SEC Freshman Watch: Breaking Down the “East’s” Most Effective Newcomers

Posted by Christian D'Andrea on February 12th, 2013

Christian D’Andrea is a SEC Microsite Contributor and an editor at Anchor of Gold and Nashville Sports Hub. You can reach him on Twitter @TrainIsland. You can find past editions of the SEC Freshman Watch here (East) and here (West).

The SEC conference slate is more than halfway complete, and the league’s freshmen have begun to stabilize in their fourth month of NCAA competition. As expected, some first-year players are starting to wilt under the grind of the college schedule, while some surprising players are getting stronger as the year goes on. Kentucky has rebounded from early adversity to rejoin the Top 25 rankings, while Georgia, who once sat in the SEC basement with a 1-4 record, has ridden a five-game winning streak to stake its claim as a mid-tier team.

Noel's D is Keying the UK Resurgence (Photo credit: AP).

Noel’s D is Keying the UK Resurgence (Photo credit: AP).

These teams are getting big contributions from freshman play-makers to reboot their seasons. The Wildcats are playing well through Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin’s growing pains thanks in part to the burgeoning defense of Nerlens Noel in the middle. Georgia is riding Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to key wins, but Charles Mann has turned into the Bulldogs’ third-leading scorer and Brandon Morris is becoming a pesky defender on the wing. Even South Carolina, mired in a 2-8 SEC season so far, can take solace in Michael Carrera’s scrappy production in the Gamecock frontcourt. Let’s take a closer look at how these first-year players have performed since SEC play got underway. This week, we’ll go back and examine how the freshmen of the former SEC East are doing.

Kentucky: Nerlens Noel has stepped his game up defensively for the Wildcats, and that’s been a big piece of Kentucky’s charge back into the Top 25. UK has won five straight heading into Tuesday night’s showdown with Florida, and Noel has averaged 5.2 blocks and 10.2 rebounds in that span. His offense is still a work in progress, but his impact has been undeniable.

Kentucky Freshmen 2/12

Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin have been trending in the opposite direction, as they’ve taken a back seat to Noel as the season has worn on. Poythress’s minutes and scoring have dropped as the athletic freshman has struggled with fouls (four per game in his last six contests). Goodwin has struggled as a shooter and a ball-handler recently. He hasn’t made a three-pointer in his last eight games (0-of-10) and his assists have dropped (while his turnovers have increased) as the Wildcats have faced tougher opponents.

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SEC M5: New Year’s Day Edition

Posted by DPerry on January 1st, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. If I told you before the season that Kentucky would lose to fierce rival Louisville but the Big Blue Nation would be generally happy with the performance, you would call me crazy, right? Well, that is exactly what has happened. The Wildcats have not lived up to preseason expectations through non-conference play, but their effort at the Yum! Center on Saturday revealed a different team, and a new level of offensive efficiency was the impetus. The Cardinals boast one of the most fearsome defensive units in the country, allowing only 81 points for every 100 possessions (good for 6th nationally), but the Wildcats exposed them, tallying a single-game offensive efficiency of 107.1.
  2. The biggest negative to come out of the loss for Kentucky fans is the worrying play of freshman Alex Poythress. The talented forward has a polished post game for such a young player, but he’s come up very small in some big spots for the Wildcats. Against Louisville, he played just 15 minutes, giving way to classmate Willie Cauley-Stein, who, despite struggling from the free-throw line, exhibited a much higher work rate. Coach John Calipari revealed yesterday that Poythress might have to get used to watching the game from the sideline if he didn’t increase his intensity. Point guard Ryan Harrow’s work ethic was widely questioned early in the season, but his recent play has quieted those concerns, and Calipari will hope his young post player will follow suit.
  3. The SEC continued their awful season over the weekend, with Alabama’s home loss to Tulane standing out as the worst of the bunch. “Tonight, what cost us the game was our inability to have success on the offensive end,” coach Anthony Grant said after the loss. The Crimson Tide shot under 40% from the field and converted only 3 of their 15 attempts from long range. Early in the season, Alabama emerged as a surprise contender to save the SEC from a down season, starting 6-0, but they have won only one game in six tries in December. Hopefully, January will bring back the Tide’s shooting stroke, a necessary improvement for a team with so little inside depth.
  4. Jeronne Maymon remains on the bench, but Tennessee got an infusion of size over the weekend in the form of Derek Reese. The freshman tore his labrum lifting weights before the season started, and there were questions over whether he could return to help the Vols in 2012-13. Reese was not highly recruited, but with a guard’s skill set in a 6’8″ frame, coach Cuonzo Martin is confident that he can contribute. “In our offense, when you run motion, guys like Derek at the four position and Jeronne Maymon, you can facilitate your offense through those guys,” Martin said. “Because Derek can make shots and make plays off the dribble and Jeronne can make plays off the dribble, and your offense flows. When you don’t have guys like that, things can become stagnant on offense.” For a team ranked 166th in the nation in offensive efficiency, they’ll take help in any way they can.
  5. Auburn nearly pulled off one of the conference’s most unlikely results of the season over the weekend, taking 12th-ranked Illinois down to the wire in Chicago. ”There is no such thing as a moral victory,” said Auburn head coach Tony Barbee. “We came in here to get this job done, and we didn’t. We gave ourselves some opportunities. Like I told the guys, we have one game left in the first stage of the season in the non-conference schedule. We have to move on past this, and we have to go get that, but the first thing we have to do is address why we didn’t get this one today.” That sort of reaction is expected from a coach of course, but the close loss the Illini is easily Auburn’s most impressive effort on the season. It does not change their disappointing season, but in the tightly packed basement of the SEC, performances like this indicate that the Tigers might finish closer to the middle of the pack than the conference cellar.
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SEC M5: 11.08.12 Edition

Posted by KAlmekinder on November 8th, 2012

  1. The opening game in last year’s season between Michigan State and North Carolina took place on the deck of an aircraft carrier, an unprecedented location for a college basketball game in the history of the sport. Back by popular demand and the opportunities it provides to our military personnel, many more college basketball games (and practices) are taking place at military bases or other aircraft carriers across the world this year. On Friday, Florida will become the first SEC school to take place in one of these military-themed games against Georgetown on the deck of the USS Bataan in the Navy-Marine Corps Classic in Jacksonville. When asked about the specifics, coach Billy Donovan stated that the outdoor temperature, unusual sight lines, and unique atmosphere of the game will not affect the Gators’ game plan at all. The temperatures will be a bit cooler in this year’s game, hopefully avoiding a condensation problem similar to what arose during the game action in San Diego last year.
  2. So what happened Tuesday night at Ole Miss? In non-basketball related news, Twitter conversations in Oxford regarding the presidential election results triggered university police to convene at the student union on campus to disperse an angry group of protesting students, some of whom were shouting racially-charged epithets according to a statement from the school. The result? Two arrests for disorderly conduct, one for public intoxication, and another for failure to comply with police orders were handed out. The university issued a statement stating the campus was ‘a normal day’ on Wednesday and all campus related events will go on as planned. Let’s hope so — Mississippi doesn’t have a history of racial enlightenment to fall back on here.
  3. Can Tennessee make it nine straight wins versus UNC-Asheville next week in Puerto Rico? The Volunteers have history on their side, but the Bulldogs want to schedule a home-and-home series with the Vols and hopefully end the streak that way. Separated by only 117 miles across the Smoky Mountains, both Tennessee and UNC-Asheville ironically will travel 1550 miles to Puerto Rico for their latest game in the series. UNC-Asheville head coach Eddie Biedenbach is hopeful that a new arena on his side of the divide could trigger a local rivalry with the Vols, but there were no comments from Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin on the subject. Also, Volunteers freshman Derek Reese began basketball activities again on Tuesday after tearing his right labrum over the summer. Reese participated in layup drills using only his left hand.
  4. Mark your calendars appropriately: ESPN.com‘s Eamonn Brennan has compiled a list of the must-see non-conference games before New Year’s Day. Which SEC schools frequent the list? Kentucky and Florida, of course. Kentucky and Florida have four games each on the list, followed by Missouri with two games and Arkansas with one. The only two games that are not on campus locations include Missouri’s games in the difficult Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament and Florida’s match-up with Georgetown on the USS Bataan, off the coast of Jacksonville. These games will not only make for great viewing but also good early tests for all clubs before conference play.
  5. What makes Kentucky coach John Calipari so successful? He has proven that he can corral the egos of mega-talented freshmen and mold them into a national championship squad using a style of play that best fits that specific team’s needs. In the 2010-11 season, Calipari used the reliable shooting of Brandon Knight and Doron Lamb to push his team to a surprise Final Four run. The previous team was centered around the play-making of John Wall and the size of DeMarcus Cousins. But how do these recruits end up at Kentucky and why does the Big Blue Nation adore their coach so much? Jason King of ESPN.com dubs the Calipari persona almost ‘gospel-like,’ breaking down Calipari’s unbelievable ways of operating a blue-blooded powerhouse, including recruiting, his relationships with hip-hop moguls such as Jay-Z and Drake, and his uncanny ability to make time (when he has none) to raise a million dollars via a telethon for Hurricane Sandy relief efforts.
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SEC M5: 10.29.12 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on October 29th, 2012

  1. Kentucky coach John Calipari gave some updates after practice, and it seems he is prepared to experiment with several different line-up combinations. ”Every time I make a substitution this team is going to be drastically different,” Calipari said. “From Ryan (Harrow) at point guard to Archie (Goodwin) at point guard. Totally different. From Alex at the four, to Kyle at the four. One is a stretch four, one is a power four. To playing both big guys at a time.” The most interesting comment is the potential to play two guard Archie Goodwin some at the point. Calipari has struggled with depth at the point guard position, sometimes asking 6’7″ forward Darius Miller or shooting guard Doron Lamb to bring the ball up last season. However, more often than not, starting point guard Marquis Teague stayed on the floor. It will be interesting to see if Cal does the same with sophomore Ryan Harrow.
  2. Tennessee freshman Derek Reese may redshirt due to a shoulder injury he suffered leading up to the team’s trip to Italy over the summer. Reese experienced a torn labrum in his right shoulder. ”You’re either going to come out stronger than you were before the injury or you can end up weaker,” Reese said. “It’s all about your mindset.” Following his surgery in August, Reese was expected to be out approximately six months, but UT staff held off on making a decision until they saw his progress. He was not expected to be a major contributor in the backcourt this year regardless.
  3. Tony Barbee’s Auburn squad struggled to put the ball in the basket last season, but he doesn’t think that will be as much of an issue this year. A couple of highly ranked freshmen, Jordan Price and Shaquille Johnson, led the way for the Tigers in their first intra-squad scrimmage. Price knocked down all three of his three-point attempts in the game. “We’ve been really high-level defensively in the past,” Barbee said. “Because of some of the talent and attributes we’ve gotten in recruiting, and some of the hard work by returning players, we’ve got a chance to do that at a better level.” With the depth and talent Barbee has this season, expect his team to push the tempo more than they have done in the past.  Auburn scored just 62.6 points per game last season.
  4. While we are not sure why, Missouri coach Frank Haith is excited about the athleticism his Tigers are preparing to face in the SEC. ”One thing that really stands out is the athleticism in this league. It’s a very athletic league. I also think they play a style, in terms of tempo defensively, that’s a little different than the Big 12; there’s more pressing, there’s more aggressive play, and extending your defense in this league than there was in the Big 12. That’s something we’ve got to get used to.” Missouri football coach Gary Pinkel was probably looking forward to the athleticism on the football field in the SEC too, and well, we know how that worked out. Then again, SEC basketball is not the same as SEC football.
  5. Gamecocks coach Frank Martin is looking forward to returning the passion for college basketball back to Columbia. ”People tend to forget you couldn’t get a seat in the Frank McGuire Coliseum back in the day,” Martin said at SEC media day Thursday. “We’re kind of rekindling that passion, reconnecting that great past with the present.” But Martin knows that winning will fill the seats, and with a soft non-conference schedule this season, he may be able to stockpile some victories up front. The biggest question moving forward is how long will it take Martin and company to win in the SEC, not against the likes of Presbyterian College or South Carolina State.

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.

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SEC Morning Five: 02.13.12 Edition

Posted by EMoyer on February 13th, 2012

  1. The Florida Gators suffered a tough home loss to Tennessee on Saturday, but that loss could have long-lasting ramifications. Sophomore forward Will Yeguete left the game with a concussion. Head coach Billy Donovan labeled Yeguete as doubtful for Florida’s next game Tuesday at Alabama. “He failed a concussion test when he went in (the locker room),” Donovan said. “A lot of it is going to be how well he responds. He’s definitely not going to practice (today), not going to practice Monday. The doctors have told me that he can’t play, but (doubtful) would be my guess.”
  2. Tennessee’s win was witnessed by a prominent future Volunteer. Derek Reese, one of Tennessee’s signees for 2012, traveled to Gainesville from his hometown of Orlando. “I was expecting the game to be closer; that was a real good win, real important,” Reese said. “I think it’s a result of Coach Martin’s mentality. He’s tough-minded and he’s going to make you play hard and get the most out of you, and that’s how the successful teams do it in sports. That’s what I was looking for in a college coach.”
  3. Following Alabama’s short-handed road loss at LSU last week, Crimson Tide head coach Anthony Grant spoke of his decision to suspend JaMychal Green, Trevor Releford and Andrew Steele on Friday night. He said he received information about something that happened before the trip: “I’m very disappointed in terms of some of the choices that we as individuals made,” Grant said. “But you’re dealing with young men. I was a college student at one point. Can’t say that I did all the things right all the time.”
  4. Two Crimson Tide freshmen from Huntsville — Trevor Lacey and Levi Randolph — saw increased playing time against LSU as part of the suspensions. Bill Bryant of the Huntsville Times wrote how the relationship between the two, who finished 1-2 in Alabama’s Mr. Basketball each of the previous two years, was formed and how their learning curves were accelerated with the suspensions.
  5. With ESPN in Nashville for College Gameday this weekend, several of the network’s analysts offered up some lofty comparisons to Kentucky’s Anthony Davis. “He’s special in how he affects the game,” Dick Vitale said of Davis. “He’s the only player I’ve seen going back to Patrick Ewing that affects the game without scoring a point.” ”He is the best big guy college basketball has seen in a while, several years,” Jay Bilas wrote. “I liken him to a more skilled Marcus Camby. He is a game changer defensively that can block shots around the rim and block perimeter jump shots.”
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Who’s Got Next? Jarnell Stokes Thinking College, Andrew White To Kansas & More…

Posted by Josh Paunil on December 8th, 2011

Who’s Got Next? is a weekly column by Josh Paunil, the RTC recruiting guru. We encourage you to check out his website dedicated solely to college basketball recruiting, National Recruiting Spotlight, for more detailed recruiting information. Once a week he will bring you an overview of what’s going on in the complex world of recruiting, from who is signing where among the seniors to who the hot prospects are at the lower levels of the sport. If you have any suggestions as to areas we’re missing or different things you’d like to see, please let us know at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Lead Story: Jarnell Stokes Going To College In January ‘Definitely An Option’

Jarnell Stokes Has A Lot On His Mind. (Nation of Blue)

Stokes Exploring His Options. Class of 2012 power forward Jarnell Stokes saw his chances of playing high school basketball for Southwind High School (TN) disappear last week, and this week he’s strongly considering graduating high school early and enrolling in college in January. Remember, Stokes has yet to commit and has a top six of Kentucky, Memphis, Tennessee, Arkansas, Florida and Connecticut so he’d have to commit very soon. The 6’8″, 250-pounder says he’s been preparing to attend college next semester and that he has other options available to him that he doesn’t want to reveal just yet. Four of the schools Stokes is considering — Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida and Tennessee — have athletic scholarships available for Stokes if he were to enroll in January and he could also qualify for an academic scholarship at Memphis, leaving Kentucky as the only school that he’d have to pay for. Stokes says he has no timetable right now and doesn’t know when he’s going to commit, but he’s going to have to make a decision in the next few weeks regardless of what he wants to do.

What They’re Saying

  • Senior Andrew White on committing to Kansas: “I think it was a huge opportunity there to play. I have a great relationship with the staff. They’ve been good to me.”

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