On the Brink of Perfection, Florida Might be More Than “Good”

Posted by Brian Joyce on March 5th, 2014

Brian Joyce filed this report following Tuesday’s Florida vs. South Carolina game from Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, South Carolina.

Following Florida’s first win this season, Billy Donovan quipped that his team wasn’t very good. “We are light-years away from even being a remotely good defensive team right now, light-years away from even being a ranked team.” Fast forward light years ahead to early March, and Florida is good. Maybe more than good.

Billy Donovan wasn't so sure about his Gators at the beginning of the year, but Florida certainly appears to be good now.

Billy Donovan wasn’t so sure about his Gators at the beginning of the year, but Florida certainly appears to be good now.

RTC was in attendance on press row Tuesday night as the #1 team in the nation visited South Carolina, fresh off a home victory over a storied Kentucky program. But there would be no court rushing in Colonial Life Arena on this night. With the Gamecocks down 39-35 and the crowd sensing the possibility that their team could make a run at a second straight win over a ranked team and its second victory ever over college basketball’s top-ranked team, Florida exercised its dominance with a 15-0 run and a 33-11 surge to end the game. It wasn’t always pretty, but Florida did what it needed to get to 17-0 in conference play. And now the Gators sense the opportunity that lies ahead. Senior center Patric Young kept things in perspective by crediting the coaching staff. “We’ve just been trying to take it one game at a time. We have the opportunity to do something that hasn’t been done before, to go 18-0 in conference play.  And just keeping our eyes on the prize, the opportunity to do something great. To be a part of history has motivated us internally. The coaches have pushed us from day one. Laid down the foundation for us to achieve what we are doing today.”

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SEC M5: 03.03.14 Edition

Posted by David Changas on March 3rd, 2014

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  1. Kentucky‘s 72-67 loss at South Carolina Saturday night may rank as the most shocking result in SEC play so far this season. The Wildcats are now 11-5 in league play and 21-8 overall. The loss was their third in five games, and one of those wins was a near-miss against LSU at home. Given the preseason hype for John Calipari‘s collection of freshman, and the nonsensical talk about a 40-0 season for this team, it’s safe to say the Wildcats’ season has been a disappointment so far, and if things don’t get turned in the right direction soon, a quick exit from the NCAA Tournament is inevitable. Yahoo’s Pat Forde took stock of the situation and pulled no punches in his criticism of Calipari. Among other things, Forde criticized Calipari for his scapegoating of Ryan Harrow after last season’s disappointment, his unwillingness to take the blame for what’s gone wrong with this team, and his failure to answer tough questions in the face of the team’s struggles. Needless to say, Forde’s take will be the subject of much discussion in the Bluegrass state in the coming days, and we have a tough time finding too much to criticize about what the veteran writer had to say.
  2. Perhaps it was Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings seeking validation for his comments about Tennessee fans who want to see Cuonzo Martin fired after three seasons at the Volunteers’ helm that led to Tennessee‘s crushing 76-38 victory over the Commodores Saturday in Knoxville. Whatever it was, the performance was a welcome sight for Vol fans who have been frustrated with the level of performance they have seen for most of the year from a squad that appeared before the season to be a clear-cut NCAA Tournament team. Tennessee’s stifling defense forced Vanderbilt to make only 11 field goals on its way to shooting 22%. Meanwhile, the Volunteers shot 53% from the field, and 48% from three-point range, controlled the glass, and turned the ball over only 8 times. Tennessee also got a fantastic performance from Antonio Barton, the senior transfer from Memphis who has been mostly disappointing in replacing the departed Trae Golden. Barton was assertive on both ends of the floor and scored a season-high 21 points on 5-for-7 three-point shooting. If he can give the Volunteers more of that, perhaps they can finally become the team many expected prior to the season.
  3. Speaking of Tennessee, the Volunteers are one of three SEC squads fighting for the NCAA Tournament lives. It appears that they, as well as Arkansas and Missouri, will take things down to the wire as they try to make the field of 68. According to CBSSports.com’s Jerry Palm’s latest bracketology, the Razorbacks and Tigers are in the field, with Missouri starting out in a “First Four” game in Dayton. Tennessee is the third team out, which means the Volunteers should have a chance to work their way back into the field. They travel to Auburn on Wednesday for a game that they simply cannot afford to lose, before coming home Saturday to host Missouri in what will be a crucial bubble matchup. As we chronicled here Friday, Arkansas’s win at Kentucky may have propelled them into the field, though it’s clear they must keep winning to stay there. The Razorbacks took care of business on Saturday against Georgia in winning for the eighth time in their last nine tries. While the SEC has seen plenty of mediocre basketball this year, with three teams squarely on the bubble, the final week of the regular season and the SEC Tournament will offer plenty of drama about who makes the field.
  4. With the SEC Tournament just over a week away, teams are jockeying for position in the Georgia Dome. The tournament is now a five-day event, and the top four seeds receive double byes to Friday’s quarterfinal round. Not only does securing one of those double byes give the teams who earn them extra rest, they likely eliminate the possibility of having to play a team with a low RPI in a second-round game. As it stands now, Florida has secured the top seed, and Kentucky looks good for the second spot. Georgia currently sits at third and looks to be in good shape to secure one of the double byes. Tennessee controls its destiny and will secure a double bye by winning out, given that the Volunteers own wins over most of the teams also in the running for the final double bye spot. A lot can happen in the next week, but for the league’s bubble teams, avoiding a game with one of the conference’s bottom-feeders is of paramount importance.
  5. In its first week as the nation’s top-ranked team, Florida acquitted itself well, pulling out a 57-54 win at Vanderbilt on Tuesday before coming home Saturday and trouncing a solid LSU team 79-61. The primary knock against the Gators this year has been their inconsistency from the perimeter, but they knocked down 13 of 23 threes (56.5%) against the Tigers and were never threatened. Dorian Finney-Smith, who came into the week having made one three-point attempt in his seven previous games, went 7-for-14 from behind the arc in the two games. Florida coach Billy Donovan knows having Finney-Smith shoot the ball this well is a big boost for the Gators, and for them to have any chance to win the national championship, it will need to continue. With the win, Florida extended its school-record winning streak to 21, and must only win at South Carolina and at home against Kentucky to finish the conference regular season at 18-0. Despite the mediocrity of the league, going through any power conference without a loss is quite an accomplishment, and it appears the Gators are well on their way to achieving it.
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Three’s a Crowd: Three Observations Near the End of SEC Play

Posted by Brian Joyce on February 27th, 2014

Three is a popular number in the SEC these days. There was Kyle Fuller’s missed three in regulation to tie the game against Florida on Tuesday night. There is significant and realistic discussion about whether the SEC will get three teams into the NCAA Tournament. And to top it off, time is running out as there are just three regular season SEC games remaining for each team (following Thursday night’s game between Arkansas and Kentucky). So why not go for an old fashioned three-point play with three observations headed into the final week of regular season action?

Is Georgia the SEC's third best team?

Is Georgia the SEC’s third best team?

The Third Best Team?

Georgia is nowhere near NCAA Tournament talk, but the Bulldogs may very well be the third best team in the conference this season. Mark Fox’s squad has won six of its last seven games, including home victories over LSU and Missouri. It also has four very bad losses (Temple, Davidson, Georgia Tech and Auburn) and lacks a true quality win, but I would not want to match up with the Bulldogs in a couple of weeks in Atlanta if I were an SEC head coach. In five of its last six games, Georgia’s defense has held opponents under 1.0 point per possession. Granted, those games were not against any offensive juggernauts, but the Bulldogs appear to be peaking at just the right time. The Bulldogs made a run to the SEC Tournament championship at the Georgia Dome in 2008, so perhaps the setting is right for them to do it again this season (hopefully without the tornado).

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SEC M5: 02.26.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on February 26th, 2014

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  1. Maybe Florida just plays down to its competition, or maybe the Gators’ grind-it-out defense lends itself to close games. Either way, Florida ran its winning streak to 20 against Vanderbilt in yet another game that had to be gutted out late. Vanderbilt outshot Florida 48% to 40%, but – as they have done so often this year – the Gators won the rebounding and turnover battles. You can have a less than stellar offense and put yourself in games if you limit your opponent’s chances by taking care of the ball and grabbing defensive rebounds. Florida has the second fewest turnovers per game in the SEC (11.2) and third best team rebounding percentage (54.2%). Pair that with an elite defense and it’s no surprise you’ve got a team that can rack up wins and rise to number one in the rankings. But as Luke Winn pointed out, the Gators offense can be more effective if Dorian Finney-Smith expands on the two made pick-and-pop he had made in conference play. It wasn’t of the pick-and-pop variety, but Finney-Smith found space and drilled a three with under 30 seconds left against the Commodores. It was the junior’s third three of the game, and the finishing touches on his game high 19 points. If that performance jump starts Finney-Smith, Billy Donovan suddenly has another offensive option to play with.
  2. Put a fork in the Tigers, they are done. Short of winning the SEC tournament, I don’t see a way Missouri can salvage a bid after losing by 15 in Athens. The Tigers will almost certainly drop out of the RPI top 50, and they’re a perfectly pedestrian 7-7 against the RPI top 100. That’s just okay, and just okay teams do make a 68 team field. But the Tigers don’t have the high-quality wins to punctuate a resume, going just 1-2 against the RPI top 25. Can that UCLA win from way back in early December stand up? Teams Missouri is competing with for a final spot, like Oklahoma State (Memphis, Texas) and St. John’s (Creighton), have eye-popping wins to spice up a mediocre resume. The Tigers didn’t execute well on defense against Georgia (allowing the Bulldogs to shoot 52.1%) and it could be that Jordan Clarkson and Jabari Brown are wearing down. The two shot a combined 9-for-29 and Brown in particular had no lift on his shots. Georgia, on the hand, continued its surprise run through the SEC with its sweep of Missouri. Per Wildcat Blue Nation’s Corey Price, the Bulldogs are the first SEC team to reach 10 or more conference wins after finishing .500 or worse in the non-conference since 2007-08 Kentucky. With a RPI North of 80 the Bulldogs still aren’t in the bubble picture, but at the very least Mark Fox should’ve assured himself a NIT bid.
  3. Your first thought might “yeah right,” but the Bruce Pearl to Tennessee talk is gaining steam. There’s an online petition signed by thousands of people, and Gregg Doyel writes that as unlikely as it seems, rehiring Pearl makes too much sense for the Vols. “Tennessee should do it. If Tennessee has an opening, it should hire Bruce Pearl. Go ahead, Tennessee. He paid his price. You paid yours,” Doyel writes. “Bruce Pearl is a good coach who made a bad mistake and had to be fired — I was calling for his dismissal months before Tennessee finally did it — but who served his time and surely, surely learned from his mistake.” Sure, a reunion seems highly unlikely and against the norm, but there might just be the pieces in place to make it a reality: Pearl won big at Tennessee, still lives in Knoxville, and the program hasn’t taken a clear step forward in Cuonzo Martin’s third year. There’s also the matter of ticket sales, and from afar it seems like rehiring Pearl would spark the fanbase. Those are hard points to argue against, especially since college basketball in general is far from holy. The problem is that is that letting Martin go is not a no brainer. While the Vols are dancing around the bubble again, the bottom has not fallen out in the former Missouri State coach’s three years in Knoxville. But if Louisville can bring back Bobby Petrino, is the Pearl-Tennessee dream so ridiculous?
  4. It’s put up or shut up time for Arkansas, at least as far as the regular season is concerned. Winning at Rupp Arena is the last chance for Razorbacks to improve on their 65 RPI and grab the attention of those on the selection committee. Can Arkansas actually sweep the Wildcats? In the win at Bud Walton Arena, Kentucky missed a ton of free throws (26-of-40) and the Razorbacks, as they always do at home, won the turnover battle (17 to 6). While the Wildcats will probably miss a few more free throws (team 68.5% FT%) they probably won’t have a similar turnover binge without 20,000 screaming people in red against them. The Razorbacks will in all likelihood lose the rebounding battle in this game, so they’ll need to hit a higher percentage from three than they did in the team’s first meeting (28.6%). If Arkansas isn’t able to win this game and go on a run, barring a miracle weekend in Atlanta it looks like Mike Anderson will miss the tournament for the third straight year in Fayetteville.\
  5. There was a time not so long ago that Rick Ray was enjoying a very positive second season in Starkville. It was January 22 and the Bulldogs had just beaten Auburn to move to 3-2 in conference play. They also picked up their 13th win of the season, three more than they had gotten in 2012-13. But the positivity ended that day, and Mississippi State hasn’t won since. Its nine game losing streak could very well stretch to 12 with upcoming games against Tennessee, Missouri and Georgia. So, now that the bad part has set in, how are things really going in Ray’s second season on the whole? Their RPI is currently 204, which in no world is anything but dreadful. It is, however, less dreadful than the 292 the Bulldogs finished with last season. The good news for Ray? He’s got only one senior in the rotation (Colin Borchert) and his leading scorer (Craig Sword), rebounder (Gavin Ware) and assist man (I.J. Ready) are either sophomores or freshmen. Ready is good to go against Tennessee after getting poked in the eye against the Arkansas. The freshman point guard not only leads the team in assists, but is shooting 40% from three and has a respectable 1.5 assist to turnover ratio for a first year player. A strong finish from him would be a bright spot in another rebuilding year for the Bulldogs.
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Florida to Get Boost from Addition of Chris Walker

Posted by David Changas on February 4th, 2014

It’s not often that a top-five team can add an elite recruit in February, but that is exactly what Florida will do tonight when highly-touted freshman Chris Walker finally makes his debut for the Gators. Walker, who was ranked seventh in the 247sports.com composite recruiting rankings last year, was declared academically eligible by the NCAA on December 14, and has been practicing but was not cleared for game action until last week. His suspension totaled 12 games, and was related to impermissible benefits from agents and AAU coaches. As a result, he will be forced to donate the $280 he received to charity and serve 80 hours of community service.

Chris Walker Will Finally Get to Bring His High-Ware Act to the Gators

Chris Walker Will Finally Get to Bring His High-Ware Act to the Gators

Florida currently sits at 19-2 overall and 8-0 in the SEC as it welcomes Missouri to the O’Connell Center for a Super Tuesday tilt. It is unlikely that head coach Billy Donovan will ask too much of Walker tonight, and with good reason. The Gators, currently ranked No. 3 in this week’s AP poll, have done quite well without him and Donovan may not want to disrupt the chemistry his front line has already developed. Florida’s senior-laden trio of Patric Young, Will Yuguete and Casey Prather, along with sophomore Dorian Finney-Smith, have led the Gators to a dominant SEC start, where their average margin of victory is north of 15 points per game. And Donovan has gone out of his way to make it clear not to expect too much from the ballyhooed freshman.

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Rushed Reactions: #13 Florida 77, #20 Memphis 75

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 17th, 2013

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Brian Otskey attended the Jimmy V. Classic on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden and filed this report. 

Three Key Takeaways from the second game of the Jimmy V. Classic.

  1. Rebounding made the difference for Florida. The strong Gators front line absolutely dominated Memphis on the boards, out-rebounding the Tigers by 11–37 to 26. This allowed Florida to overcome 17 turnovers and come away with the win. It was an evenly played game in most areas but Patric Young, Dorian Finney-Smith, and Casey Prather were the difference makers on the glass for Billy Donovan’s team.
  2. Despite the loss, Memphis proved it is legitimate. It is rare for a team to impress in a loss, but the Tigers did just that tonight against Florida. While its win over Oklahoma State earlier this season certainly stands out, the Memphis showed once again that it can go toe-to-toe with one of college basketball’s best teams. Josh Pastner’s non-conference slate, which has included two games against Oklahoma State, one against Florida, and one against LSU, has done its job in preparing the Tigers for the rigors of conference play in their new league. Memphis has the talent to battle Connecticut for second place in the American assuming Louisville will win the league.
  3. Florida has so many weapons. The balanced scoring and overall talent on this team is scary. Billy Donovan has six capable scorers on his roster and can mix and match with a variety of different lineups that feature speed, perimeter shooting, interior dominance, or any combination of the three. I especially like what Dorian Finney-Smith brings to this team. The Virginia Tech transfer scored 14 points but his presence defensively and on the boards is what stood out. He changes the dynamic of Florida’s lineup because of his versatility. With Chris Walker possibly joining this already loaded unit, which Donovan significantly downplayed after the game, the Gators have the look of a Final Four contender yet again.

Star of the Game: Casey Prather, Florida. Prather’s terrific improvement from his junior to senior season continued on Tuesday night as the Gator senior led all scorers with 22 points on an efficient 8-of-13 shooting while connecting on all six free throw attempts. Prather was good on the defensive side as well, a key piece of a talented Florida front line that limited Memphis’ Shaq Goodwin to only four field goal attempts in 35 minutes of play. Prather has been among the most improved players in the nation and a key reason why Florida continues to improve, even after two close losses to date in non-conference play.

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AAC M5: 12.17.13 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on December 17th, 2013

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  1. Tonight is a big one for the AAC as two of the name-brand programs that will actually still be in the conference next season are playing in New York as part of the Jimmy V Classic. There are few stages at this point in the season that are bigger than the Jimmy V Classic and to represent half of this year’s field is a big deal. Both games are big tests for Memphis and Cincinnati but there is one team with a lot more at stake at Madison Square Garden — Mick Cronin’s Bearcats. Cincinnati hasn’t beaten anybody worth talking about and they were mildly embarrassed in the Crosstown Classic by Xavier over the weekend. We have harped on the Bearcats’ offensive struggles, but perhaps surprisingly, the team’s biggest issue is an apparent lack of toughness. I am still putting the finishing touches on my white paper Advanced Methods of Quantifying Toughness, so it’s easier to just say they weren’t great on either end of the floor against the Musketeers. Still, toughness is ostensibly supposed to be one of the Bearcats’ hallmark competencies and they didn’t do a great job on the glass or defending the three-point line, so it would probably help if they toughened up in those areas.
  2. As a college basketball fan, it would have been awesome to see Florida’s much-hyped freshman Chris Walker suit up for the Gators tonight, but I bet Memphis fans are breathing a sigh of relief. Well okay, so it wasn’t likely that Walker was going to light the world on fire, but Memphis only plays two real big men in Austin Nichols and Shaq Goodwin (and Florida already had a size and athleticism advantage to begin with). The game will obviously be competitive, but it will be especially interesting to see how the personnel decisions on both sides shake out. Memphis will want to play three guards and the Gators will probably want to rotate Casey Prather and Dorian Finney-Smith at small forward — both of whom are too big and athletic for the Tigers’ guards. Josh Pastner is going to have to bring his A-Game to face a coach as good as Billy Donovan, and it will be fun to watch them match wits tonight.
  3. Although it will have no effect on the 2013-14 season, the news of UConn guard Rodney Purvis‘ shoulder surgery still made headlines on a slow news day. Purvis transferred from North Carolina State and is sitting out this year anyway, so it makes sense to fix a torn labrum in his left shoulder now so he can be ready for next season. I know… fascinating stuff. But it gives us an excuse to talk about Purvis, a former McDonald’s All-American who started 23 games as a freshman for the Wolfpack. He transferred without much fanfare but he is an athletic 6’4″, 200-pounder, who scored in double figures in 12 games last season. Granted, most of those games came before conference play and he was a bit more inconsistent as the competition improved, but he will be expected to take on the lion’s share of the load Shabazz Napier leaves behind. I don’t really know how what I just wrote has anything to do with his impending surgery, but that’s fine. Just log those few sentences away for now and call me out when I self-plagiarize for an impact transfer preview for next season.
  4. The conference’s banner program will also be in action tonight as Louisville hosts Missouri State. The Bears aren’t the same mid-major headache they once were, but they are 8-1 on the season and their only loss was on a neutral floor to Virginia, so they will be dangerous. Head coach Rick Pitino is especially worried about their potent three-point shooting ability, and while he is overstating their offensive brilliance a bit, he would be wise to make sure his team defends the three-point line. In the end, there is little chance that Missouri State has enough defensive ability to hang with the Cardinals on the road, even if Louisville is still missing scoring point guard Chris Jones. The bottom line is that the Bears will probably make it interesting in the first half but Louisville has more than enough horses to pull away in the second 20 minutes.
  5. The South Florida Bulls play host to Dunk City tonight as Brett Comer, Chase Fieler and the rest of the Florida Gulf Coast will be in town for an intrastate match-up. Although they are probably the less recognizable team, the Bulls will play as the favorites as the Eagles are struggling to recapture the magic from last season and have lost three of their last four games. Of course they are still the more compelling storyline for ESPN.com and thus Myron Medcalf wrote a worthy profile of life after last season’s NCAA Tournament run that is worth reading. It’s not AAC news necessarily… or like …at all. But we are equal-opportunity providers and when we see a good story with some connection to the league, you better believe we are posting it.
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Will Florida Be Middle Tennessee State’s Next SEC Victim?

Posted by Greg Mitchell on November 20th, 2013

It was “one in, one out” for Florida last week, as the Gators got Dorian Finney-Smith back from suspension only to lose Kasey Hill to a high ankle sprain two days later. It appears the freshman point guard will be out at least a month, and Billy Donovan has said reserve Scottie Wilbekin will not be back just yet either. That leaves Donovan without a true point guard for Thursday night’s game against Middle Tennessee State, a program that beat both Ole Miss and Vanderbilt last season en route to an NCAA Tournament invitation. Should Florida be on upset alert and wary of being the Blue Raiders’ next SEC victim? It says here that, despite the Gators’ ongoing point guard issues, probably not.

Dorian Finney-Smith's rebounding is a big boost to Florida (courtesy usatoday.com).

Finney-Smith’s rebounding is a big boost to Florida. (Credit: USAToday.com)

Middle Tennessee State has started the season 4-0, but the two things that can lead less talented teams to upsets — offensive rebounding and three-point shooting — are not this team’s strengths. The Blue Raiders are not a good offensive rebounding team, in particular. Senior forward Shawn Jones is having a good season (16.0 PPG; 9.0 RPG) but his 13.9 percent offensive rebounding rate is the best on the team. Neiko Hunter at 10 percent is the only other player in double figures in that metric. The Blue Raiders face a tall task against a team stocked with frontcourt talent if they can’t generate second-chance opportunities. In that vein, the return of Finney-Smith and his astronomical board numbers (22.4% ORB, 27% DRB) is important for the Gators, and should allow his team to control this game on the glass. The Blue Raiders have been solid from three, shooting 38 percent as a team, but no player other than Kerry Hammonds has yet proven to be a consistent threat, and Florida has been equally good in holding its opponents to 31 percent this season, so this seems like a wash.

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SEC M5: 11.18.13 Edition

Posted by Justin Bridgman on November 18th, 2013

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  1. Florida got their star transfer Dorian Finney-Smith back from a suspension on Saturday night, and he scored 17 points despite battling a virus. Finney-Smith is going to make an impact all over the court for the Gators, covering up holes inside and outside with his versatile game. Most importantly, he will help the Gators rebounding. Florida had been out rebounded in their first two games, but won the battle of the boards in their first game with Finnney-Smith back. During SEC play, Finney-Smith will be counted on even more against the big front lines of Kentucky, Tennessee, and LSU. Smith presents the kind of size and athletic ability that won’t be overwhelmed by those ultra-talented front lines. The Gators now await the return of Scottie Wilbekin and the NCAA approval for top recruit Chris Walker.
  2. Speaking of coming back from suspension, Marshall Henderson came back from his and led Ole Miss to a win. Naturally Henderson couldn’t resist showing off a few antics, and he let loose after a dunk late in the game. Antics aside, Henderson is the heart and soul of this Ole Miss team. It might not be ideal, but he makes all the difference. He’s able to destroy college defenses coming off screens and using his non-stop energy to create chaos. The Rebels offense is not the same without Henderson playing, and he is a good enough scorer to bail his team out when they do silly things like miss five of 10 free throws at the end of the game.
  3. Something quite amazing happened in the second half of Auburn‘s 111-92 loss to Northwestern State. The Tigers allowed a shocking 72 points in the second half at home. Northwestern State shot 68 percent in the second half, made 14 threes in the game, and earned 29 free throw attempts. That sort of thing only happens when a team simply does not care defensively. Auburn is not going to win any SEC games if they don’t play harder on defense. At some point, a team is no longer just “hot” and that point was reached Friday night. A cool moment for Northwestern State, but an embarrassing showing by a supposed major conference basketball team.
  4. Just two SEC teams made Gary Parrish’s Top 25 (and one) this week, and it is a trend likely to continue all season. There is a legitimate chance, with LSU and Tennessee both losing early, that entering conference play only two SEC teams will be ranked. Missouri has a chance to sneak in based on stacking up a lot of wins, but otherwise it doesn’t look good. This may seem trivial, but sheds light on the overall problem that continues to plague this league. Nationally the league is regarded as a playground for John Calipari and Billy Donovan, and yet again this season the rest of the league has fallen flat out of the gate.
  5. LSU, the SEC, and all of basketball lost a legend on Sunday. Joe Dean Sr, one of just three LSU players in the basketball Hall of Fame, passed away at the age of 83. He was a legendary broadcaster, and his signature call of “string music”  for a swish is infamous to many basketball fans. In addition to his impact as a broadcaster, Dean became the athletic director at LSU and the school won 40 SEC titles under his watch. Dean lived an accomplished athletic life and was able to enjoy great success in every endeavor. Not many players will make the All-SEC team, go on to be a broadcast titan, and finish their career by helping birth an athletics powerhouse. What a truly amazing life.
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Morning Five: 11.18.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on November 18th, 2013

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  1. Friday’s major commitments turned out to be a case of the rich get richer. The big announcement was the simultaneous commitment of Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones to play for Duke next year. As we said on Friday morning just the addition of those two should give Duke the #1 recruiting class in the country this year and quite possibly make them the preseason favorite for the 2015 national title. In perhaps the most controversial move of the day Cliff Alexander selected Kansas, but not before picking up an Illinois hat, putting it down, and then finally putting on a Kansas hat. The move generated a fair amount of criticism with many Illini fans and possibly the coaching staff thinking that they had the inside track on Alexander, an Illinois native. We doubt that the two teams will play next season, but we imagine the reception that Alexander would receive would not be unlike what Eric Gordon received on his only trip to Illinois. In the wake of the other news, Stanley Johnson‘s commitment to Arizona got lost in the shuffle, but the addition of another Mater Dei star (Aaron Gordon is also from there should help the Wildcats reload and help ensure that they will still be a force when Gordon presumably leaves Tucson after this season.
  2. In a reminder that fans should not be too hard on a recruit when he spurns your school, Quentin Snider announced that he was backing out of his commitment to Illinois (Friday was not John Groce’s finest day) and recommitting to Louisville. Snider originally committed to Louisville in August 2011 before backing out of that commitment at the end of July 2013 and chose Illinois in September 2013, but when Jaquan Lyle backed out of his own commitment to Louisville the Cardinals needed a point guard for the class of 2014 and Snider decided to return to his original commitment. Although Snider never officially announced it, Lyle’s committment and backing out of his committment at Louisville likely played a large role in Snider’s vascillation.
  3. The case involving Duke Mondy and Dante Williams that led the two Oakland players to temporarily be arrested on rape charges before being dropped. Without getting into too many details (you can go to TMZ for that, seriously) it appears to be a case of the players getting involved with a woman after their curfew while on a road trip and the woman becoming upset at the end and accusing the players of rape. While the players were able to avoid any serious legal repercussions it appears that they may be facing a rather stiff punishment from the school.
  4. At this point in the season we do not know what to think of Florida with their ever-changing roster. While Billy Donovan did reinstate Dorian Finney-Smith, who responded with 17 points and nine rebounds in his first game back, they are still without Damontre Harris, who remains off the team. With all of the uncertainty around the Gator lineup they remain one of the harder teams to get a handle on early in the season. Having said that if Donovan can get some semblance of a rotation by Christmas time they could be a tough out in March once again.
  5. Last year, Jack Taylor made international headlines with his 138-point performance. This year, he barely gets a mention in the Morning Five with his 109-point outburst yesterday. Taylor’s performance yesterday is third all-time trailing just his effort last year and a 113-point game in 1954. His stat line (and his output) would be a solid five game stretch for most players: 35-of-70 from the field, 24-of-48 3, and 15-of-17 from the  free throw line. Perhaps our favorite part of the game summary is the school mentioning the “big games from others” who scored between 10 and 15 points. For perspective, Taylor scored 53 in the first nine minutes of the second half.
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SEC M5: 11.04.13 Edition

Posted by Justin Bridgman on November 4th, 2013

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  1. Missouri barely escaped in its exhibition game against Central Missouri over the weekend. Missouri’s big men struggled all night, which prompted Frank Haith to use a four-guard lineup. That lineup led the Tigers’ late rally and avoided an embarrassing loss. Missouri fans should be encouraged, however, because Haith’s best team featured four guards on the court at almost all times. With Jordan Clarkson’s ability to attack the rim and create space, having an extra shooter on the floor will make their offense much more effective. Earnest Ross and Jabari Brown will love the open looks they get when Haith uses a four-out/one-in offense. If Missouri’s inexperienced group of big men cannot prove themselves early, look for Haith to ride his guards for most of the season.
  2. Jeff Goodman’s list of the top 25 breakout players for the upcoming season featured two SEC players. Dorian Finney-Smith of Florida and Eric McClellan of Vanderbilt both made the list at #8 and #21, respectively. Once Finney-Smith returns from his suspension, Billy Donovan will be counting on him to play a big role inside. Finney-Smith is expected to be one of the most versatile players on the Gators and help Patric Young shoulder the rebounding role inside. McClellan might not be the starter for Vanderbilt at point guard right now, but in the article Goodman quotes a Vanderbilt coach who thinks he might be the team’s leading scorer. The key for McClellan will be setting up his teammates, though, because he’s already anticipated to be a solid scorer.
  3. Kentucky crushed Division III Transylvania Friday night, although they were sloppy early. Obviously the large margin of victory makes it hard to criticize the Wildcats, but don’t tell that to John Calipari. Calipari understands the importance of getting his players to match their talent with energy, as it was what made his 2012 National Championship team so special. Last season Kentucky struggled to play with consistent effort every game, so this is a great chance for Calipari avoid that same problem. In 30 to 35 of their games this season, Kentucky will already be so talented that the opponent cannot overcome it. However, Calipari wants to win those other games too, and knows the way to do it is to force his team to play with relentless effort no matter the opponent.
  4. Now that he has true point guard talent back on campus, Calipari is bringing back the dribble-drive offense this season. Last seen at Kentucky with John Wall running the show, Calipari feels as though his guards are skilled enough this season to run the system. Look for Andrew and Aaron Harrison to attack the rim aggressively in the offense, and kick out to the wings when necessary. Those drives will leave James Young with great looks in the corner, with the option to attack the baseline as well. The article also mentions that Calipari has been putting Julius Randle at the free-throw line in this offense. That will serve two equally scary purposes. First, he will draw double teams and result in easy dunks for Willie Cauley-Stein. Second, Randle is vicious attacking off the dribble, so slow defenders will never have a chance.
  5. Ole Miss is trying to find some leadership this season, and it showed Friday night. With a number of key leaders from last season gone, and Marshall Henderson starting the season under suspension, Andy Kennedy needs some players to step up. The key here is that Kennedy wants someone other than Henderson to lead this team. Given the unpredictability of his behavior, this is a smart move. Having a player willing to rescue the team when Henderson is having an off night is even more important. What made Ole Miss an NCAA Tournament team last season was the fact that players other than Henderson were leading the team and making big time shots. Henderson is a fun sideshow, and his energy is contagious during the best times, bu it is not the same when things aren’t going well and Andy Kennedy does not want his team’s play to be solely dictated by Henderson’s heat checks.
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Morning Five: 11.01.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on November 1st, 2013

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  1. With a little over a week until the start of the season, Iowa State might have just suffered the biggest injury setback after Melvin Ejim hyperextended and bruised his left knee during Wednesday’s practice. Ejim is expected to miss the next 4-6 weeks, which would also include a game against Michigan. Ejim’s injury will place an extra burden on sophomore Georges Niang and will force Fred Hoiberg to try to find a serviceable replacement to support Niang on the inside and keep the Cyclones in contention for the NCAA Tournament when Ejim returns.
  2. Zay Jackson‘s time at Murray State has been nothing if not eventful. Last year, Jackson was arrested after running over two people with his car in a Wal-Mart parking lot. He was subsequently suspended by the team for the season before returning and was expected to start before hearing his ACL in early October. Yesterday, he announced that he would be transferring from the school. We have no idea where Jackson is headed, but we can guess that Steve Prohm will be much less stressed going forward.
  3. We are sure that Florida will be fine by the time that March rolls around, but that probably won’t make Billy Donovan feel any better right now. On Tuesday, he found out that Michael Frazier would be out indefinitely with mononucleosis. Yesterday, the school announced that Scottie WilbekinDamontre Harris, and Dorian Finney-Smith had been suspended indefinitely for an unspecified violation of team rules. The Wilbekin and Harris/Finney-Smith suspensions appear to be separate incidents, but this will still be another big blow for a team that is getting weaker by the day. Based on what Andy Hutchins at Alligator Army has found out it appears that Wilbekin will be out for at least six games and Harris/Finney-Smith will be out for at least three games. Even if that includes the team’s exhibition game against Florida Southern, the three would probably also be out for the team’s trip to Wisconsin turning what was once a promising match-up into a mismatch.
  4. It seems like we have updates on transfer waivers everyday. Today’s update has one approval and one denial. The approval comes out of Baylor where Denver transfer Royce O’Neale was granted a waiver that will allow him to play for Baylor this season. O’Neale, a 6’6″ guard who averaged 11.2 points and 5.5 rebounds per game last season as a sophomore at Denver, transferred to be closer to his ailing grandfather. On the other end of the spectrum, Isaac Hamilton was denied his waiver to play for UCLA this season. Hamilton was attempting to have his National Letter of Intent that he had signed with UTEP voided by the NCAA after Tim Floyd refused to release him. As a result, Hamilton will be allowed to practice with the Bruins, but will not be allowed to play for them until the 2014-15 season.
  5. Yesterday, was also a big day for high school recruits with three top-25 recruits announcing their commitments. Kevon Looney, a 6’9″ power forward, led the group off by committing to UCLA. The Bruins were able to beat out Wisconsin, Duke, Florida, Michigan State, and Tennessee with the Volunteers reportedly coming in second for his services. The announcement was a bit of a surprise as many recruiting analysts had the Bruins below Duke, Florida, and Tennessee for his services, but with how frequently Steve Alford has lost recruits at UCLA we wouldn’t be shocked to see Looney back out either. Looney was followed by Devin Booker, a 6’6″ shooting guard, committed to Kentucky with the Wildcats beating out Michigan State, Michigan, and Missouri. While having a top recruit commit to Kentucky is certainly not surprising it is worth noting that Devin’s father, Melvin, was a first-team All-American at Missouri in 1994 leading them to a 14-0 Big Eight record. Finally, James Blackmon Jr., a 6’2″ shooting guard, committed to Indiana (again). Blackmon’s decision is particularly notable because he originally committed to Indiana before backing out and was said to be considering Kentucky (where his father played) before recommitting to the Hoosiers.
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