that the NCAA had botched its investigation into current Missouri coach Frank Haith, but now it’s official. An external review of the NCAA’s investigation techniques revealed several missteps and insufficient oversight during an inquiry into Haith’s time at Miami. “With the completion of the external enforcement review, we recognize that certain investigative tactics used in portions of the University of Miami case failed our membership,” NCAA president Mark Emmert said. In other news, nobody, including the NCAA itself, was actually surprised that the governing body made errors during its own investigation.
  5. Are five Florida players actually better than Michael Jordan? Well, no, but five Gators currently have offensive ratings higher than Jordan’s rating his junior year at North Carolina. But college basketball is arguably more of a team game than it was in Jordan’s era, and the Gators are one heck of an efficient team. Florida’s offensive balance is extraordinary, as seven Gators have a possession percentage above 18 percent. UF is shooting a solid 40 percent from beyond the arc while taking 41 percent of its shots from three-point range, contributing to its outstanding overall efficiency.
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SEC M5: 02.12.13 Edition

Posted by DPerry on February 12th, 2013

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  1. Road wins have been hard to come by in the league this season, but after a win over South Carolina on Sunday, Tennessee is no longer in search of its first. “Finally got that road win, great feeling,” coach Cuonzo Martin said Monday. “Getting on the plane after a road win, that was always one of the things I took great pride in as a player.” Jarnell Stokes is presumably feeling pretty great as well. The sophomore posted his fifth straight double-double with 20 points and 10 rebounds, convincing the SEC to name him the conference’s Player of the Week. Stokes was a disappointment in non-conference play, appearing to be lost without his veteran frontcourt mate Jeronne Maymon; but maybe or maybe not coincidentally, Stokes has been a beast ever since a well-placed call from his coach.
  2. Nerlens Noel is unquestionably the best shot-blocker in the SEC, with Kansas’ Jeff Withey serving as his only real competition nationwide (my sincere apologies, Chris Obekpa). Who is better? ESPN Stats & Info took a look at that question. Noel is certainly flashier by taking advantage of his elite athleticism, but he’s “more of a ‘swatter’, liking to block the ball as hard as he can”, whereas Withey’s blocks more often find their way into a teammate’s hands. A weakness of Withey’s, however, is that he uses only his right hand to defend shots. Noel has blocked 61 with his right hand and 42 with his left, a benefit that can be utilized when caught out of position.
  3. Mississippi State head coach Rick Ray addressed the mystery surrounding Jalen Steele’s suspension, calling the junior’s transgression a “selfish act.” “Now you’re taking away a chance for guys to go out and compete and win because you’ve shortened the rotation,” he said Monday. “I think more than anything you’re screwing your team and you’re screwing your teammates when you get into trouble like that.” The loss of Steele for a few games won’t help the Bulldogs on the court, but the stance from his first-year coach is what’s really important. Let’s be honest, Mississippi State, with a roster short on talent as well as bodies, isn’t headed for a successful season. With a full team, they just might be able to sneak into 13th place in the SEC standings. For a program that had more than its fair share of off-the-court issues under previous coach Rick Stansbury, an emphasis on discipline from Ray is necessary for the culture change he desires.
  4. A road trip to Mississippi State doesn’t usually demand maximum attention from opposing coaches, but Frank Haith isn’t overlooking his upcoming trip to Starkville. His Missouri Tigers, who fell out of both the AP and ESPN polls this week, know that Wednesday is the perfect opportunity to finally grab that first true road win. “You look at the numbers, we haven’t defended well on the road, we haven’t shot the ball as well on the road,” Haith said at the SEC teleconference. “We’re still not defending like I would like us to do. That’s all a mental toughness type thing.” Mizzou’s defeat of Ole Miss was its most impressive win of the conference season and they’ll look to build on that momentum before hitting a tough three-game stretch: at Arkansas, vs. Florida in Columbia, and at Kentucky.
  5. Kentucky is looking like the league’s hottest team after winning five straight, but the Wildcats aren’t the only team on a roll. In case you missed it (and I’m guessing you did), the Georgia Bulldogs have a nice little five-game winning streak of their own. Three of those wins have come on the road, which is extra impressive in a season when home court is being defended so fiercely. Unsurprisingly, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has led the way. Since there is no real secondary scoring threat on the roster, defenses key completely on the sophomore guard every moment he’s on the court, but he’s still producing to the tune of 17.5 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. The Bulldogs will try to make it six in a row this week when Alabama comes to town.
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SEC M5: 02.07.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on February 7th, 2013

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  1.  Coach John Calipari expressed his excitement about the return of Willie Cauley-Stein because of the intangibles he brings to the team. “Willie Cauley-Stein was unbelievable,” Calipari said. “He just added energy.” He didn’t just bring energy though. It also helps that the seven foot center added 13 points and six rebounds in the home win over South Carolina. Kentucky desperately needed Cauley-Stein’s defensive rebounding abilities as the Cats slipped to eighth in the SEC in conference only defensive rebounding percentage. With the big guy back in the lineup alongside Nerlens Noel, the Wildcats controlled the boards against the Gamecocks on Tuesday night with almost 80 percent of the available defensive rebounds.
  2. Tennessee guard Jordan McRae maintains that the Vols still believe in their abilities despite a 3-5 start to conference play going into Wednesday night’s clash with Georgia. “Our confidence is still way up,” McRae said. “We still have a ways to go in the SEC, so it’s not over for us.” It was around this time last year when a struggling UT team won eight of its last nine to work its way into the NCAA Tournament bubble conversation. Ultimately, the Vols didn’t make it into the Big Dance, but they built confidence heading into this season. Cuonzo Martin’s squad is in desperate need of a turnaround again this February, but it just doesn’t seem like that momentum swing is on the horizon this time around.
  3. While the state of Mississippi turned its attention to college football National Signing Day, Andy Kennedy and company were focused on trying to break Ole Miss’ two game losing streak. The road to redemption began Wednesday night against rival Mississippi State. “We’re on a two-game losing streak and whether it’s the Mississippi State Bulldogs or the Los Angeles Lakers that comes in here on Wednesday, we got to stop this,” Kennedy said. “We’ve put too much work into this.” The Rebels need to establish a consistent scorer to go along with guard Marshall Henderson. Until that point, Ole Miss’ fate will continue to depend entirely on Henderson’s streaky shot.
  4. Don’t look now, but Georgia entered play Wednesday night on a three game winning streak and winner of four of its last five games. Tennessee’s coach Cuonzo Martin spoke before the teams played on Wednesday night to say he thought the Bulldogs were beginning to click. “They changed some lineups, and now I think they have the right lineup more than anything,” Martin said. “They have not changed what they do. Their system and style is still the same, and their guys are playing with a level of confidence.” Georgia coach Mark Fox went small to attempt to find some offense to surround guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. The tactic appears to be working as the 1.18 points per possession Georgia managed on Saturday against South Carolina was the highest mark it has achieved all season.
  5. Vanderbilt has left the building. That’s the way it felt at least during the last seven minutes of the Commodores’ loss to Alabama on Saturday. The way the game ended seemed to anger easily frustrated coach Kevin Stallings. “It’s hard for me to stay positive anyway because I’m naturally slanted negatively, which is probably my quality that I hate the most,” Stallings said. “I don’t lose sight of the big picture. … The big picture looks good to me. The immediate picture doesn’t look worth a crap.” The immediate picture had the ‘Dores on a three game losing streak entering Wednesday’s game with LSU.
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SEC M5: 02.05.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on February 5th, 2013

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  1. Is Florida the nation’s best team? The Gators checked in at number one in the RTC weekly poll, but number two in the AP poll and USA Today/Coaches poll. But NBC Sports‘ Rob Dauster says it doesn’t matter what the rankings say, Florida is the best team. As Dauster points out, “if the season ended today, Florida would be the best defensive team of the past decade, and they do it playing man, zone and pressing, depending on who they’re playing. But Florida also happens to be the nation’s second-most powerful offense, sliding in between Michigan and Indiana. In other words, Florida is what happens when you take Louisville’s defense and Michigan’s offense and put them onto the same team.” Florida’s combination of offensive and defensive efficiency gives it a net difference of +43.3, which would also be the highest mark in the KenPom era. On paper, the Gators certainly have the look of a champion and its defense is becoming more and more impressive as the season goes on.
  2. The #2 ranking for Florida is its highest ranking since coming in first in the 2007 AP poll, but of course the Gators are not alluding to the high praise as changing anything in their preparation. “It just means that we’re on the right track,” UF center Patric Young said. “We just need to keep working and improving and not take any games for granted. We can’t lose any games right now.” If the Gators weren’t already circled on the calendar by other SEC teams, they surely are now. “Getting more recognition means that we have to be ready for everybody bringing their best shot at us,” Young said. “We’ve just got to take care of what we can control coming in and trying to get better each and every day.” UF travels to Arkansas on Tuesday, where the Razorbacks have only lost to Syracuse this season at Bud Walton Arena.
  3. In their last two losses, the Tennessee Volunteers have amassed over 20 turnovers per game, causing head coach Cuonzo Martin to talk about taking care of the ball. “We have to do a better job of finding shooters and that dribble penetration,” Martin said. “Because eight assists and 20 turnovers – we have to turn that thing around.” It probably didn’t help that UT was without Trae Golden in its most recent loss to Arkansas. Golden was the starting point guard entering the season for the Vols, but he hasn’t started a game since January 9. He has played well coming off the bench, though, and says he will “be back on the court in no time,” (via Twitter).
  4. Kentucky coach John Calipari is looking forward to a couple of games at home this week for his road-weary Wildcats. “I was surprised we were at home this week. We’ve been on the road four of five games. I thought we were just a road team. I didn’t think we played home games, but it’s good to be back. We’re playing two scrappy teams. When you watch them, they fight like heck.” Calipari was referring to Frank Martin’s Gamecocks of South Carolina and former Calipari assistant Tony Barbee’s Auburn Tigers. Both teams will likely get physical with the Wildcats, a style of play that has caused Kentucky a fair amount of trouble this season.
  5. Calipari explained during Monday’s SEC teleconference that point guard Ryan Harrow may begin to lose playing time once center Willie Cauley-Stein returns from injury. On Cauley-Stein’s return, Cal said, “Well, Kyle (Wiltjer) needs to play and Alex (Poythress) needs to play so it will probably take minutes away from Ryan (Harrow) and probably some minutes away from Archie (Goodwin) because if Alex and Kyle deserve to play more because of how they’re playing, well then who’s not… you’ve got to take somebody else out.” But Calipari seemed frustrated when trying to explain what has happened to Harrow recently. “I don’t know. I don’t know. Just gonna keep working with him.” Harrow has averaged almost three turnovers per game since the start of SEC play, and his 26 percent shooting from beyond the arc certainly isn’t helping his case either.
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