SEC M5: 11.26.12 Edition

Posted by KAlmekinder on November 26th, 2012

  1. It probably seems just yesterday for Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings when the Commodores won their first SEC Tournament title in 60 years, or that’s how he would like to remember it. With the departures of all of the starters of that title-winning team, Vanderbilt knew years of rebuilding would be ahead but probably did not expect starting from the ground up. In Friday night’s game versus Marist, a team that has been averaging only 55 points per game this season, the ‘Dores recorded their lowest offensive result since the shot clock era began — 33 points. Stallings was quoted regarding the loss that his guys “are so uptight and have a lack of self-confidence right now.”  Still under indefinite suspension from the team, heralded sophomore guard Dai-Jon Parker was unable to contribute in the Marist loss. Vanderbilt rebounded nicely to beat UTEP on Sunday to close out its participation in the Old Spice Classic, but regardless of the team’s mindset or current suspensions, Stallings now knows how far they have fallen (and how far they have to go) since their league championship in New Orleans last March.
  2. Speaking of suspensions, Missouri‘s Michael Dixon continues to ride the pine for a rules violation until he can show improvement to coach Frank Haith and the rest of his teammates. His support from the bench hasn’t kept him from tweeting his rage about the situation, though. The Columbia (MO) Tribune‘s Steve Walentik reported that Dixon quickly tweeted (and even more quickly deleted said tweet) his innocence after the team’s loss to Louisville in the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament over the weekend. Walentik describes the situation with Dixon, Haith, and the university as pending, and none of the specifics have been released by anyone associated with the university. Meanwhile, former Mizzou guard Kim English, now with the NBA’s Detroit Pistons, defended his former teammate, also on Twitter, by calling out the university’s student committee board ‘a joke’ and believes Dixon’s chances for reinstatement are good and lie with the university chancellor.
  3. The mystery surrounding Kentucky point guard Ryan Harrow’s situation has ceased. Harrow, who practiced Sunday with the team in Lexington, left the squad due to an illness after the Wildcats’ opening-season win versus Maryland and was forced to tend to “a family situation over the holiday break” as soon as he began his recovery. A healthy Harrow back in the lineup alleviates some of the point guard duties for starting shooting guard Archie Goodwin, who played the lead role in Harrow’s absence, and backup point guard Jarrod Polson, as UK prepares for its match-up versus Notre Dame in the SEC/Big East Challenge on Thursday.
  4. In only his two years in Knoxville, Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin has quickly saved what could have been a disastrous next half-decade or more for the Volunteer basketball program. How has he done it? Not only through his tough-minded defense, game planning, and hard work, but also by dreaming big. Brendan Quinn writes a brilliant piece about the struggles Martin faced as he grew up in the drug-laden projects of East St. Louis, Illinois, while his mother, Sandra, encouraged him to “dream big” and act on all the great opportunities life presents. It is this upbringing that Martin has used to not only achieve his personal and professional dreams, but also a reminder to stay humble throughout the more difficult times in his career.
  5. We all gripe and offer our opinions as to certain things should be changed, whether it’s the BCS football system, the current political situation, or just a problem in your local community. But, what about college basketball? An interesting article written by Will Blythe at The New Republic discusses how college basketball has become a ‘dumpster fire’ and how four changes (one-and-done rule, AAU circuit, fouls, and basketball minor leagues) could return the game to the state where it once was from the 1960s to the 1990s. Blythe’s argument is that the coaches and players have lost the loyalty and school spirit that they once had in the game’s “heyday” and these four changes would help restore some of the luster to college basketball across the nation.
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SEC M5: Opening Day Edition

Posted by KAlmekinder on November 9th, 2012

  1. For the third week in a row, a player on an SEC team has been suspended indefinitely. This week’s ‘winner’ is Florida starting point guard Scottie Wilbekin, who joins the list of Missouri’s Michael Dixon (still suspended for Missouri’s game on Friday), Vanderbilt’s Dai-Jon Parker, and Mississippi State’s Shawn Smith of suspended players for indefinite and undisclosed reasons. Rush the Court‘s own Brian Joyce wrote a great piece on how Wilbekin’s suspension could hurt the learning curve of the Gators early this season.
  2.  The preseason Wooden Award list was released on Thursday by the Los Angeles Athletic Club, who has sponsored the Wooden Award for the last 45 years. The SEC was represented well with six players on the list, including: Kenny Boynton (Florida), Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (Georgia), Phil Pressey (Missouri), Jarnell Stokes (Tennessee), BJ Young (Arkansas), and Patric Young (Florida). The Wooden Award list prohibits freshmen from its initial release because the LAAC “has not seen them play on the college level” and thus prevents notable freshman players such as Kentucky‘s Nerlens Noel or Alex Poythress from being included. All transfers and medical redshirt players are also off this exclusive list, but they will have a chance to play their way onto it later this season.
  3. Switching coaching jobs, especially across the country and into a different conference is never easy, but South Carolina’s Frank Martin has handled the move with ease. What has been Martin’s first test as the head coach of the Gamecocks before their first regular season game on Friday? Finding a regular point guard, according to Martin, who recently spoke to Darryl Slater of the Post and Courier (SC) newspaper regarding his options at the position. Junior point guard Bruce Ellington will miss the first half of the season as he wraps up his wide receiver duties with the football team and even more time could be missed until he can learn Martin’s style of play. South Carolina’s best option at this point, as described by Martin, is returnee Eric Smith, who took over the point guard duties for the last 15 games of last season. Smith was described as a more natural fit but will need to work on his consistency to keep his starting job.
  4. Ever wonder why there isn’t a well-documented fantasy college basketball leagues across the country? Well, the witty folks at NBC College Basketball Talk have a solution for your inquiry. They have drafted a league using to track fantasy stats for all of the top college basketball players this season. You can follow them by searching the Twitter hashtag #NBCtheLeague. Let’s hope it turns into the college basketball version of FX’s comedy show The League. Who will play the part of Taco and his explicit ability to sell a special kind of wine?
  5. What should be expected from Tennessee this season? breaks down the potential best and worst-case scenarios for the Vols this season, including the opportunity for a stellar frontcourt combination of Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon in the post. Daniel Martin predicts Cuonzo Martin will get his squad back to the postseason, including a win or two in the NCAA Tournament, and we can’t necessarily disagree with him.
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Preseason SEC Power Rankings

Posted by KAlmekinder on November 7th, 2012

Every week, the SEC microsite will post a composite power ranking list for the league’s performances coupled with a short commentary justifying each team’s specific ranking. This week the rankings are centered around the preseason expectations of each team, including the arrivals, departures, and results of their previous season. With the season officially underway on Friday, here’s your SEC preseason power rankings.

Kentucky tops the first Rush the Court: SEC power rankings (Washington Post)

  1. Kentucky – The playlist is set on repeat as long as Calipari is in Lexington; raw freshmen talent comes in, matures, performs at their highest peak in March, and gets drafted. Don’t expect this year’s squad to match last year’s numbers or expectations. However, Calipari will find a way to get these Cats to mature quickly and be in the hunt for their 48th SEC crown and another Final Four run.
  2. Florida – The Gators return quite a bit from their second Elite Eight run in as many seasons. Their expectations are to reach the Final Four for the first time since winning it all in 2007. While the veteran leadership of Kenny Boynton is a positive, the Gators must get more consistent play from several key role players, including Scottie Wilbekin and Mike Rosario, to reach their goals. The pieces are in place for another deep Gator run.
  3. Missouri –  The island of misfit transfers is located in Columbia, Missouri. Newcomers such as Earnest Ross (Auburn), Keion Bell (Pepperdine), Alex Oriahki (Connecticut), and Jabari Brown (Oregon) all come to Missouri to find a new and hopefully winning experience in the Tigers’ first year in the SEC. With preseason SEC Player of the Year Phil Pressey leading the backcourt as well as Laurence Bowers in the post, Missouri should not only come close to their success of last year but also vie for the school’s first Final Four appearance in history.
  4. Tennessee –  The Volunteers won nearly 20 games last year and earned a postseason NIT berth with first year head coach Cuonzo Martin. Adding freshman phenom forward Jarnell Stokes in January resulted in at least four more wins in the second half of the season. Martin’s defensive style of play, plus Stokes on the team for a full year and senior Jeronne Maymon guarding the post, should cause hopes for a darkhorse run at the SEC title. Read the rest of this entry »
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SEC M5: 11.06.12 Edition

Posted by KAlmekinder on November 6th, 2012

  1. The list of ineligible players in the SEC adds another as Texas A&M’s Shawn Smith was ruled a partial qualifier over the weekend. Smith, a freshman guard on the Aggies’ roster, will only be allowed to practice with the team this season. He will be eligible next season as a redshirt freshman and still have four years of eligibility remaining. Smith joins Missouri’s Michael Dixon and Dominique Bull as well as Dai-Jon Parker from Vanderbilt as the most recent SEC players to be removed from action. Those three suspensions are ongoing and the respective schools have not released any information as to the causes for their sanctions.
  2. The expectations for typical freshmen are usually low but not at a school like Kentucky. John Calipari’s system of high-caliber freshmen coupled with the ridiculous love and support of the Wildcat fans raises the expectations of their freshmen exponentially. Will  Totten at Kentucky Sports Radio wrote a piece comparing the statistics of freshmen in the Calipari era to other freshmen across the country and the reasons why the Wildcat freshmen’s numbers are slightly higher than the national averages. With everything involved with Kentucky basketball, those reasons seem pretty obvious.
  3. After his visit to Auburn where he was quoted by stating he wanted to be “the face of the program,” class of 2013 recruit Austin Nichols will not be committing to any SEC school this fall. Instead, Nichols chose Memphis on Monday over Auburn, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt, becoming the fifth commitment to the Tigers program in the class of 2013. Each of the SEC teams he considered could have significantly benefited from adding a five-star recruit next year, as Kentucky and Florida have recently been the only league programs regularly signing that level of high school talent.
  4. Many coaches have mutual respect for one other, stemming from their success on the court and character off it. But does that respect come from actions that took place in a high school decades ago? Frank Martin thinks it does. Martin, who is in his first year as the head coach at South Carolina, stated in an article that his first college essay was about Alabama head coach Anthony Grant, describing his hard work ethic and humble attitude when both he and Grant attended Miami Senior High School together. The same degree of respect goes the other way from Grant to Martin as well, as Grant has in the past described his relationship with Martin as like a ‘relative,’ stating he has been very close to him in almost every aspect of life.
  5. With a healthy Jeronne Maymon in tow, Tennessee is considered by many as a dark horse pick for the SEC crown. The problem is that Maymon is not healthy. The 6’7″ senior who spent the offseason rehabilitating the second knee surgery of his career is still on the sidelines for the Volunteers with still no timetable for his return. Cuonzo Martin and the rest of his squad is learning how to practice without Maymon in the lineup and are drafting a strategy for the season once he is healthy. With Maymon out, that means more practice time for Quinton Chievous, a redshirt freshman who could take Maymon’s place because of his speed and perimeter shooting. The injury also forces highly touted returning sophomore Jarnell Stokes to take a more pivotal role in the Vols’ game plan as well as providing leadership on and off the court.
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Vanderbilt Guard Dai-Jon Parker Suspended

Posted by KAlmekinder on October 31st, 2012

Coming off its first SEC Tournament title since 1952 and losing a majority of their offense from last season due to the NBA Draft or graduation, Vanderbilt already knew it would have to replace many pieces on this season’s team. Today, they will have to add sophomore guard Dai-Jon Parker to the list because of a non-academic suspension. Head coach Kevin Stallings announced Tuesday that the projected starting shooting guard will be suspended indefinitely because Parker “failed to uphold the high standard that we expect of a Vanderbilt basketball player and will be disciplined accordingly.” Parker and sophomore Kedren Johnson were expected to fill the voids left by Brad Tinsley, John Jenkins, and Jeffery Taylor, all upperclassmen who left after last season due to graduation or to pursue professional careers. The guard trio of Tinsley/Jenkins/Taylor provided Vanderbilt’s most dangerous weapon: 244 three-pointers on a blistering 43% clip and high offensive efficiency numbers. Parker and Johnson, on the other hand, were substituted into the rotation last year with very minimal roles.

Who will replace Dai-Jon Parker in Vanderbilt’s already depleted backcourt?

The departures of Tinsley, Jenkins, and Taylor, as well as experienced defensive big men Festus Ezeli, Lance Goulbourne, and Steve Tchiengang, made up arguably Vanderbilt’s most well-rounded team in the Kevin Stallings era. The Commodores’ offensive efficiency (115.7) ranked #11 in the country while their defensive efficiency (92.7) was solid at #30. Sky-high expectations after winning the SEC Tournament over heavily favored Kentucky  quickly came crashing down when Vanderbilt lost to Wisconsin in the Third Round of last year’s NCAA Tournament, one step short of the school’s first Sweet Sixteen since 2007.

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SEC Transition Basketball: Vanderbilt Commodores

Posted by Brian Joyce on July 10th, 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: Vanderbilt.

State of the Program

The reigning SEC Tournament champions appeared to be on a promising streak preceding the Big Dance. After swatting the proverbial monkey off its back and defeating Harvard in the Round of 64 following three straight first round exits, it was heartache once again for Commodore fans as the team settled well short of expectations. With a trio of NBA level talent and an experienced hoard of role players, 2011-12 was supposed to be the year on which Vandy fans had been waiting. Turnovers, a reliance on the outside shot, and difficulty rebounding marred Kevin Stallings‘ club, and now Vandy looks to be heading into a rebuilding year unfortunately situated in one of the SEC’s strongest years in recent history.

John Jenkins is gone, and so are his NBA bound teammates, Festus Ezeli and Jeffery Taylor

With familiar names such as John Jenkins, Jeffery Taylor, and Festus Ezeli all gone, who does Stallings turn to now? In fact, his top six players in terms of minutes played are gone. The Commodores will rely heavily upon talented yet vastly inexperienced and untested players. The leading returning scorer for the 2012-13 ‘Dores averaged just over three points per game last season. To say there are some question marks about next season is an understatement. As Stallings pointed out in the SEC summer teleconference a few weeks ago, “It is certainly going to be a year of transition for our basketball program. Not one guy who is playing will have ever been in the role he will be assuming for next year’s squad.”  Vanderbilt certainly underperformed last season, but can it now exceed a lowered set of expectations in 2012-13?

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Bracket Prep: Michigan State, Florida State, Vanderbilt, St. Bonaventure, Long Beach State, & New Mexico State

Posted by EJacoby on March 11th, 2012

Selection Sunday is here! We’ve been providing you with summaries of every automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, and this post concludes all of the conference tourney winners. Big Ten, SEC, ACC, A-10, Big West, and WAC were the last ones to complete their championships. Here’s everything you need to know.

Michigan State

Draymond Green is the Force Behind the Spartans' Strong Attack (AP Photo/A. Goldis)

  • Big Ten Champion (27-7, 16-5)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #4/#3/#3
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +17.3
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #1

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. After winning the Big Ten Tournament, expect Michigan State to steal the last #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. There’s nothing that this team hasn’t done to deserve the top line. 27-7 against the #1 strength of schedule, co-champion of the best conference in the country, and Big Ten Champions. This is a classic Tom Izzo team that’s ferocious on the boards and executes efficiently on both offense and defense. The Spartans run through their Big Ten Player of the Year, but this is a deep team that relies on many contributors in different areas. A late season ACL injury to blossoming freshman forward Branden Dawson was horrible news and is potentially devastating. But Dawson was still not much of an offensive factor and the team won the Big Ten Tournament without him, showing an ability to adapt.
  2. Draymond Green is the Big Ten Player of the Year who does everything that you want in a senior star leader. 16.2 points, 10.4 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.5 steals, and 1.0 blocks per game is what Green provides. The 45% field goal percentage doesn’t look great until you realize that Green does much of his work on the perimeter, including hitting the most three-pointers on the team. The rest of this team is loaded with strong athletes and defenders, from the interior duo of Derrick Nix and Adriean Payne to the perimeter players Keith Appling and Brandon Wood, and beyond to the reserves. Appling is crucial to this team as the playmaking point guard with explosive agility to make plays for his teammates and himself.
  3. Most things in March Madness are unpredictable, but one of the few guarantees is that Tom Izzo’s teams will play their best basketball in the NCAA Tournament. This Izzo team is loaded and ready to dance with as difficult a combination to beat as nearly anyone in the country. A +17.3 adjusted scoring margin is the fourth best in the nation, led my MSU’s elite defense. The Spartans allow just 37.7% defensive field goal shooting, the second best in the land. Their 89.9 defensive efficiency also ranks in the top 10. Throw in their own 47.7% field goal shooting, and this team’s shooting percentage disparity is fantastic, which is always a top formula for success. Their 55.2% rebound percentage is top 10 in the nation, as well. The numbers look great for Michigan State. But this team just lost its best athlete to the ACL injury and it doesn’t have the amount of elite scorers that a usual #1 seed does. Instead, this team is so efficient defensively that it will be difficult to knock off. Teams that gave Michigan State trouble were those that caught fire from the outside while holding their own defensively, like Indiana. Expect an awesome clash of styles between MSU and its opponent in a Sweet Sixteen matchup, if it can avoid an upset from the 8-9 seed, or 10-7 seed if it receives a #2 seed.

Florida State

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SEC Morning Five: Thanksgiving Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on November 24th, 2011


  1. Alabama’s 6-0 start has put the college basketball community on full alert. Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports writes about the ten things that have impressed him so far in this early season, and Alabama’s solid play is the first mention. He cites the excellent defense from Anthony Grant‘s Crimson Tide and assertiveness of forward Tony Mitchell. Mitchell and his thunderous dunks have been impressive thus far, helping this Alabama squad enter the discussion as one of the SEC’s best teams, an exclusive club of which they were not a member in the preseason. Grant’s exciting athletes and intense defense has brought praise not only for the Crimson Tide, but the legitimacy of the Southeastern Conference.
  2. But don’t get too comfortable, Alabama fans. The injury bug that has hit multiple SEC teams thus far is headed to Tuscaloosa. JaMychal Green was held out of Wednesday’s game Alabama A&M with a hip pointer. And the Tide’s leading scorer, Mitchell, left the game on crutches. The Daily Bama Blog reports that Mitchell’s injury appears to be only a sprained ankle.  “When it happened I’m sure it was painful, but I think our medical staff will do a great job making sure he’s healthy,” coach Grant said. A huge sigh of relief for Alabama as both Mitchell and Green are crucial to the Tide’s success. Alabama returns to action Sunday against VCU, and both players should be back in action.
  3. The guys at Anchor of Gold spent some time praising Jeffery Taylor’s outstanding defensive presence. Taylor was assigned to Oregon State star Jared Cunningham who was coming off a 35-point effort against Hofstra and a 37-point massacre of Texas. When Taylor matched up with Cunningham one-on-one, Cunningham went 2-6 and managed 7 points in 28 minutes of action. Defensive specialist Dai-Jon Parker spelled Taylor for spurts and held Cunningham to 2 points in 8 minutes. Taylor and Parker’s perimeter defense remains key to Vanderbilt‘s success this season. A number of athletic and high scoring guards from Kentucky, Florida, and others will come into Nashville this season, and Taylor will need to repeat his “ferocious” defensive effort for the Commodores to continue to string together victories.
  4. John Calipari‘s Kentucky Wildcats played a little 2-3 zone in their 88-40 route of Radford on Wednesday night. “I think it’s something that we need to think about doing some,” Calipari said. “And we’ve got to get better than we are right now.” A zone could be a viable option on defense for the Cats because of Kentucky’s length and athleticism.  “I don’t see us giving up wide-open shots because we’re so big,” Calipari said about the possibilities of playing more zone. “I would probably do it with a big lineup so that every shot is a contested shot.” Kentucky has just over a week and a half to figure out what defense to play before the Cats take on the number one ranked North Carolina Tar Heels.
  5. It’s an abbreviated Morning Five today as we encourage you to enjoy the holiday. And of course, enjoy lots and lots of college basketball. Happy Thanksgiving to all SEC fans. May your dunks be thunderous and your defense be ferocious.
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SEC Morning Five: 11.18.11 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on November 18th, 2011

  1. Arkansas forward Marshawn Powell is becoming accustomed to the spotlight and being the leader of a young Arkansas squad. This is a new role for Powell as he was out most of last year with an injury. “The whole deal with me last year was my foot was still bothering me a whole lot,” Powell said. “It is fixed now and I enjoy my coach, the guy that I am playing for. My team, they make it comfortable for me. They have put me in a leader position and I have tried my best to uphold it.” Not only has Powell been a leader for the Razorbacks in the locker room, but he is leading on the court as well. In two games so far this year, Powell has averaged 19.5 PPG and six RPG. If he can continue that kind of production for coach Mike Anderson, Arkansas will be able to score with anybody in the SEC.
  2. Vanderbilt blog Anchor of Gold has been impressed with the play of Commodore freshman Kedren Johnson. Johnson’s defense has drawn praise from Vandy fans, but it seems he is coming along with his offensive skills as well. Johnson finished the game against Bucknell with 12 points on 5-7 shooting, three rebounds and two assists in 24 minutes of play. Vanderbilt may not necessarily need additional scoring once they are completely healthy, but it is refreshing for ‘Dores fans to know that Johnson can become a viable option off the bench. The guys at AOG were not as sold on the development of Dai-Jon Parker. While they acknowledged that he played “impressive in spurts,” they went on to point out that “he also chucked up ten shots and missed all but two of them – including a 1-7 performance from behind the line.” Vanderbilt needs the defensive pressure that both guards are able to bring on the court, however neither of the freshmen can afford to become a detriment on offense.
  3. Kansas coach Bill Self has divulged the secret to beating Kentucky. Self thinks it’s important against the athletic and quick Cats to slow down the pace of the game, utilizing the full 35-second shot clock. This approach could minimize the Wildcats’ ability to get easy fast break points.  “I’d imagine most teams are going to try to do that to us,” said Kentucky coach John Calipari. But Coach Cal felt that his team could also play a grind-it-out style of play. In fact, the young Wildcats slowed the game down in the second half against the Jayhawks on Tuesday night, and looked quite aggressive throughout the game. Anthony Davis and Terrence Jones played physically against the Kansas big men, with Davis recording seven blocks and Jones pulling down seven rebounds. Both players accumulated four personal fouls, which is usually an indication of physical and active play on the low block.
  4. Former Kentucky guard Brandon Knight’s mom is writing a book detailing Knight’s recruitment and time at Kentucky. According to Kentucky Sports Radio, Knight’s mom kept a diary throughout her son’s rise to high school stardom, and she is ready to tell all. A preview came out where she recounts a conversation with Kansas coach Bill Self. “Kansas came to visit today. Coach Bill Self’s opening line was as follows. ‘Brandon, I didn’t recruit you, and quite frankly, I don’t deserve to be here.’ Huh? So I had to ask him that if he didn’t think he deserved to be in my house, why was he there? I think he was surprised that I called him out. He gave me a line of crap (which I don’t even remember) and went on with his presentation. I don’t know if I like him.” It sounds like the juicy details from Momma Knight’s diary are going to be must-read. It is somewhat surprising that with the seedy underbelly of recruiting that currently exists that more parents and players haven’t cashed in on tell-all books about the process.
  5. Jeronne Maymon is working on his post play and toughness for the Tennessee Volunteers. The 6’7″, 255-pound forward says, “I want to just continue to be physical, continue to be the dirtiest player on the floor. Not the dirtiest as far as technical fouls and nasty play… but just being mean, rugged, the toughest player out there… taking charges, making open shots and making free throws. That’s what I’m trying to do.” The new attitude appears to be working as Maymon is averaging 13 points and 7.5 rebounds per game this year. In his last game against Louisiana-Monroe, Maymon recorded a double double with 11 points and 11 rebounds. Coach Cuonzo Martin has a tough, hard-nosed approach to practice, and it appears it is quickly rubbing off on his players and their style of play. Tennessee may not have the talent to be among the elite in the SEC, but they certainly appear to have the resolve and toughness to make a run to string together wins in conference play.
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Set Your TiVo: 11.11.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on November 11th, 2011

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

We had a few games earlier in the week to whet our appetite but the main course of college basketball is served tonight. One hundred thirty-one games tip off this evening in what is really the true opening night of the season. Of course, the night is highlighted by the Carrier Classic in San Diego. Let’s get to it.

#1 North Carolina vs. Michigan State (at San Diego, CA) – 7:00 PM EST on ESPN (****)

Izzo and Williams Are All Smiles Heading Into the Inaugural Carrier Classic

  • The preseason #1 Tar Heels feature arguably the best front court in the nation with Tyler Zeller, John Henson and freshman James McAdoo. The length of the UNC front line, especially Henson, will make it incredibly difficult for Michigan State to score the basketball in the paint but the Tar Heels should also use their height as an advantage offensively. Michigan State will likely try to make this a half court game in order to limit Carolina’s transition attack. North Carolina did not shoot the ball particularly well last season so maximizing their chances inside could be advantageous if the Spartans successfully turn this into a slower-paced contest. Everyone knows Roy Williams likes to run (we’ll certainly see that) but UNC has the potential to thrive in the half court game with a good floor general in Kendall Marshall and an uber-talented front line that can score, rebound and block shots. They’re a tough matchup for anyone but especially a Michigan State team with an inexperienced and thin big man rotation.
  • For Tom Izzo and Michigan State, Draymond Green may have to do it all. He’s a stat sheet stuffer extraordinaire but we expect Green to have a difficult time getting in the paint against the tall and patient Carolina defense. Green was only a 42.6% shooter from the floor last season, down significantly from his freshman and sophomore campaigns in East Lansing. As a senior, Green has to be the coach on the floor while simultaneously taking control of the game in order for State to have a chance. Valparaiso transfer Brandon Wood bolsters Izzo’s back court and he’ll have to be counted on right away to provide a spark from three-point land. Michigan State is not going to beat North Carolina inside or in transition so you have to figure it’ll be up to Green, Wood and Keith Appling to knock down shots from long range.
  • The other aspect to this game, obviously, is the USS Carl Vinson itself. Neither team was a good jump shooting unit last year so the depth perception and sightlines of this unique venue could play a huge role. Even the elements, such as the slightest gust of wind, could be enough to alter a shot. North Carolina will run and look for easy baskets behind Marshall’s exquisite court vision and playmaking ability, a transition attack that may be fueled by Michigan State turnovers. The Spartans turned the ball over at an alarming rate last season, especially in the early months. If that continues, they don’t have a chance tonight. So many things have to go right for Michigan State to pull the upset but there are a lot of intangibles in play from the venue to the weather to the pressure of playing in such a setting and more. North Carolina should win, but regardless, this looks like a terrific way to open up the season.

Belmont @ #6 Duke – 9:00 PM EST on ESPNU (***)

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