How Historically Great is This Year’s Kentucky Team?

Posted by EJacoby on February 27th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. 

Last week included much debate about some of the all-time great teams in college basketball. First, we released our RTC Mount Rushmore of the most significant people in NCAA basketball history, which featured discussion about the leaders of several great programs. Then, CBSSports.com released their ballots ranking the 16 greatest teams in college history, followed by our own Joshua Weill highlighting Rodrick Rhodes and his (lack of) impact on the 1996 Kentucky ‘Untouchables,’ the team ranked third all-time by CBS. Meanwhile, this year’s Kentucky Wildcats won another impressive conference road game over Mississippi State and outlasted Vanderbilt on Saturday to improve its record to 28-1 overall and 14-0 in SEC play. All of this got us to thinking: How historically great is this year’s Kentucky squad compared to some of its contemporaries? Let’s take a look at how John Calipari’s team matches up to some dominant modern teams.

How Strong is this Year's Kentucky Team, Historically? (AP Photo/ J. Crisp)

If it weren’t for Christian Watford’s buzzer-beating three on December 10, Kentucky would be 28-0 right now and in the discussion to go undefeated. Instead, Indiana got the win that day and quieted the Wildcats’ buzz for an extended period. Forward Terrence Jones had just four points, one rebound, and six turnovers in that game, concerning many fans that the team could not reach its potential without its go-to offensive guy playing at his highest level. But since that game, UK has cruised in its 14 conference games and Jones has been just fine, averaging 12.2 points and 6.7 rebounds in SEC play. Those numbers are way down from last season and far from the dominance we all expected, but with five other stars on the team this hasn’t been an issue. Shooting 49.6% with just 1.8 turnovers per game, Jones has been quite alright.

The rest of this Kentucky lineup is filled with pros at every position. Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Doron Lamb, and Darius Miller all average double-figure scoring on the season, while freshman point guard Marquis Teague is at 9.6 points and 4.7 assists per game on the year. The three freshmen — Davis, Gilchrist, and Teague — are all projected NBA lottery picks according to DraftExpress.com, while sophomores Jones and Lamb are expected to be selected in the first round as well whenever they declare. The senior leader Miller may very well find his way onto an NBA roster too, as he is currently a top 25 available senior as ranked by DraftExpress.

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SEC Morning Five: 02.24.12 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on February 24th, 2012

  1. Florida received bad news with the report that forward Will Yeguete is likely out for the remainder of the season with a broken foot. Yeguete was sidelined twice already this season, both for concussions. Billy Donovan confirmed the news that the foot is indeed broken and that Yeguete will miss a minimum of four to six weeks. Yeguete was averaging 6.3 rebounds and 4.5 points so far this season. Donovan will likely attempt to replace the defensive stopper with a committee of younger players. Freshman Cody Larson will probably see increased minutes, and Donovan has the option of playing additional guards in that forward slot to go with a smaller lineup.
  2. Florida failed to impress Donovan with Yeguete out of the lineup. In Tuesday’s matchup with Auburn, the Gators trailed 30-27 at halftime. Donovan had a spirited address in the locker room to spark an eventual 63-47 win. What did Donovan say? “My thing to them was, if Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem and Matt Bonner and Kenyan Weeks and Brett Nelson and Joakim Noah and Al Horford are watching right now, what’s their feeling like,” Donovan asked. “ Those guys gave their heart and soul to this program and that’s the way you’re representing our program right now with your effort, your focus and everything else? Beyond that, what do your families think right now?” The players obviously responded, and some even felt it was needed. “He needed to get on us, and I think it helped us,” guard Kenny Boynton said. One can only hope for the players sake that Donovan doesn’t have to get on them again.
  3. Coaches always preach the importance of free throws, but the discrepancy in Thursday night’s matchup between South Carolina and Vanderbilt definitely made the difference in the game. Vanderbilt made 25 of 28 free throws while the Gamecocks went four for four. “You’re not winning any games when the other team shoots 28 free throws and you shoot four,” South Carolina coach Darrin Horn said. “It’s just not going to happen.” The other reason for Vanderbilt’s win was its team defense. The Gamecocks were the third SEC opponent that the Commodores held under 50 points.
  4. A big question surrounding the SEC right now pertains to the number of teams that will end up making it into the NCAA Tournament. Florida coach Billy Donovan thinks more thanjust Kentucky, Florida, and Vanderbilt should make it in.”The league is definitely stronger, and you can tell that from the fact that there aren’t a lot of games separating us,” said Donovan. “Other than Kentucky, which is undefeated, all of us are within a game or two of each other. So, certainly there are more than three teams that deserve to be in this tournament.” However, while Alabama and Mississippi State continue on a downward spiral, it will be difficult to make the case that more than four or five should make it in comfortably. Not everyone agrees though.”Look at Tennessee; look at Arkansas. Those are teams that could get on a tear and win our tournament,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “At that point, we’ve got six teams in. And it’s six teams that can advance. It’s not like having seven teams in and only two advance past the first round. We have six teams that could win some games.”
  5. Kentucky senior Darius Miller took a major leadership role in the final minutes of a close game against Mississippi State. Miller didn’t make a single shot in the first 32 minutes of play, but scored 12 points in the final eight minutes with a slight nudge from his coach. ”I’m saying, ‘You’re out, next guy, I’m not going to play you,’” coach John Calipari said of the Miller benching. “Then he went back in, and he’s bombing balls. That’s what I said, ‘You’re that senior. You’re that glue to this team. They count on you to make those shots.’” Miller was key down the stretch last year in the Wildcats run to an SEC tournament title and NCAA Final Four run.
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SEC Morning Five: 02.09.12 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on February 9th, 2012

  1. After witnessing his team getting dismantled in Lexington by the Kentucky Wildcats, Florida coach Billy Donovan had high praise for coach John Calipari’s squad. “The one thing I like about their team is I love their disposition on the floor,” he said. “There’s a certain disposition you have to have and I’m not talking about an arrogance or a cockiness, but there’s like a focus level in terms of what really goes into winning at that level. There’s a mentality there.” Donovan is a good source on this year’s championship. Not only did he lead the Gators to two straight national championships in 2006 and 2007, but Florida has played the top three teams in the country, all on the road. He even offered up a nice prediction for basketball fans in April. Billy the Kid says he would love to see Kentucky and Syracuse play in the title game. “It would be a heck of a game,” Donovan said. And after last year’s anti-climatic performance, it’s a game that would be great for the sport of college basketball as well.
  2. Anybody who watched Kentucky’s rout of the seventh-ranked Gators on Tuesday can attest that this could be a championship year for the Cats. Despite being loaded with talent throughout his college coaching career, including making a Final Four run last year, this is John Calipari’s best team. The different between this team, and say, Calipari’s 2009-10 club that had five first round NBA draft picks, is that Kentucky has players experienced in Cal’s system. Calipari is well-known for his utilization of freshmen players who bolt for the NBA after one season. He has a couple of likely 1-and-dones in Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who happen to be two of the best players in the nation, but he adds a level of comfort and experience that his previous teams have not typically possessed. Three returning players (Doron Lamb, Darius Miller and Terrence Jones) give Calipari a complete team that knows his expectations and appears to be coming together at just the right time.
  3. Another key to the Wildcats’ latest successes has been the development of freshman point guard Marquis Teague. Luke Winn of Sports Illustrated charts how Teague’s shot and turnover percentages have declined over the course of the season. Against Florida on Tuesday, Teague finished with 12 points, 10 assists and five turnovers. His recent success, and thus the improvement of Kentucky’s offense, is attributed to him finding a comfortable role as a supporting player. “We enjoy winning, so if I’ve got to take less shots for us to win, that’s what I’m going to do,” he said. And as long as he continues to find open teammates and improve his shot selection, Kentucky won’t just continue winning, but will continue winning big.
  4. Just when it appeared that Vanderbilt was hitting its stride after some early season struggles, the Commodores have lost three of their last four SEC games. And with a tough stretch ahead, including a College Gameday matchup with Kentucky on Saturday, there is at least some question as to whether or not the ‘Dores are a lock for the NCAA Tournament.“We’re not playing great right now, but I definitely think we’re a tournament team,” forward Jeffery Taylor said. Coach Kevin Stallings agreed. “If we stay healthy enough and we do what we’re supposed to do in our preparation, then we’ll be in the tournament,” he said. For the record, I think Vandy will make the Tournament, and I even think they will finally make it out of the first round. However, the fact that we are even having this conversation indicates just how far the Commodores have fallen from lofty preseason expectations that had them competing for an SEC title and contending for a Final Four in March.
  5. Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin doesn’t necessarily need forward Jeronne Maymon to score points. Martin is looking for an increased toughness from his leader, and the numbers will follow. “I don’t think it’s so much being asked to score,” Maymon said. “I just think it’s about going out there and trying to lead, in a way. Play tough defense, talk and be vocal — that’s all Coach [Cuonzo] Martin really stresses. He really doesn’t stress point totals.” Maymon’s 19 rebounds against Auburn signify exactly the sort of toughness that his coach is looking for. “Coach Martin loves tough guys and guys that go out there and play their heart out,” he said. “That’s mainly what I’m about.”
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SEC Morning Five: 02.08.12 Edition

Posted by EMoyer on February 8th, 2012

  1. In their first game without Tony Mitchell, Alabama handled Auburn, winning the first round of basketball version of the Iron Bowl. On CapstoneReport.com, one writer praises the move by head coach Anthony Grant: “Mitchell is the Tide’s second leading scorer and second on the team in rebounds. But Mitchell leads the team and possibly the SEC in several other undesirable categories: Like pouting when something doesn’t go his way; Playing soft defense, if he plays it at all; Flailing around on the floor like a soccer player after receiving just a bump or scratch; And in making a jackass of himself in front of thousands of onlookers.”
  2. Shuan Smith’s recovery from major hip surgery at Mississippi State has head coach Rick Stansbury looking to give Smith more quality minutes over the final two months of the season. ”There’s no reason he can’t (give five to eight minutes a game) against everybody,” Stansbury said Monday in the Commercial Dispatch. “If he hadn’t been hurt, I think we’d be way beyond that point, but just because of his situation that’s where we’re at right now.”
  3. Even before Kentucky throttled Florida on Tuesday, Mike Miller of NBCSports.com wrote about the ever-improving Wildcats. He writes ”the ‘Cats are outscoring opponents by an average of .28 points per possession, meaning they basically beat everyone by about 18 points…It starts with the defense. Kentucky has the game’s most intimidating shot-blocker (Anthony Davis, with apologies to Fab Melo), its most versatile defender (freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist), a bruiser who does a little of everything (Terrence Jones) and guys who can fill roles as needed (everyone needs a Darius Miller).”
  4. Already moving on to Saturday’s showdown in Nashvillle, David Boclair writes about the contrasting philosophies between Kentucky and Vanderbilt. “Vanderbilt, after all, has put together its most promising team in decades with patience and persistence. Players have stayed in the program, so the current roster includes five scholarship seniors (one of them in his fifth year) and a junior…Kentucky, conversely, likes to rely on one-and-done superstars. Under current coach John Calipari, one of the sport’s legendary programs has made great use of players such as John Wall, Brandon Knight, DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe, who show up, play one season and promptly jump to the NBA.”
  5. A FoxSportsTennessee.com stories analyzes how turnovers have put the  Commodores in a difficult spot following back-to-back losses. “We didn’t do a very good job of attacking their press, and it was disruptive,” coach Kevin Stallings said of Vandy’s play against the Gators. “We did a poor job with our spacing and our ball-handling, and it caused problems.” Home games vs LSU, and of course Kentucky, could put Vanderbilt back on track to locking up a first-round bye in next month’s SEC Championship.
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Set Your TiVo: 02.07.12

Posted by bmulvihill on February 7th, 2012

Brendon Mulvihill is an RTC contributor. You can find him @themulv on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

Florida at Kentucky – 7:00PM EST on ESPN HD (*****)

The biggest SEC showdown of the season is upon us. Football is done and college hoops takes center stage until the end of March. Hold on to your hats folks, it’s going to be awesome!

How will Patric Young fair against the best shot blocker in the nation, Anthony Davis?

  • There has been a lot of chatter recently about whether or not Florida is overrated. Tonight will determine if that talk comes to an end, as they face the best team in the SEC and the number one ranked team in the country in Lexington. One area in which the Gators are not overrated is on offense. They are second in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency, #4 in eFG%, and #9 in offensive turnover rate. If you can hit shots and limit turnovers, you can beat anybody. Interestingly, Florida’s four losses were also their four highest turnover games (based on turnover rate). Keep a close eye on Kentucky’s ability to turn the Gators over. As good as the Wildcat defense is, it does not frequently cause turnovers. Less turnovers will certainly mean more three-point attempts for the Gators, who are taking 44% of their shots from downtown. If the Gators can convert threes with those added opportunities, they have a chance to take down the top team in the nation.
  • Kentucky is #1 for a reason. They are third in adjusted offensive efficiency and seventh in adjusted defensive efficiency in the nation, and they have only gotten better in conference play. Their only loss on the season was a buzzer-beater on the road at Indiana. The match-up between Anthony Davis of Kentucky and Patric Young of Florida will get a great deal of attention, as it should. The battle down low will certainly be fun to watch. Keep an eye on the overall edge in size that Kentucky has on Florida. While Young is certainly a beast, Kentucky can throw size at the Gators all day with the likes of 6’9” Terrence Jones, 6’9” Kyle Wiltjer, 6’8” Darius Miller, and 6’7” Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
  • The difference in the game will be on the defensive end. Kentucky has one of the top defenses in the country and Florida does not. It will take a special performance from the Gator defense to stop Kentucky on offense. As long as the Wildcats can play strong half court defense as they have all season, they will remain undefeated in the SEC after tonight.

Other Games to Watch:

Do yourself a favor and focus on Florida and Kentucky.

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2014

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Kentucky’s Youth and Inexperience: Does It Matter?

Posted by KDoyle on January 25th, 2012

Kevin Doyle is an RTC correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @KLDoyle11. He filed this report from the Kentucky-Georgia game in Athens Tuesday night.

Shortly after the Top 25 poll was released for the week of January 23, Kentucky head coach John Calipari was no doubt a bit uneasy seeing his Wildcats perched atop of the rankings. In Kentucky’s first stint as the #1-ranked team in America back in December, they fell to an upstart Indiana team in what has been, without question, the game of the season to date. The Wildcats led in the final minute, but two late missed free throws allowed the Hoosiers to have one final shot to win it and the rest, as they say, is history. Fast forward a month and a half and 11 games — all UK victories, by the way — and Kentucky found themselves in a similar position. In an article released by The Louisville Courier-Journal recently, Calipari explains how experiencing adversity and knowing what it feels like to lose again may not be the worst thing in the world:

I did tell them the way this is going, we probably need a loss so that we’ll come together and say, ‘We’re not losing like this.’ In other words, getting manhandled. We’re getting manhandled and winning close games, so they think it’s OK. So my thing is, let’s take it on the chin. Now whatcha gonna do? You going to say it’s OK? I don’t think they’re going to say it’s OK.

In last night’s contest at Stegeman Coliseum before a sold-out crowd of Georgia fans (although Big Blue Nation certainly made their presence felt), Kentucky was the team that did, as Calipari would call it, “the manhandling.” It was not the most aesthetically pleasing basketball game to watch as the teams combined for a mere 101 points, but Kentucky powered their way to a comfortable 13-point victory, 57-44. Georgia hung around for much of the first half, but after the under-four media timeout Kentucky exerted their will and coasted. The Bulldogs never got within single digits in the second half.

The Unibrow Is a Dominant Defender Only Scratching the Surface of His Ability

Looking back at Cal’s remarks, it is easy to side with him and say that a tough loss may be good for team morale as it would ostensibly rally the squad together and force them to refocus. He can say that the target is even bigger on their backs now since they are riding a 12-game winning streak, undefeated in the SEC, one of only three 20+ game winners, and the #1 team in the country. But, let’s be honest, they are the University of Kentucky — Big Blue Nation — the target is always on their back and every time they step on the floor the spotlight is squarely on Cal & Co. Would a loss change Kentucky’s mindset as to how they approach a future game?

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SEC Morning Five: 01.23.12 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 23rd, 2012

  1. Jarnell Stokes has already been a huge factor for the Tennessee Volunteers, just three games into his collegiate career. It was Stokes’ 16 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks that helped the Vols defeat the defending national champion Connecticut Huskies on Saturday. Teammates certainly see the benefit of having him around. “Oh, gosh,” said junior guard Skylar McBee. “It’s great having Jarnell. He’s such a big presence in there.” Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin saw enough in Stokes’ first two games to grant him his first career start against UConn. “He had some breakdowns defensively,” said Martin, “which is expected because he’s learning as we go. But I thought his energy, his toughness, his will to receive the ball and desire to score the ball really helped us get over the hump.” The addition of Stokes could be too late to gain any traction for the NCAA Tournament this season. The Vols are 9-10 overall, and 1-3 in conference play. However can Martin and Tennessee talk Stokes into one more year in Knoxville with all the attention he is receiving for his positive play?
  2. Senior Darius Miller has proven to be a reliable free throw shooter in the clutch for John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats. Miller was 4-of-4 in the final minute of Kentucky’s 77-71 win over Alabama Saturday, making him a perfect 6-of-6 in the final three minutes on the season. Freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had nothing but praise for the veteran. “He is everything. He is [one of] the only seniors on this team, and he means a lot.” Miller picked a great game to step up at the charity stripe. Kentucky shot just 36.4% from the free throw line in the first half.
  3. Free throws were a big factor in another SEC game this weekend. Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury felt the number of free throw attempts by his Bulldogs were key in their overtime win against Vanderbilt. “They shoot nine free throws and make five and we shoot 21 free throws,” Stansbury said. “That tells you that ball is being drove to the paint and thrown to the paint. We’re playing without creating a bunch of silly fouls. You’ve got to do that on the road to have a chance.” The Bulldogs finished with 14 points from the foul line, which was nine more than Vanderbilt.
  4. While there was a large discrepancy in made free throws, Vanderbilt had an opportunity to beat Mississippi State in overtime. Actually, they had three opportunities. Point guard Brad Tinsley was forced into two ill-advised shots because of the Bulldogs’ ability to cover up offensive threats John Jenkins and Jeffery Taylor. First, Tinsley took a three-pointer with the shot clock winding down, and then drove into the lane for a possession that the Commodores would love to have back. Tinsley shouldn’t receive all of the blame here though. The Vanderbilt blog, Anchor of Gold, says, “The ultimate failure here was pushing forward with a bad shot rather than resetting, regrouping, and using the team’s final timeout.” This isn’t the first time Kevin Stallings‘ management of late-game situations has been questioned. And for good reason. Vandy has lost its last six overtime games. Perhaps declaring the Commodores’ turnaround as an elite team was slightly premature.
  5. Arkansas‘ victory over Michigan was quite the statement for the Razorbacks, but the home court advantage provided by Bud Walton Arena makes the Razorbacks tough to beat at home. The atmosphere at Saturday’s game had to give Razorbacks fans visions of the mid-1990s. Arkansas coach Mike Anderson agrees that Bud Walton provides an automatic advantage. “That atmosphere, with our players it takes us up eight or 10 points,” Anderson said. Arkansas is 14-0 at home this season, with home games against Vanderbilt, Florida and Alabama coming up in the month of conference play.
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Where Does Darius Miller Rank on Kentucky’s Fan Favorite List?

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 4th, 2012

Darius Miller became the 58th player to join Kentucky’s 1,000 point club on Tuesday night. His 15 points against Arkansas-Little Rock pushed him up to #56 on the Wildcats’ all-time scoring list. As a Kentucky native and fourth year player, Miller should be higher than 56th on Kentucky fans’ all time favorite players list, right? However, the 6’7″ senior has drawn the ire of much of Big Blue Nation with his inconsistent and often frustrating play, earning him the nickname of “Disappearious Miller” with certain sections of the fanbase.

Darius Miller's numbers suggest he is a Wildcat legend... but will Wildcat fans revere him as such?

His rank, as far as scoring is concerned, is clearly defined amongst UK’s all time greats. What is less certain, is where does Miller stand as far as a UK fan favorite?

“It’s an honor to be a part of something like this, especially in the type of program that we are in,” Miller said after the game regarding his recent inclusion in the prestigious scoring club. “It feels good and I’m excited about it. I am just blessed be a part of something like this.” But Miller isn’t done moving up the ranks. If he continues his current average of 10.6 points per game as a senior, he would score 169 points throughout the remainder of the regular season. Let’s assume that the Wildcats advance to the SEC Tournament championship giving him three additional games and 31 more points. That would put Miller at 1,210 career points and land him at #40 all time on Kentucky’s career scoring list between UK fan favorite Chuck Hayes and the oft-maligned Rodrick Rhodes. Fittingly, somewhere between all-time great and cursed and forgotten may be Miller’s unfortunate place in Wildcat lore and fans’ hearts as well. If UK were to meet its expectations of competing for an eighth national title, Miller would play an additional six games giving him an additional 63 points. That would put Miller at #32 all-time. Not bad for a kid from Maysville, Kentucky, coming off the bench for teams with loads of future NBA players.

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SEC Full Court Press: The Dawn of A New Year

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 3rd, 2012

The SEC Full Court Press is a quick hitting review of my thoughts and observations from the last week, as well as a look ahead.

The Week That Was:

  • Anthony Davis scored all 18 of his points and grabbed six of his rebounds in the second half of Kentucky’s win over Louisville.
  • Kentucky shot 29.8% and turned the ball over 21 times in that game. And the Wildcats still won.
  • 52 fouls were called in the annual rivalry game making the game choppy from start to end.
  • Florida lost to Rutgers on Thursday night, and the Scarlet Knights turned around and lost to USF on Sunday. That’s just how college basketball goes.
  • Is it ever too early to start the Bubble Watch? At least two surprise SEC teams could be in contention for an NCAA bid with a couple of quality wins. LSU currently has an RPI of #79 while Ole Miss is at #42. You may remember that Alabama was left out last year with an RPI of #80. LSU and Ole Miss have significant work left to do, but will have plenty of chances in conference play.
  • Vanderbilt held Marquette to 32.2% shooting in its 74-57 win. And people (myself included) said the Commodores couldn’t play defense? They obviously can, but will they show up every game?
  • Vanderbilt’s Jeffery Taylor has performed well above his averages in the month of December. This past month, Taylor averaged 23 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 2.4 steals per game. Can he keep it up?
  • The Commodores beat top-15 team Marquette last week, and turned around and struggled at home against 4-8 Miami of Ohio. It appears that this is just the type of team that Vanderbilt will be this year — terribly inconsistent. That’s a bad habit to have going into NCAA tournament time.
  • Renardo Sidney was 5-of-6 from the field when he was on the court for Mississippi State against Baylor on December 28. He was limited to only 19 minutes of action. As has been said all season long, Sidney needs to find a way to be in the game for his team but that means overcoming both conditioning and attitude issues.

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SEC Full Court Press: Week of 12.18.11 – 12.25.11

Posted by Brian Joyce on December 27th, 2011

The SEC Full Court Press is a quick hitting review of my thoughts and observations from the last week, as well as a look ahead.

The Week That Was:

  • LSU is quietly on a six-game winning streak after beating #10 ranked Marquette and North Texas this past week. Could the Tigers (9-3, RPI of 53) give the SEC an unexpected sixth team in the NCAA Tournament? A January 2 match-up with Virginia is shaping up to be a much bigger game than anticipated as this could be a huge resume building win for the Tigers.
  • Speaking of LSU, center Justin Hamilton has stepped up his play as of late. Hamilton is averaging 13.8 points and eight rebounds per game over his last four contests.
  • Freshman Johnny O’Bryant recorded his first double-double of his career in the Tigers’ win over North Texas on Thursday. O’Bryant scored 11 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.
  • The 48.3% field goal percentage Florida shot in its win over Florida State was the highest shooting percentage the Seminoles have given up all year, showcasing why this Florida team is one of the best in the country. In this classic battle of offense versus defense, offense won.
  • Kentucky‘s win over Loyola on Thursday has given the Wildcats the longest home win streak in the country at 42 games dating back to March of 2009. The Cats have not lost a game at Rupp Arena in the John Calipari era.
  • It isn’t all about the freshmen in Lexington. With Terrence Jones out of the lineup with a dislocated finger, senior Darius Miller has risen to the occasion. This week, Miller averaged 15 points, 3.5 rebounds, and four assists per game.
  • We noted Tennessee‘s putrid three-point defense in the latest edition of Freeze Frame. The Volunteers are allowing opponents to shoot 40.3% from beyond the arc, which is 327th in the nation. Tennessee did slightly better this week, holding both opponents under 40%.
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Checking In On… the SEC

Posted by Gerald Smith on December 14th, 2011

Gerald Smith (@fakegimel) is the RTC correspondent for the Southeastern Conference. 

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

  • That’s Why You’re Mad: Kentucky was seeing red on Saturday as they dropped a game to Indiana. Coaches across the country (especially in the SEC) had a good look at the blueprint to upset Big Blue: Hot outside shooting, strong post play, and good interior defensive positioning to take charges on driving Wildcats. Much has been made about Terrence Jones‘ malaise and Marquis Teague‘s resurgence. Although the Wildcats have plenty of time to lick their wounds the pride of being the last undefeated SEC team was trampled by the Hoosier faithful rushing their court.
  • Desperately Seeking 3-Goggles: Another SEC power-team also had its pride damaged last week. Dayton exploited Alabama’s weakness — awful three-point shooting — to pull off a 74-62 upset. Though the Crimson Tide’s next game yielded a better result (64-52 win over Detroit), the three-point shooting woes continued (2-15 vs. Detroit, 10-58 the last four games). Coach Anthony Grant was counting on one or more of his freshmen guards — Trevor Lacey, Rodney Cooper and Levi Randolph — to provide the outside shooting. None of them have risen to the challenge yet. Alabama will be particularly vulnerable to upsets from streaky-shooting teams until they find a solution to their outside shooting woes.

The Iron Has Been Unkind To Trevor Lacey's Three-point Shooting. (Credit: Marvin Gentry-US PRESSWIRE)

  • Big: A pleasant surprise in the SEC this season has been the play of Mississippi State’s Arnett Moultrie. The transfer from UTEP, averaging 17.1 PPG and 11.2 RPG, is exceeding the expectations set for him. Unfortunately the 6’11″ forward is battling with knee tendinitis. He has missed three games for the Bulldogs, including yesterday’s 75-68 victory over FAU. Moultrie will hopefully be ready for Mississippi State’s next series of games which include two away games, including a tilt at #6 Baylor.
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Five and Five: Kentucky’s Strengths and Weaknesses Against North Carolina

Posted by Brian Joyce on December 2nd, 2011

Kentucky is the best team in the land, but no team is without faults. In preparation for Saturday’s showdown with North Carolina, we will highlight Kentucky’s five biggest strengths and five biggest weaknesses of this early season. (Ed. Note: The UNC analysis is here)

Weaknesses

  • Ball Control/Turnovers — The Cats turned the ball over 21 times against Old Dominion with point guard Marquis Teague racking up six by himself. The Kentucky offense has to learn to play under control. The Monarchs showed the Cats a packed-in zone disrupting Kentucky’s desire to take its man off the dribble resulting in more missed shots and more turnovers than the Cats were accustomed to. If Teague can continue to grow and develop into the leader this offense needs, Kentucky’s half court sets will continue to improve exponentially.
  • Defensive Rebounding/Frontcourt Strength — Kentucky has a 73.1% defensive rebounding percentage, which is not great. This can mostly be attributed to games where the thin frontcourt was pushed around a little bit. Anthony Davis isn’t going to out-muscle any of his opponents. But he is quick and can beat other big men to the ball. Davis has used his athleticism and wingspan to block shots and grab rebounds, but he will have to learn to body up with big men who will attempt to push him out of position. North Carolina’s John Henson has a similar body type to Davis, so this may not be as evident on Saturday.
  • Free throw shooting — The Cats are shooting 68.2% on the year from the foul line. They hit a low-point against Kansas going 16 of 29 for 55.2%. Kentucky is aggressive on offense, and ends up going to the free throw line often. They will need to begin converting at the line to avoid this being an issue in the future. Davis leads the team with 36 free throw attempts, but is only making 53%.
  • Depth — Kentucky has at least six future NBA pros on the roster. However, John Calipari is only going about seven deep right now. Freshman Kyle Wiltjer and senior Eloy Vargas don’t have much consistency to their minutes. Wiltjer is averaging just over 15 minutes per game, but only saw three minutes of action against Kansas. And Vargas is averaging just over eight minutes per game. Outside of early season blowouts, Calipari has not stretched his rotation past eight players. It hasn’t been an issue thus far for the Cats, but Kentucky has avoided foul trouble for the most part.
  • Three-point Shooting — The Cats are a much better three-point shooting team than they were in 2009-10 when they couldn’t shoot West Virginia out of a 1-3-1 zone in the Elite Eight, but the Cats could still get better at knocking down open shots from beyond the arc. On the year, Kentucky has been a solid 39.6%. However, the Cats were disrupted into shooting 4 of 13 against Old Dominion for 30.8% in that game. Kentucky is sure to see more zones like the one that Old Dominion employed this year, and the one that the Mountaineers used on their way to the Final Four in 2010, so three-point accuracy will continue to be important. In addition to Doron Lamb, who has been hitting 48.3% of his three-point attempts this, Kentucky also has two great shooters in Wiltjer and senior Darius Miller, both of whom have struggled thus far. Look for both to find their stroke as the season goes on and their confidence grows, and perhaps they could move this area into the strength column.

Kentucky needs Darius Miller's three point accuracy from last year to re-emerge

Kentucky’s strengths are what have put them as the number one team in the country right now.
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