Florida ‘Selfishness, Delusion’ Leads to Miserable Season

Posted by David Changas on March 13th, 2015

Florida dropped its quarterfinal matchup against No. 1 Kentucky in the SEC Tournament this afternoon in Nashville, and after the game, Gators head coach Billy Donovan did not mince words about what went wrong for his team. “I think it was a team that was maybe a little bit more wrapped up in themselves. Didn’t quite understand the level of sacrifice needed to beat a really good team. As a head coach, I think I really fell short in getting them to see how important it is for us to play as a team. And I think it was still a very, very humbling learning experience. It was a great experience, that I think and, I use the word maybe delusional or not in reality. These guys have never been in reality the entire year.” Harsh words to be sure, but given this year’s disappointment in Gainesville, it is hard to argue with them. Donovan, who just completed his 19th season at the school, will not lead the Gators into postseason play for the first time since 1996-97.

Billy Donovan did not mince words when talking about the Gators' struggles (AP/Phelan Ebenhack).

Billy Donovan did not mince words when talking about the Gators’ struggles (AP/Phelan Ebenhack).

The issues Donovan raised in his postgame commentary manifested themselves in the team’s season-long play, and things never really got any better. The Gators, coming off of a four-year run that included three Elite Eights and a Final Four, finished the season at 16-18 overall and were 6-7 in games decided by five points or fewer. The preseason top 10 team never scratched the surface of its potential, with its best win of the entire year a one-point home win over Arkansas. The early ranking was clearly not warranted, but neither was the woeful body of work that the Gators put together either. Donovan admitted earlier this week that he had overscheduled, and Florida might at least have had a winning record and a trip to the NIT ahead if he had not done so. Still, given the individual talent on the roster, most everyone agrees that much more was achievable.

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SEC Most Valuable Players, Part I

Posted by Greg Mitchell on March 9th, 2015

The regular season has flown by, but before the contenders separate themselves from the pretenders this postseason, it’s time to honor individuals for their valuable play this year. Even the teams that fell short of expectations had most valuable players, so let’s honor each of them below. Today we’ll present the team MVPs from Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Missouri, Mississippi State, South Carolina and Tennessee, in no particular order.

MissouriKeith Shamburger

Keith Shamburger was a steady hand in a rocky season for Mizzou (zimbio.com).

Keith Shamburger was a steady hand in a rocky season for Mizzou (zimbio.com).

Shamburger was a good soldier on a miserable team this season. He ran the point respectably (3.9 APG, 24.4 assist percentage) and acted as the Tigers’ lone ball-handler for a stretch after Wes Clark got injured and Tramaine Isabell was suspended. After spending the bulk of his career at San Jose State and Hawaii, a 9-22 season wasn’t what he expected during his only taste of high-major basketball but his body language remained consistently positive. His signature moment of the season was hitting the game-winner against Auburn on Senior Night.

AuburnCinmeon Bowers

Cinmeon Bowers was Auburn's lone threat down low this season (al.com).

Cinmeon Bowers was Auburn’s lone threat down low this season (al.com).

It’s hard not to write great things about K.T. Harrell, who ended up being the SEC’s leading scorer this year at 18.1 PPG. But as great as he was, the Tigers featured several perimeter scorers. Other than Bowers, however, who nearly averaged a double-double (12.6 points per game, 9.7 rebounds per game) on the season, Bruce Pearl’s inaugural team on The Plains simply didn’t have any reliable size. He prevented the Tigers from getting eaten alive in the paint and on the glass all season long. The better news is that he should have more help coming next year as Trayvon Reed develops and Horace Spencer and Danjel Purifoy arrive on campus.

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Morning Five: 03.02.15 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on March 2nd, 2015

morning5

  1. March is finally here. For those of you who have been slacking now is a very good time to cram in as much basketball before Selection Sunday. If the next two weeks seem overwhelming, we have an easy-to-use spreadsheet that lays everything out for you. Even if your team is in a conference that is not playing their conference tournament this week, it is worth keeping an eye on the games particularly later in the week because some of those could make a big difference in the bubble if a team that was expected to get an automatic bid is knocked off and then becomes a bubble team.
  2. The big news from this weekend came from Kansas where Cliff Alexander is being held out of games while the school and the NCAA work through questions regarding Alexander’s eligibility. While Alexander’s performance this year has been underwhelming–particularly in comparison to what some other similarly highly-touted freshman have done in recent years–his absence would be a big loss for Kansas in the Big 12 Tournament and beyond. Simply put, legitimate 7-footers big men with athleticism are extremely rare and despite Alexander’s current limitations he does have the ability to carry his team for brief stretches. Much like Rick Pitino last week, we are hesitant to question Bill Self, but the loss of Alexander would limit Kansas’ ceiling albeit to a much-lesser extent than what Chris Jones’ absence will do for Louisville.
  3. At this point North Carolina should just send the NCAA a drawing of a giant middle finger. The latest news from Dan Kane, who might be the least popular person in Chapel Hill, is that a senior associate athletic director helped a football player gain admission to a graduate school despite having a low GPA, no entrance exam score, and being several months past the application deadline. To make matters worse, the issue was brought up to the school’s provost, but instead of denying the admission he simply referred the official to the dean of the graduate school who admitted him in time after which he played in all but one of the team’s games, but regularly skipped classes while receiving Fs. While this appears to be the most egregious abuse of UNC’s graduate schools and the NCAA’s graduate school transfer waiver exception in this part of UNC’s ever-growing academic scandal, it was not the only case as it appears to have happened almost yearly with Justin Knox being another example, who may have been able to get into the graduate school anyways, but was past the application deadline and got in anyways. This probably won’t affect the NCAA’s decision given how many other things went on at the school, but it just makes the school look even worse and might be an issue that an accrediting body takes seriously.
  4. On Saturday, Billy Donovan won his 500th game with a win at home against Tennessee making him the second youngest to reach the figure (only Bobby Knight did it faster), but this might end up being his most disappointing season during his time in Gainesville. Coming into the season Florida was expected to be a top-10 team and potential Final Four threat. Now they will need to win the SEC Tournament to even make it to the NCAA Tournament and unfortunately for the Gators we suspect that a team from Lexington will be showing up for the SEC Tournament making that possibility seem like nothing more than a dream. The Gators did get one other piece of good news on Saturday with the return of Dorian Finney-Smith from a three-game suspension. Finney-Smith, who came into the game as the team’s second-leading scorer at 12.9 per game and leading rebounder at 5.8 per game, had 20 points and 10 rebounds and makes the Gators a threat to make a SEC Tournament run given all their talent, but in the end it probably will not matter.
  5. Dwayne Polee II‘s comeback suffered a setback when the senior forward was noted to have “abnormal” readings on his implanted cardiac monitor necessitating an adjustment in one of his cardiac medications. Polee, who collapsed during a game on December 22, returned to action last weekend, but with this setback we are not sure how much longer he will be out. It isn’t our place to tell Polee to play or not (that decision is up to Polee, his doctors, and his family), but whenever we hear about cases like this we always think of Hank Gathers, who died on March 4, 1990 (Wednesday will be the 25th anniversary). Dick Jerardi wrote an excellent piece on Gathers and his legacy for Philly.com, which only serves to reinforce our concern in situations like this.
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Morning Five: 02.20.15 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on February 20th, 2015

morning5

  1. It was not that long ago that we heard talk about Division 4 (basically all the schools from the biggest conferences) revolutionizing college sports by using their influence (read: money) to change the competitive landscape. Now it looks like they might be doing that, but in the process could be shooting themselves in the foot (or worse). We had already heard talk about some major conference considering the idea of making freshman ineligible to play sports, which would theoretically give them the chance to adjust to college life. It appears that the Big Ten may have taken the “lead” on this issue by proposing the initiation of discussions amongst its members to make freshmen ineligible to play football or men’s basketball. Outside of this making the conference less competitive (think many “one-and-dones” would come there?) it seems like an attempt to keep the revenue-producing athletes around the school for a longer period of time even if they are not necessarily playing any longer. The conference is apparently trying to use the low graduation rates as a justification for singling out the two sports, but making certain individuals ineligible just based on the sport they play (actually the gender they are too since this would not affect women’s basketball) seems suspect at best.
  2. Thon Maker‘s announcement that he would be reclassifying to the class of 2015 is not exactly a surprise, but it will shake up the recruiting world for the next few months. Maker was considered by many to be the top prospect in the class of 2016 with his combination of size and skill and will probably end up in the top 5 to 10 for the class of 2015 when he is put into this year’s class rankings. While there is an air of mystery around Maker who is native of Sudan, but grew up in Australia and currently plays high school basketball in Ontario, Canada, his list of schools is probably going to remain the same–Kentucky and Kansas being the favorites with Missouri, Duke, Louisville, and Maryland not far behind–but there remains the possibility that he could take the Emmanuel Mudiay route taking a shoe contract and playing overseas or even staying at his current location for a postgraduate year and directly enter the NBA Draft in 2016.
  3. It appears that Chris Jones managed to make up for whatever led to his indefinite suspension as the Louisville guard was reinstated after missing just one game. According to the school, Jones “has done what he needed to do” to have the indefinite suspension rescinded. More cynical individuals (like us) would point to the team’s ugly loss at Syracuse on Wednesday as having at least a small impact on Rick Pitino’s decision to bring Jones back on the team. With Jones returning, the Cardinals will have four players who can score (none regularly against a zone), which will help them when one of those players has an off-night (like Wayne Blackshear who came pretty close to pulling a 19-trillion if he hadn’t fouled out) assuming Jones can stay out of trouble.
  4. #TeamBadLuck suffered another setback on Wednesday when they announced that Dorian Finney-Smith had been suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules. Finney-Smith, who was averaging 12.9 points (2nd on the team) and 5.8 rebounds (leading the team) prior to his suspeneion. We have not heard what led to the suspension, but this is Finney-Smith’s second suspension while at Florida. Even though the Gators reversed their season-long trend by winning a close game on Wednesday night things are not looking good for their postseason hopes at this point.
  5. With Kentucky closing in on an undefeated regular season, there is one person who played a significant role in making Kentucky the team it is today, but is largely forgotten: Billy Gillispie. Fox Sports has an oral history of the Billy Gillispie era in Lexington. As you would expect from an oral history (particularly with a person as unique as Gillispie) it has plenty of interesting anecdotes, but it also serves as a look at the bridge between the Tubby Smith era at Kentucky, which Big Blue Nation views much more favorably now, and the John Calipari era, which Big Blue Nation was much more nervous about at the time than they are willing to admit now.
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SEC Stock Watch: 01.30.15 Edition

Posted by David Changas on January 30th, 2015

It’s time for our weekly look at which SEC teams, players, and coaches are trending up, down, or somewhere in the middle. This is SEC Stock Watch.

Trending Up

  • Texas A&M. It is hard to imagine that the future has looked any brighter at this school since the glory days of Billy Gillispie. The Aggies lost their first two SEC games — played without second-leading scorer Jalen Jones — but have since reeled off five in a row in league play. They already have three conference road wins and a favorable schedule going forward. With an RPI that sits at #34, this team is a legitimate contender for an NCAA Tournament bid, something that certainly didn’t seem very likely a few short weeks ago.
Alex Caruso and Texas A&M have hit their stride (Paul Abell- USA Today)

Alex Caruso and Texas A&M have hit their stride (Paul Abell- USA Today)

  • Dorian Finney-Smith Dunks. In what was likely the most emphatic game-winning basket we’ve seen this year, Finney-Smith put away Alabama and got his Gators a key road win last week. Florida is still sitting squarely atop the bubble and has a lot of work to do to overcome it, but this was the type of win that will serve handy on Selection Sunday.
  • Mark Fox’s Job Security. It’s looking more and more like Georgia has a legitimate chance to emerge as the SEC’s second-best team, as the Bulldogs have bounced back nicely from two losses to open conference play. Georgia has moved into the RPI’s top 25 and appears very well-positioned to secure its first NCAA bid since 2011.
  • Jordan Mickey’s Draft Stock. If there is a more consistent player in the SEC this season, we haven’t seen him. Mickey is averaging 15.9 points, 10.4 rebounds, and 3.7 blocks per contest and has propelled LSU to a nice 5-2 league record. The only bad news associated with Mickey’s play is that he likely won’t be around to play with Ben Simmons and Antonio Blakeney next season, as the NBA Draft’s first round is well within his sights.
  • Kentucky’s Chances of an Undefeated Season. This stock trends up with every passing week that the Wildcats don’t lose a game. According to KenPom, the best chance Kentucky has of losing in the regular season is when it travels to Georgia on March 3. There, the Wildcats have an 84 percent chance of winning, according to the advanced stats guru’s latest projections.

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SEC Quotable & Notable: Volume I

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 29th, 2015

Periodically throughout the rest of the season, we will use this column to take a look at who’s making history and who’s saying what around the SEC. Here’s Volume I of what’s Quotable and Notable right now in college basketball’s Southern reaches.

“I just went strong to the hole.” Florida’s Dorian Finney-Smith on his game-winning dunk against Alabama.


No player in the country will have a minute as impressive and unlikely as Finney-Smith did in the final 60 seconds of Florida’s recent win against the Crimson Tide. His fierce drive and dunk ended up being the game-winner, and it was sandwiched around two crucial blocks: a body-straight-up rejection on Michael Kessens to keep the game knotted at 50, and a help defense block of Levi Randolph’s potential game-tying shot as time expired. This all coming after the junior had gone scoreless to that point.  Finney-Smith’s magical minute, which helped end Florida’s three-game losing streak, should be one of the highlights of Gators’ season.

Georgia is probably the second best team in the league and, by far, the most physical team.” Mississippi State head coach Rick Ray after his team’s loss to Georgia last weekend. “I thought they hurt us on the boards in the first half, but then you look down and see they hit 50 percent from the field in the second half and over 90 percent from the line… you can’t beat anybody like that.” Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings after Georgia hit 23-of-25 free throws and outrebounded the Commodores by 10 in an eight-point victory.

Georgia is taking on the feel of a team that can grind out wins, and in this league, that can be the key to a shiny conference record. Just take care of business. The Bulldogs squeaked by Mississippi State because of a Herculean effort from J.J. Frazier (37 points), and against Vanderbilt, they were sloppy with the ball (16 turnovers) but did enough elsewhere to control the game throughout. Neither win is all that impressive alone, but SEC teams have perfected the art of losing winnable games. The Bulldogs will end up in the NCAA Tournament if they have finally bucked that trend.

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SEC M5: MLK Day Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 19th, 2015

SEC_morning5

  1. So many potential narratives started swirling around after Kentucky’s shaky outings against Ole Miss and Texas A&M. Had the Wildcats become unfocused and vulnerable? Would they respond? Was the sky falling? At least for now, it seems the close calls indeed got the ‘Cats attention. “I think those struggles just reset our mind,” Willie Cauley-Stein told the Louisville Courier-Journal. “Now we’re back to like, ‘OK, we’re trying to shut people out.’ We’re not just trying to play with them. We’re trying to demoralize them.” After allowing Ole Miss to score more points per possession than it had any team this season (1.09), Kentucky broke Missouri’s soul (0.58) and then stifled a good Alabama squad (0.83). Given Alabama’s length, athleticism and desperation for a marquee win, the game in Tuscaloosa may have been one of the tougher road assignments Kentucky will face this year. They passed it easily, and it seems the appropriate narrative is that the Wildcats’ slow start to conference play may have in fact been a positive thing.
  2. Kentucky isn’t the only team that took something away from its SEC opener against Ole Miss. The Rebels weren’t intimidated in Rupp against a seemingly invincible opponent, and they brought that same confidence to Fayetteville when they whacked Arkansas 96-82. If you combine their shooting stats from both games, the Rebels shot 53.1 percent on 32 three-point attempts. That is precisely the way to give yourself a chance against good teams in tough environments. The abundance of bravado has to be tied to Ole Miss’ veteran backcourt of Jarvis Summers, Stefan Moody and Snoop White. The trio has guided the Rebels to a 2-2 record against arguably the best the SEC has to offer: Kentucky, South Carolina, LSU and Arkansas. Ole Miss may be able to make some hay as the schedule eases up, especially if it keeps lighting it up from deep.
  3. Is Texas A&M’s Jalen Jones the most important player in the SEC? Probably not, but the Aggies are 2-0 with him in SEC play and 0-2 without him. Billy Kennedy’s leading scorer returned from an ankle injury to score 16 points in a win over Mississippi State and then 18 points in Saturday’s win over LSU. The latter performance was all the more impressive since it came against the Tigers’ ultra-talented front line. Would a healthy Jones have given the Aggies the slight edge they would’ve needed to drop Kentucky? We will never know, but with how Texas A&M has struggled to score this season, it needs Jones to remain healthy if it has any chance of ending up on the tournament bubble.
  4. Auburn’s big recruits a year away. The team was coming off a 20 point loss. Kentucky wasn’t in town. And this is Auburn, after all. Nonetheless, Auburn Arena was rocking Saturday night during the Tigers’ quality win over South Carolina. This is the Bruce Pearl effect. We heard about the spike in season ticket sales during the offseason, and actually saw it come to life against the Gamecocks. Cinmeon Bowers – who is becoming a star in the SEC – ripped down an offensive rebound and converted a tough layup to extend the Tigers’ lead to three with under four minutes left and the arena exploded. Last year, a scene like that seemed a world away. But there is truly excitement around Auburn basketball, and with home wins over Missouri and Carolina, not to mention the emergence of Bowers as a double-double machine, there is tangible progress on the court too. Again, this is the Bruce Pearl effect, and the entire league is better for it.
  5. Florida’s 24-game conference win streak came to an end with an unusual sight. Michael Frazier and Dorian Finney-Smith were glued to bench for a large swath of the second half in the Gators’ loss to Georgia, and not because of foul trouble. “For me, it was just, let’s play (freshman) Devin Robinson, Chris Chiozza. Let’s get them some experience. Let’s let them play. These older guys aren’t playing at the level we need them to play at,” Billy Donovan told the Gainesville Sun. Despite the loss, Florida’s 3-1 conference record does not have it in a helpless position so the benching was a somewhat bold move from Donovan. It might signal that this season has become as much about building for the future as it is contending in the present. And that’s not a bad thing, because except for senior Jon Horford, this same Florida team will likely take the floor together next year.
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The SEC Week That Was: Volume II

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 13th, 2015

For the next 10 weeks or so, we’ll run down a few weekly superlatives from league play, take a look at how conference teams look in the eyes of the NCAA Tournament selection committee, and anything else that merits discussion. Here is Volume II, including games from January 5-11.

Team of the Week. There were three strong contenders for this award this week, but Arkansas gets the nod on the strength of a 2-0 record that included wins over KenPom top 55 teams Georgia and Vanderbilt. By beating Georgia in Athens, the Razorbacks achieved something that has been a rarity under Mike Anderson: beating a quality team on the road. And it wasn’t easy. Arkansas had to overcome an 11-point deficit against a confident Bulldogs team that was riding a six-game winning streak of its own, but the Razorbacks cut into the lead by imposing their frenetic style on Georgia and forcing 17 turnovers. They had been similarly disruptive in their other road win this season, at SMU (19 TOs), but not as much in losses to Iowa State (11 TOs) and Clemson (14 TOs). We know that Anderson’s press is highly effective in Bud Walton Arena, but whether it works when the Razorbacks are on the road will be something to watch as the season unfolds. Honorable mention this week goes to Florida, which earned a hard-fought win against South Carolina before pummelling Mississippi State.

Bobby Portis tore up the Vanderbilt defense to the tune of 32 points (wholehogsports.com).

Bobby Portis tore up the Vanderbilt defense to the tune of 32 points (wholehogsports.com).

Player of the Week. Bobby Portis had his way with the Commodores’ front line on Saturday, scoring 32 points on 13-of-18 shooting and dunking on every other possession (or so it seemed). He might be the most offensively skilled big man in the SEC this season, and his athleticism provides a great asset guarding the in-bounder as the first wave in the Arkansas press. In the Hawg’s win over Georgia, Portis contributed 21 points and even hit a three-pointer during the game. He’s been exceptionally effective from deep, making 9-of-15 three-point attempts on the season, but the fact he’s attempted so few shows that he hasn’t gotten carried away in trying to show NBA scouts that he has range. Where he’s lethal is in using his athleticism around the rim and making himself available on cuts through the lane. If he keeps living in that sweet spot, the Razorbacks will remain very difficult to defend. Florida’s Dorian Finney-Smith also deserves some love this week as he combined for 36 points and 13 rebounds in wins over South Carolina and Mississippi State. Despite playing with an injured non-shooting hand, the senior is shooting very well from three (39%) and grabbing defensive rebounds at a ridiculous rate (22.3%) over the first two conference games. The Gators couldn’t afford to miss a beat from him and they haven’t.

Tournament Chatter. Let’s not dress this week up because it was not a kind week for the SEC’s hopes to get more than two teams into the NCAA Tournament. I thoroughly believe that the overall depth of the conference is better than last year, but if Selection Sunday were held today you might be looking at a two-bid league. Kentucky and Arkansas seem safe, but beyond that is anyone’s guess.

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SEC M5: 12.12.14 Edition

Posted by David Changas on December 12th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. Kentucky plays UCLA on December 20 at the United Center in Chicago in the CBS Sports Classic, but over the next two seasons, the two traditional powers will take the game to campus, as they agreed to a home-and-home series earlier this week. The teams will play at Pauley Pavilion next year, with the Bruins paying back the visit the following year at Rupp Arena. There is no doubt that college basketball gives us plenty of great early-season games that our friends on the gridiron don’t have and neutral-site battles give us a good gauge for where teams stand, but it’s always nice to see heavyweights like these two programs willing to play each other on campus.
  2. When the Donnie Tyndall saga will be resolved is anyone’s guess, and given the way things work with the NCAA, the season may be over by the time it is. Many have wondered what might happen if Tyndall ultimately is implicated, and the release of Tyndall’s contract with Tennessee appears to make it clear that the first-year coach can be fired for cause if he is. The contract states that Tyndall “has disclosed to the university all material information known to him concerning previous NCAA, conference, or institutional rules violations or potential violations committed by him or any person under his direct or indirect control at any other NCAA member institution.” For Volunteer fans anxious about the future of the program, they can at least take solace in the fact that the athletic department would be spared the $3 million buyout it would otherwise be responsible for if Tyndall is let go.
  3. Things have been rough for Florida in the early going, and we have documented how dicey the team’s NCAA Tournament chances may be, but it certainly has not helped that preseason all-SEC selection Dorian Finney-Smith has not been at full strength. The junior forward, who broke his left hand in the Gators’ season-opening win against William & Mary, led the team with 6.7 rebounds per game last season, but has seen that number dip to 4.6 boards per contest this year, and Billy Donovan thinks that is the biggest area in which the injury has limited Finney-Smith. Donovan contends that the injury has impacted his ability to catch the ball. Though he has still been somewhat effective, and is averaging nearly ten points per game, getting Finney-Smith back to full health will be key for Florida, as it attempts to improve its resume prior to the start of SEC play.
  4. One team that has flown under the radar over the past few seasons is Mississippi State, and for good reason, as the Bulldogs have won seven conference games during coach Rick Ray’s tenure. Thus far this season, the Bulldogs are 5-2, ahead of a trip to Corvallis to play Oregon State Saturday. They have played their first seven games without last season’s leading scorer, Craig Sword, but have shown improvement. One of the reasons for that is the play of forward Travis Daniels. The junior is fourth on the team in scoring (8.6 PPG), and is the second-leading rebounder (5.7 RPG), but Ray has had to plead with Daniels to be more aggressive offensively. Without Sword, the Bulldogs, who struggle to score, need Daniels to continue to be more assertive. If he can do so, they could challenge for post-season play for the first time in Ray’s three seasons at the helm.
  5. After suffering an understandable, though disappointing blowout loss at Iowa State in the Big 12-SEC Challenge, Arkansas inexplicably lost in overtime at Clemson, which came into the game with losses to Winthrop and Gardner-Webb on its resume. The loss was the kind that Razorback fans have seen all too often in Mike Anderson’s tenure, and could come back to haunt the team on Selection Sunday. Arkansas returns to the friendly confines of Bud Walton Arena for a Saturday matchup with Dayton, and it is a game the Razorbacks must win if they are going to end up on the right side of the bubble. While there obviously is plenty of basketball to be played, the remainder of Arkansas’s non-conference schedule presents nothing but cupcakes, and it needs to take advantage of the opportunity to get a quality win against the Flyers, as a loss could loom large in March.
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SEC M5: 12.10.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on December 10th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. Speculation over whether all of Kentucky’s players are happy with their playing time will likely swirl all season, but last Friday’s win against Texas was one of the first times there was a potentially dicey situation. Willie Cauley-Stein’s huge game (21 points, 12 rebounds, five steals) meant he needed to be on the floor for 33 minutes, and 33 minutes for one player is not a platoon-friendly split. Marcus Lee was the victim of this minutes crunch and he apparently said all the right things during the game. “Willie told Coach [Calipari], ‘Keep Marcus in,'” assistant John Robic told the Louisville Courier-Journal. “That’s a sign of maturity. That’s a sign of a leader. That’s a sign of being a good teammate.” Lee was rewarded two nights later against Eastern Kentucky when Cauley-Stein was skipped in the rotation. The atmosphere in the Wildcats’ locker room will be something to monitor, or more appropriately, speculate about, all season. At least for now the waters seem calm.
  2. Another potential source of angst in Lexington is a relative lack of accolades, since it will be hard for anyone on the team to post the necessary numbers in limited minutes that’ll lead to national awards. You can see that manifested in this week’s CBSSports.com’s Wayman Tisdale Freshman Watch. Karl-Anthony Towns is the only Wildcat to make the list, and he’s outside the top five in the “next five up” category. This is certainly small beans, but it’s still noteworthy that a team with arguably the best group of freshmen in the game doesn’t have any posting gaudy enough numbers to crack the top five of such a list. That’s the nature of this year’s Kentucky team, and another thing that maestro John Calipari will need to manage.
  3. This M5 is Kentucky-centric, but I don’t feel guilty about it because that’s essentially how the league has showed out on the court this season. Regardless of how the minutes have been used, the Wildcats are defending their opponents at a potentially historic pace. To date, Kentucky has posted an adjusted defensive efficiency rating of 82.6, and if this number holds it’ll be the best rating since KenPom began tracking the statistic in 2001-02. There is a lot of season left, of course, but some of Kentucky’s most difficult regular season games (e.g., Kansas, Texas) have already been played. The SEC as a whole has five other teams ranked in the top 50 of adjusted defensive efficiency (Florida, South Carolina, Texas A&M, Mississippi State, LSU), and – somewhat surprisingly – this compares favorably to the Big Ten (seven teams), Big 12 (seven teams), ACC (five teams) and Pac-12 (five teams).
  4. Tennessee has been working in a lot of new players this year under a new coach, and it is doing so against one of the hardest schedules in the country. The Vols face Butler on Saturday in Knoxville, and that will be their third game against a top-15 team this season. “A lot of these [other] teams I don’t feel are being challenged during non-conference games,” guard Kevin Punter told the Nashville Tennessean. “But we are. Put us through the fire early. Why not?” The schedule might already be paying dividends for the Vols after their nice win last weekend against an up-and-down Kansas State team. A tough schedule for a team in total transition could have been deadly, so it’s good to see that Tennessee is showing some signs of life.
  5. Dorian Finney-Smith was in a three-game mini-slump going into Florida’s game against Yale on Monday, as the senior had shot just 8-of-27 from the floor against UAB, North Carolina and Kansas. This was understandable, of course, because Finney-Smith is playing with a broken non-shooting hand. He came of the slump against Yale, scoring 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting, and he isn’t making excuses. “I’m out there, so I have to play through it,” he told the Gainesville Sun. The Gators need to hope that Finney-Smith’s improved shooting performance is a sign that he’s learning to cope with the injury, because he’s incredibly vital to them overcoming their rough start.
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Two Burning Questions: Previewing Kansas vs. Florida

Posted by Brian Goodman & David Changas on December 5th, 2014

The Big 12/SEC Challenge will wrap up tonight at 9:00 ET as Kansas looks to exact revenge for a loss in Gainesville last year. Meanwhile, the Gators are in need of a signature non-conference win, and what better venue to get that win than in a raucous Allen Fieldhouse? RTC contributors Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman) and David Changas (@dchangas) are here to break down a tilt between two of the millennium’s best programs.

BG: The Jayhawks may finally have their answer at point guard after Frank Mason enjoyed a very successful Orlando Classic as freshman Devonte’ Graham continued to heal from a shoulder injury. The sophomore posted averages of 11.0 points, 5.3 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game last week and has been the primary reason why Kansas has regained its footing despite Graham’s troubles, Wayne Selden‘s shooting slump, and Kelly Oubre‘s failure to find his way onto the court for more than a few minutes a night. In the other backcourt, Kasey Hill has come up big for a Florida team that has otherwise struggled out of the gate. How important is this match-up to the outcome of the game and how do you see it turning out?

Another steady game from Frank Mason would lend an added sense of security for a Kansas team that has occasionally struggled to find consistency in its backcourt. (AP)

Another steady game from Frank Mason would lend an added sense of security for a Kansas team that has occasionally struggled to find consistency in its backcourt. (AP)

DC: Mason was absolutely terrific in Orlando, and Kansas looked nothing like the team that Kentucky embarrassed two and a half weeks ago. On the other hand, Florida came away from the Battle 4 Atlantis with two losses and a mediocre win over UAB to show for it. Thus far, the Gators have a long way to go to become a good offensive team, shooting a highly inefficient 44.1 percent in effective field goal rate. With Eli Carter injured and likely to miss this game, Hill, who has finally begun to look more comfortable in his role as the team’s primary ball-handler, will need to have a big night for Florida. He showed some signs of offensive life with 20 points in Sunday’s loss to North Carolina, shooting the ball well and getting to the line 12 times (making 10) against the Tar Heels. If he can do the same against Mason while simultaneously taking care of the ball, Florida will have a chance at pulling off the big upset.

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SEC M5: 11.24.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on November 24th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. Feeling down about LSU’s lackluster start to the season? Here’s something that should lift your spirits: Shaq and Dale Brown were inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame in Kansas City last night. Johnny Jones was an assistant during Shaq’s three years in Baton Rouge, when he scored 21.6 points per game and pulled down 13.5 rebounds per game. It’s surreal to think there was once a time when a player like Shaq actually played three college seasons. And speaking of Brown, if you missed Luke Winn’s story on him trying to recruit Arvydas Sabonis through the Iron Curtain, it’s definitely worth a read.
  2. It hasn’t been a smooth start to the season for Florida. The Gators have been undermanned all year with seemingly half their roster having missed time for various reasons. Friday night’s discouraging overtime win against Louisiana-Monroe continued that trend, as Billy Donovan was without Eli Carter and Dorian Finney-Smith. Carter injured his left foot in practice on Thursday, fresh off a coming-out-party-type game against Miami. It’s unclear at this point how serious the injury is, and Finney-Smith’s time table to return is equally murky as he wasn’t with the team on Friday night because of “academic issues.” If both these players miss significant you start to wonder whether Florida has the depth to put together a NCAA tournament-worthy resume. The good news for Donovan is that his team calls the SEC home, where even a mediocre team can feast like a king.
  3. While one Billy in the SEC loses players, another keeps adding them. Billy Kennedy and Texas A&M got news from the NCAA on Friday that Danuel House and Tony Trocha-Morelos are eligible immediately. David talked about the big impact House could have, and Trocha-Morelos will help out too. Kennedy played him for 10 minutes right off the bat in the Aggies’ win over New Mexico. He was understandably rusty (four fouls, one turnover), but his presence gives Kennedy six serviceable bigs on a team that suddenly looks like one of the deepest in the SEC.
  4. Kentucky was in crisis on Friday night. The Wildcats led Boston University by just five at halftime, prompting questions over whether the platoon system, and John Calipari in general, were in the program’s best long-term interests. Sarcasm aside, Kentucky didn’t leave anything to doubt yesterday against Montana State, posting the fifth-largest margin of victory in Rupp Arena history by beating the Bobcats 86-28. There were a lot of eye-popping stats from this game, including Montana State scoring just 0.39 points per possession and getting to the line just twice. The Wildcats will have their ups and downs this season, and you feel for a team like Montana State that catches them on a night when their talent is on full display.
  5. The season is just over a week old and South Carolina is already flush with missed opportunities. The Gamecocks hold three losses, all by five or fewer points, including yesterday’s 68-63 loss to Akron in the Charleston Classic third place game. The good news for South Carolina is that Frank Martin is relying on a lot of young players, such as Marcus Stroman and Demetrius Henry, who both had turnovers late in the game but should learn from that experience. I still think Martin can build a competitive program in Columbia, but at some point close games like the ones in Charleston against Charlotte and Akron need to end up as wins.
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