SEC Morning Five: 12.28.11 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on December 28th, 2011

  1. SEC Men’s Player of the Week honors went to LSU’s Ralston Turner this week for his impressive play in beating 10th ranked Marquette. He scored 22 points on 4-of-5 three-point shooting. For the week, Turner averaged 15 points, 4.5 rebounds and one steal per game. Florida’s Bradley Beal took home another SEC Freshman of the Week award for his 21-point performance against Florida State. He averaged 17 points, six rebounds, two steals and one assist per game for the week. This was the third time Beal has won the award, which is especially impressive considering the freshmen class in the SEC this year.
  2. Kentucky’s Eloy Vargas is patiently biding his time until he gets an opportunity to play significant minutes for the Wildcats. “Coach is telling me I will get my time to shine,” Vargas said. “I am thinking about the future because some people will be in foul trouble, be hurt or not be tough enough and this is how you will come out for a big game. My chance will come. I just have to be ready for it.” Vargas has accepted his role as a rebounder and defensive presence on Kentucky’s front line. He grabbed seven rebounds against Samford last week while power forward Terrence Jones was out with an injury. Somewhat surprisingly, Vargas is Kentucky’s highest ranked player in both offensive (13.5%) and defensive rebounding (24.5%) percentage.
  3. Kentucky freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist received a police escort after the Wildcats’ game against Loyola on Thursday to make a flight to be home with his ill mother who was hospitalized on Wednesday evening. Kidd-Gilchrist and Kentucky coach John Calipari decided that he would stay in Lexington to play the game and then go home, but Kidd-Gilchrist says he was thinking about being in New Jersey. “It was hard. I mean, it’s my mother,” Kidd-Gilchrist said. “But it’s fine now, so it’s all good.” When you are as talented as Kidd-Gilchrist, perhaps it is easier to mentally check out but still score 15 points, seven rebounds and four assists as he did on Thursday.
  4. Kentucky would like to renew its series with Indiana so long as the series returns to neutral site games. Prior to 2006, the series alternated between Indianapolis and Louisville, and that is UK’s preference at this time. You may remember that the UK head coach has publicly questioned if Kentucky will be able to continue all of its current rivalries. Next year, both Texas A&M and Missouri join the SEC (wait, Missouri DID finally confirm its acceptance into the SEC, right?) and that means that the conference could add additional conference games into the regular season schedule. Calipari hinted that Kentucky will likely drop one of its highly competitive non-conference games (Louisville, North Carolina or Indiana), and it appears that Indiana is not at this time one of the dropped teams.
  5. Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin says that SEC teams shouldn’t be sleeping on the Volunteers this season. “You’ve got a team here that’s trying to find it’s way; you can’t overlook anyone,” Martin said. “I don’t think we’ve hit our stride as a unit.” In the Volunteers’ six losses, their largest loss was to Duke in the Maui Invitational by 10. UT has been competitive in every games this year. And help is on the way. Martin expects mid-season signee Jarnell Stokes to qualify academically, and to begin playing immediately. “It’s coming in here, and making sure his conditioning is where it needs to be,” Martin said. “As a coach it’s my responsibility to put him in situations where he can be successful. So you see where he does well and what his strengths are. He’s hungry to play.” Stokes is the 14th ranked prospect in RSCI’s Class of 2012 rankings, and is sure to help the Vols overcome many of these close losses. While Tennessee may still finish near the bottom of the conference standings, it would be short-sighted to think the Vols won’t pull a major upset or two in conference play.
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Five and Five: Kentucky’s Strengths and Weaknesses Against North Carolina

Posted by Brian Joyce on December 2nd, 2011

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

Weaknesses

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

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

Kentucky’s strengths are what have put them as the number one team in the country right now.
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Set Your TiVo: 12.01.11

Posted by bmulvihill on December 1st, 2011

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

The conference challenges roll on as the Big East / SEC Challenge gets started with two games at home for the SEC.  Let’s take a look at the action for Thursday night.

John Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats face another young team in St. John's in the Big East / SEC Challenge

St. John’s at #1 Kentucky – 7:30PM EST on ESPN2 HD (**)

  • After a quick 3-0 start, St. John’s has dropped its last three out of four including a home loss to Northeastern. With such a young team and Steve Lavin’s health situation, Red Storm fans should expect this type of up and down play all season. The Red Storm have four starters scoring in double figures, but their bench is extremely thin. When faced with an athletic, hard-charging team like Kentucky fatigue will probably be a factor by the second half. While the Red Storm shoots a very respectable 54% from two, their three-point shooting is an abysmal 27.7%.  Look for Kentucky to pack the lane and clean up the defensive boards.
  • Kentucky’s defense has been incredible all year. Granted the Wildcats have not faced an extremely difficult schedule thus far, they are still holding teams to an eFG of 36%. Additionally, their block rate is an astronomical 25%. If St. John’s continues to struggle from outside the arc and cannot extend the Wildcat defense, expect a block party in Lexington. The UK offense is firing on all cylinders as well. John Calipari’s team has five players averaging double figures and key contributors off the bench in Kyle Wiltjer and Eloy Vargas. If Kentucky continues to play offense and defense like they have thus far, this game will not be close.
  • Playing in Lexington is a tall task for any team. However, playing without your coach (Lavin needs more time to recover from prostate surgery) and playing with such a young team makes the task nearly impossible. While St. John’s may be able to keep the game close for a short period of time on sheer athleticism, expect this one to get ugly by the second half.
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Can Kentucky Become A Team? Does It Need To?

Posted by nvr1983 on November 23rd, 2011

The old adage is that for many great teams the whole is greater than the sum of their parts, but for this year’s Kentucky team the opposite may be true. While John Calipari and the rest of Big Blue Nation hopes that this changes by the end of the season, the team’s performance early on indicates that this may not be the case. If the Wildcats continue to excel as individuals playing well in moments, but doing so inconsistently, the question is whether these Kentucky Wildcats are loaded enough to win a title by relying on their extraordinarily talented parts as opposed to becoming an efficiently functioning team. We have seen plenty of instances where supremely talented teams fail to live up to their potential because they rely on spectacular individual performances rather than cohesive play as a unit. However, few college basketball teams have boasted this amount of talent (all five Kentucky starters could be selected in next year’s NBA Lottery), particularly in an era where much of the top-level talent spends so little time in college.

Are The Wildcats A Group Of Individuals Or A Team?

The suggestion that the Wildcats function more as a talented group of individuals rather than a team should not be taken as a condemnation of Kentucky’s basketball team or John Calipari’s coaching methods even if some within the Big Blue Nation will take it as such. It is more a reflection of the extraordinary talent on this team and the lack of experience (outside of two seniors, the rotation is essentially two sophomores and four freshmen). You can make a compelling argument that the Wildcats still have ample time this season to come together as a team, but an equally compelling argument can be made that the skill sets of the players in their rotation tend to overlap so much that it is unrealistic for Calipari to put a rotation of his five best players on the floor and not have at least one of the players be somewhat redundant. As a result, it is unlikely that Kentucky will use all five players on the court at their optimal level, particularly on offense.

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Kentucky’s Forgotten Man: Eloy Vargas

Posted by Brian Joyce on October 27th, 2011

The 2011-12 Kentucky Wildcats are the media darlings of the SEC and perhaps the entire country. There are already countless stories about the talents of Anthony Davis and Terrence Jones. There are plenty of anecdotes about the leadership of senior Darius Miller. The media likes to talk about the pressure on Marquis Teague to follow in the footsteps of the lineage of great point guards who have played before him in John Calipari’s system. There is even a documentary on HBO focusing on the life of a Kentucky freshman, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. But you probably won’t find another story about the importance of Eloy Vargas’ impact on the Kentucky Wildcats. Until now.

Eloy Vargas could be called upon to do significantly more for the Wildcats this year

The media overlooks Vargas because it is easy to do. But Kentucky fans don’t forget him. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Throughout most of his playing career, Kentucky fans wish they could forget about Vargas.

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Morning Five: 07.20.11 Edition

Posted by jstevrtc on July 20th, 2011

  1. Sporting News‘ Mike DeCourcy posted a fine summary yesterday of 2012 prospect Myles Davis‘ decision to verbally commit to Xavier, and we also saw that Mr. DeCourcy later tweeted a confirmation that Myles Davis was indeed named after…Miles Davis. This automatically makes him the coolest player in the 2012 class. We hope someone someday challenges Davis about his shot selection in some post-game press conference, so he can reply with something to the effect of, “There are no bad shots, just shots in the wrong places.” If this happens, inasmuch as we can’t reward Davis, we pledge to mow Chris Mack’s lawn on an as-needed basis for the entire off-season next summer.
  2. As MSNBC’s Mike Miller tweeted early yesterday, the fallout from this David Salinas possible Ponzi scheme story will come in the form of a “slow burn of incriminating details” over the rest of the summer. SI.com’s Pablo Torre has the latest on this fiasco, including names of coaches, amounts of money with which they entrusted Salinas, and a list of players who came through Salinas’ AAU program in Houston that, as the author says, “sparks potential questions.” Certainly true, especially when considering what (as the author notes in his article) former Houston coach Tom Penders told The Daily on Monday — that Salinas once offered him the chance to invest $100,000 with him, in the process making “a strong, strong implication” that the 100-large would grease the rails for Penders in terms of access to prospects at Salinas’ program. Yeesh. By the way, the biggest loss from Salinas’ business practices appears to have been $2.3 million (!!) that once belonged to new Texas Tech coach Billy Gillispie.
  3. Kentucky’s Jon Hood tore his right ACL during a pick-up game on Monday and will likely have to redshirt the 2011-12 season. Surgery has yet to be scheduled as they wait for inflammation around the knee to subside. You might look at Hood’s 0.8 PPG and 4.3 MPG from last season and write this off as an unfortunate incident for the young man and just a minor loss for the team, but beware; Hood is the only rising junior on the team, and Kentucky lost a potential senior when DeAndre Liggins left a year early for the NBA. They still have Darius Miller and Eloy Vargas as returning seniors, but when you’re as heavy on freshmen and sophomores as Kentucky, you’ll take any upperclassmen leadership you can get.
  4. Any coach will tell you that when you take over for another coach at a struggling program, it’s not just about new offenses and new defenses and so on. It often involves a change of the very culture of the place, and sometimes even a re-commitment to basic matters of professionalism by everyone concerned, and the process can sometimes take a couple of years. Coach-turned-announcer-turned-coach Mark Gottfried has a long row to hoe at NC State, but he knows that his first job is to convince his players that success begins with things as elementary as daily off-court habits that have little or nothing to do with basketball.
  5. If the latest “Hoop Thoughts” from Seth Davis doesn’t get your mid-July college basketball juices flowing, we wonder what will. In the latest edition, Davis takes the pulses of nine programs, each based on recent conversations he had with the coaches of those teams. We don’t want to give too much away, but Duke, Louisville, Michigan State, and Ohio State backers should take note. And he leads off with a proclamation of who will be the next official Cinderella in the vein of Gonzaga and Butler.
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Around The Blogosphere: May 23, 2011

Posted by nvr1983 on May 23rd, 2011

If you are interested in participating, send your submissions to rushthecourt@gmail.com as we will be updating these posts throughout the day.

General News

  • Dwayne Polee to transfer from St. John’s: “In a possibly huge blow to St. John’s ability to compete in the Big East next year, returning freshman Dwayne Polee II will transfer from the St. John’s program” (Rumble in the Garden)
  • Luke Hancock will transfer to Louisville: “Former George Mason forward Luke Hancock announced Saturday that he intends to transfer and play basketball at the University of Louisville.” (Card Chronicle)
  • Gottfried strikes again — lands potential starting senior point guard: “Earlier this week, the new Wolfpack coaching staff pulled a surprise when they landed European power forward Thomas de Thaey over Washington and Wake Forest.” (State Fans Nation)
  • UConn’s losing two scholarships, the NCAA will say it’s about bad academics but it’s really about bad basketball: “There are reasonable points to be made about Jim Calhoun bringing in too many guys who can’t cut it at UConn’s level, and we can have that discussion if you want. Just keep in mind that the reason UConn has lost two scholarships isn’t because guys like Eaves and Johnson couldn’t cut it in the classroom. It’s because they couldn’t cut it on the court.” (The UConn Blog)
  • Eloy notches a double-double, leads Reach USA to win: “Eloy Vargas continues to do work on his tour of China, as he posted 10 points and 12 rebounds and added three blocks in a 79-72 win over Lithuania earlier today.” (Kentucky Sports Radio)
  • Bobby Capobianco leaving IU, looking to transfer: The forward, who saw limited action, is still considering his options. (Inside the Hall)

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Who’s Got Next? A Recruiting Notebook…

Posted by Josh Paunil on April 11th, 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.  Each 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 in the lower levels of the sport.  If you have any suggestions as to areas we’re missing, please let us know at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Introduction

With this past week full of events such as the All-American Championship, Nike Hoop Summit and Nike EYBL that displayed top high school talent, there were a lot of chances to watch, analyze and talk to some of the best high school basketball players in the country of all grade levels. We were able to watch more than half of the top-50 prospects in both the classes of 2011 and 2012, and saw great match-ups such as the two best guards in the class of 2012 in Rodney Purvis (#9 – Louisville) and Ricardo Ledo (#10) going at it in the EYBL. We also saw Anthony Davis (#4 – Kentucky) go up against one of the top international big men in Bismack Biyombo (Fuenlabrada, Spain) in the Hoop Summit and two class of 2011 top-five point guards in Josiah Turner (#10 – Arizona) and B.J. Young (#22 – Arkansas).

What We Learned

Rodney Purvis, the #9 overall prospect in the class of 2012, was the best player at the Nike EYBL this past weekend in Virginia, and often required two defenders. (Credit: National Recruiting Spotlight)

Rodney Purvis Elevates to Top Guard. Purvis clearly established himself as the best guard in his class during the EYBL as he out-played the second-best guard in Ledo, hit clutch shots and scored prolifically from everywhere on the court. He is a big-time scorer who can shoot the lights out from behind the arc or take it to the rim where he can finish through contact. He is also a good ballhandler and applies great pressure defense at times which results in turnovers for his opponents. Purvis is able to keep his opponents in front of him as well on defense and has good anticipation which results in steals and easy transition baskets on the other end. Expect him to move even further up the rankings since he has started to consistently get into the lane where he can finish or dump it off to a big man. Purvis is an elite level talent who will make an immediate impact for Louisville in a couple of years.

Anthony Davis Rises to #1 Player (coming soon).  Like Purvis, Davis staked his claim as the best player at his position during the Hoop Summit. However, he went one step further and seized the title as the number one prospect in the country (our new rankings will be out next week). Saying Anthony Davis is versatile at 6’11 is an understatement. The former guard is a force down low as a tremendous shot-blocker and rebounder and is very good at guarding the perimeter against smaller players. He can also handle the ball well and is a deft passer.  Additionally, he can score off the dribble and can play either with his back or facing the basket. He is a very tough match-up due to his versatility. His shooting is respectable and he is a dominant offensive rebounder which allows him to get a lot of easy putbacks. Davis’ potential is unlimited and the sky is the limit for him, which is why he is the best player in his class. Look for Davis to dominate at Kentucky next year and to be an impact player in the NBA down the road.

A Duke Version of the Fab Five? The Fab Five documentary got a lot of press and media attention due to Jalen Rose’s remarks and Grant Hill’s response, but Duke-commit Rasheed Sulaimon took something else away from it. “I saw it and thought it would be a cool idea and I know Duke is recruiting [#5] Shabazz [Muhammad], [#19] L.J. [Rose] and [#15] Tony [Parker] hard so I thought why not put another one together,” Sulaimon said when I asked him about it. L.J. Rose also had some remarks about Sulaimon’s idea, “Him and Alex Murphy have been recruiting me, Shabazz [Muhammad] and Tony Parker hard. It would be fun, it would be a lot of fun.” Parker also smiled at the thought of the idea, “It would be fun,” he added.

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Set Your Tivo: Selection Sunday Edition

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 13th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

We finally made it. It’s Selection Sunday and one of the best Championship Weeks ever played concludes today. I’d like to thank any reader out there who has read even just one of these daily features this season. I hope you enjoyed it and maybe even learned something you didn’t know about a team(s) from following Set Your Tivo. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

ACC Championship (at Greensboro, NC): #5 Duke vs. #6 North Carolina – 1 pm on ESPN (*****)

Barnes and the Heels Could Snag a 1-Seed Later Today With a Win

The greatest rivalry in college basketball for the third time this year on the last day of the season? Sign me up. In an ACC year full of mediocrity, the two top dogs stepped up and have successfully found their way to the title game today. As you know, these teams split the regular season series with each winning on their home floor. The rubber match will be in Greensboro today, about an hour west of each campus and right in the heart of Tobacco Road.

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Checking in on… the SEC

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 8th, 2010

Jared Quillen is the RTC correspondent for the SEC.

A Look Back

  • Count me as one who didn’t see Festus Ezeli coming.  Vanderbilt’s player with the coolest name in the Southeastern Conference was named SEC player of the week for his superior play against Western Kentucky and Belmont, averaging 19.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.0 blocks including a 24/10 performance against Belmont.  He now sports numbers of 13.3 points, 7.8 rebounds and two blocks per game.   And he’s doing it in only 21.3 minutes an outing.   He also leads the SEC in field goal percentage at 67.7%.  No bad for a guy who last year averaged 3.8 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per contest.  I for one was critical of Vanderbilit in the preseason claiming they would be weak inside after losing AJ Ogilvy.  Uncle Festus has done a fantastic job thus far and will be pivotal in some of the close SEC contests that Vanderbilt is likely to face in the stacked SEC East.
  • Speaking of Vanderbilt, three different Vanderbilt players — Brad Tinsley, John Jenkins and Festus Ezeli — have been named player of the week.  Tennessee’s Scotty Hopson is the only other player in the league to be given the honor.  Also, Kentucky’s Terrence Jones and Tennessee’s Tobias Harris have been trading off freshman of the week honors.  If the pattern holds, it’s Jones’ week, a sight Wildcats fans would welcome after Jones’ horrendous 3-17 foul-out performance against North Carolina on Saturday.
  • In other Wildcat news, after Auburn football’s Cam Newton was declared eligible by the NCAA, the University of Kentucky opted to re-submit their case for Enes Kanter’s eligibility from a different angle rather than go through the appeals process.  The NCAA explained their decision to allow Newton to play by stating that there was no evidence that Newton had any idea that his father was shopping his skills to universities for pay.  In the NCAA’s eyes, as Newton was unaware that there was any issue with his amateurism, he should remain eligible to play.  UK hopes that the NCAA will hold form in what it sees as a similar case with a precedent and pass down a favorable ruling on Kanter, who is a Turkish national that received benefits above expenses while playing for a professional team in his homeland.  Kanter, his family and the school maintain that Kanter intended to play college basketball all along and did not intentionally violate any rules.  The NCAA allows foreign players to play on professional teams and maintain their amateurism so long as they do not receive benefits above expenses.
  • Auburn and Missisippi State have yet to play a road game.  Auburn at least will head to Pittsburgh to play Rutgers in a neutral site game as part of the SEC/Big East Invitational.  Mississippi State, however, will be relaxing at home this week as they won’t hit the road until December 18, when they face Virginia Tech.  Hey, isn’t that when Renardo Sidney finally plays?

Power Rankings

  1. Tennessee (6-0): Tennessee is the lone undefeated team in the SEC.  Plus they didn’t play this week, which means their record went untarnished.  The Volunteers are taking an 11-day break while they prepare for Pittsburgh.  I guess it’s kind of tough to recover after facing Middle Tennessee at home.
  2. Vanderbilt (7-1): Vanderbilt just keeps climbing.  Their only loss is to West Virginia.  No shame in that, and should they beat Missouri on Wednesday, they are all but guaranteed a top 25 ranking – A pleasant surprise for a team that was picked to finish fifth in East by the media, this writer included.
  3. South Carolina (6-1): Like Vanderbilt, South Carolina continues to impress.  Their sole blemish is a hard-fought loss to Michigan State in their second game of the year.  Again, no shame in that.  This week, they beat Delaware State and then beat Clemson in a 64-60 thriller that came down to the final minute, just the way you like to beat an in-state rival.
  4. Georgia (6-2) After two straight tough losses to Notre Dame and Temple, Georgia has won three in a row.  One of those is a three-point win against Manhattan, a team that is now 2-6 and hasn’t made the Tournament since 2004.  Georgia followed that up with a 66-64 win over UAB and a 73-72 close call against rival Geogia Tech.  With Trey Thompkins playing better after a couple of unsteady early games, all should be back on track in Athens.  Thompkins is averaging 19.7 points and 7.7 rebounds and shooting well after scoring 13 in each of his first two games on 37% from the field.
  5. Kentucky (5-2): What to do with Kentucky?  They lost to North Carolina in their only game this week, so perhaps they should go lower than some other teams on this list, but to drop them to sixth or below seems absurd.  Kentucky had no answer for Tyler Zeller on Saturday and the hole inside became a gaping chasm on Saturday when big men Terrence Jones, Josh Harrellson and Eloy Vargas combined for 15 fouls, 3 turnovers, 1 assist and only 13 points on 5-19 shooting.  I can hear the “Free Enes” chants coming from UK’s campus even with my headphones blasting Smashing Pumpkins.  (Hey, I’m a nineties kid).
  6. Arkansas (5-1): Arkansas went 2-0 this week against Oklahoma and Troy.  But then again, who in the SEC hasn’t beaten these teams?  Kentucky beat Oklahoma and the Sooners have lost four since and the SEC is beating up on Troy left and right.  The Trojans have already taken their licks from Alabama and Mississippi State and now Arkansas.  Their lone win is against Division-II Huntington (AL).  Coach Pelphrey, I’d love to rank you higher this week, but I can’t against these teams.  Come back with a couple more wins next week and we’ll talk.
  7. Florida (6-2): The Gators lost to Central Florida after eking out a close one against Florida State.  I know they went and pummeled American just after that and I know UCF is now 7-0, but I also know that a team with Florida’s talent shouldn’t be dropping games like that.  When starting forwards Alex Tyus and Chandler Parsons combine to go 1-14 against much smaller competition, there are problems.  Furthermore, I didn’t think it was possible, but Kenny Boynton is even worse from three this year than last year.  He is currently shooting 26.5 percent, compared to 29.4 percent in 2009-10.  Dreadful.  I wasn’t convinced this group of Gators was much better than last year’s, when the media was picking them to win the SEC and possibly make a Final Four run and they are proving me the wiser.  Step it up, Florida.  There’s a lot of work to be done before conference play starts.
  8. Mississippi (4-2): Luckily for the Rebels, Chris Warren can make those off-balance threes when they matter.  Well, at least against Southern Mississippi he can.  He’s only shooting 28 percent on the year from three, but he shot 4-9 from deep against Southern Miss in his best game this season.  That’s a good win for Mississippi against a quality opponent.  Look for Southern Mississippi to do good things in Conference USA this year.
  9. Mississippi State (4-1): The Bulldogs didn’t play this week, but Ravern Johnson still leads the SEC in scoring at 25.4 per game, and he’s got plenty of breathing room.  Kentucky’s Terrence Jones is second at 19.0 points per game.  Additionally, Kodi Augustus continues to lead the league in rebounding at 10.8 per game.
  10. LSU (5-2): Also didn’t play anyone this week.  The Tigers have been on the road exactly once so far, against South Alabama. They return to the Maravich to square off against the Central Michigan Chippewas in the second of seven straight home games. Show me something, Trent Johnson.
  11. Auburn (3-4) Well, this is the first week Auburn hasn’t been in last place.  I’m not totally sure they deserve the honor, if you want to call it that.  It’s never impressive to see a Division-II team on the schedule.  Auburn beat Georgia Southwestern and Arkansas-Pine Bluff this week, both at home.  I guess when you’re playing the tough ones, you want to give yourself that homecourt advantage.
  12. Alabama (4-4) The Tide beat South Alabama 72-50 and then got worked over by Purdue 66-47 in a game in which they went 0-9 from three.  I really thought Alabama was going to be better than this.  The three-point shooting is terrible and they turn the ball over too much.  And it’s not like they’ve played the toughest competition.  Purdue is the first team Alabama has played that should have had a shot at beating the Tide.  On the bright side, I’m sure they’ll jump back in front of in-state rival Auburn next week.

A Look Ahead

The SEC/Big East Invitational is this week and can I just say that this event has turned out to be a major disappointment on the part of the conference’s planners.  Here is the lineup this year:

  • 12/8: Arkansas vs. Seton Hall, Kentucky vs. Notre Dame
  • 12/11: Auburn vs. Rutgers, Tennessee vs. Pittsburgh

As my father used to say about my shoddy yardwork, “This ain’t cuttin’ it.”  Can we please get some kind of a legitimate invitational here?  The matchups in this series are continually disappointing.  We’re lucky that Notre Dame has been surprisingly good this year, or the Tennessee/Pitt game would be the only one worth watching.  There are 28 teams between these two conferences and these are the eight teams they schedule?  Where are Florida, Georgia, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt?  Where are Syracuse, Connecticut, Louisville, Georgetown, and Villanova?  Instead of providing us with some marquee publicity-generating matchups, we are given perennial cellar dwellers Auburn, Rutgers and Seton Hall.  Really?  As I said, it ain’t cuttin’ it.

Other Important Games this Week

  • 12/8 – Vanderbilt at Missouri: If Vanderbilt picks up a win here and wins the games they are supposed to through the rest of the preseason, they’ve probably all but assured themselves an NCAA Tournament bid.  All that’s left is the seeding.
  • 12/11 – Kentucky vs. Indiana: Twelve championships between them and a long-standing history of hoops tradition. What’s not to like?
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One Man’s Opinion: Contenders After One Month

Posted by zhayes9 on December 6th, 2010

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court.

After engulfing myself in a nightly binge of college basketball over the first month of the season- taking in games from the Big Apple to the Little Apple and from Cancun to Maui- here is one man’s evaluation on some of the top teams in the country and where they stand heading into the final weeks of non-conference play:

Kyrie Irving has surpassed expectations thus far

Duke- It’s going to take a near perfect effort to beat Duke this season. Being able to lure Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler back to campus coinciding with a severe down year in the ACC was truly the perfect storm of circumstance. One chance a team may have to dethrone Duke is if they lure Mason Plumlee into two early fouls, keep them in the halfcourt and the Blue Devils become three-happy, but Duke does have five players who can catch fire from deep at any time. Kyrie Irving has surpassed any and all expectations during the first month of the season. His court awareness is reminiscent of a 10-year NBA veteran rather than an 18-year old college freshman. His use of the hesitation dribble, ability to split screens, explode to the basket and display innate court awareness has vaulted Irving to stardom. What makes Duke so lethal is that they have a plethora of options that can explode for 25 points on any given night, just as Plumlee did against Marquette or Singler against Oregon or Irving against Michigan State.  There’s three potential lottery picks on this team, but selfishness is never an issue and they flow together seamlessly on the court. I have a hard time pointing out exactly where Duke slips up this season; after all, they don’t face a currently ranked team the rest of the slate.

Ohio State- Here’s the one team I feel would have a good shot at knocking off Duke on a neutral floor right now. They can come close to matching the Blue Devils at every position on the floor if William Buford runs the point. Jared Sullinger has been overrated a bit in the early going. Most of his production has come off easy dunks and layups and I haven’t seen an array of post moves quite yet, although I trust that they exist in his arsenal. It’s his fellow freshmen that should be receiving more attention. DeShaun Thomas is scoring 13 PPG in just over 17 MPG of play and shooting 56% from the floor. I’ve also been wildly impressed with the headiness and intelligence of Aaron Craft at the point. He’s compiled a near 2/1 assist/turnover ratio in the early going and has done a fantastic job finding shooters Diebler and Lighty off screens or Sullinger in low post position. David Lighty is this team’s MVP. He’s a lockdown defender and has really improved his outside jumper, while Buford may have the best mid-range game in the Big Ten. One should always anticipate Tom Izzo’s team to improve as the season wears on, but the Buckeyes have to be the odds-on favorite to win this conference as of now.

Pittsburgh- I know it’s horribly cliché when talking about Pittsburgh, but “tough” is the first word that comes to mind. Jamie Dixon’s teams are never outworked and currently lead all of college basketball is offensive rebounding percentage. Pitt seemingly has an assembly line of big men they can trot off the bench to give Gary McGhee, Nasir Robinson and Talib Zanna breathers. Dixon loves to run Ashton Gibbs off screens for open looks and the junior sharpshooter is connecting better than ever, although he still lacks true point guard skills. Although the rotation will eventually be trimmed down, Dixon has the luxury of digging 10-deep into his bench that Big East rivals like Georgetown and Connecticut simply do not have. McGhee is the type of bruiser inside that every team would love to throw out there for 20 MPG. He gives Pitt’s offense extra shot opportunities and shuts down opposing big men inside. Pitt doesn’t necessarily have the star power of other Final Four contenders, but their toughness and execution as a unit may be enough to carry them to Houston.

Kansas- I think we all need to take a moment to applaud the job Bill Self has done in Lawrence. This program lost two lottery picks and an All-American and have taken maybe one step back. This is a credit to the tremendous depth Self has compiled at Kansas and his staff’s ability to develop players. When Josh Selby is eligible on December 18, this team becomes Final Four good. He could be lumped into the same category as Irving, Walker and McCamey come March. I’ve been wildly impressed with how well the Jayhawks know their roles. The Morris brothers complement each other with Marcus as the inside-outside scoring threat (18.6 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 65% FG, 9/15 from deep) and Markieff perfectly content with doing the dirty work on the boards and in the paint. In and out of Self’s doghouse during his tenure at Kansas, Tyshawn Taylor has done a quietly solid job filling in for Selby at the point distributing the basketball.  A player who also flies under the radar is Brady Morningstar. Most just view him as a spot-up shooter, but he’s a valuable cog for Self ushering the fast break and setting up teammates for open looks.

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Ten Opening Night Scribbles

Posted by zhayes9 on November 13th, 2010

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist at Rush the Court.

It would be foolish to draw too many sweeping conclusions after one rust-filled outing against inferior competition, but there are certain elements within a game that can provide a glimpse into what to expect during the season ahead.  After watching a handful of games last night and tracking each and every box score this morning, these ten things caught my eye:

Tinsley is now the full time point guard at Vandy

1. As is often the case in the SEC, Vanderbilt flew under the radar in the preseason. Kentucky’s ballyhooed freshmen class received the buzz, Florida was crowned the prohibitive favorite due to the return of five starters, Bruce Pearl’s recruiting indiscretions vaulted Tennessee into the spotlight for the wrong reasons and Mississippi State could certainly be dangerous when Dee Bost and Renardo Sidney return nine games into the campaign. The Commodores, coming off a 24-9 season and a #4 seed in the NCAA Tournament, didn’t receive the same publicity as their SEC brethren. But that’s just how Kevin Stallings, one of the best X’s and O’s coaches in the business, prefers it. The loss of senior point guard Jermaine Beal (and the premature departure of A.J. Ogilvy inside) was a big reason why many pegged Vanderbilt to take a step back from a season ago, even with returnees John Jenkins and Jeffrey Taylor oozing with talent and potential. The question was how junior point guard Brad Tinsley would step in for the grizzled veteran Beal and run the Commodores offense with the same aplomb, finding Jenkins off curls and screens for open threes or big man Festus Ezeli in scoring position on the block. Tinsley showed he’s up for the task in a 41-point romp of Presbyterian at Memorial Gymnasium on Friday, notching Vandy’s first triple-double in school history with 11 points and a career high 10 assists and 10 rebounds (not too shabby for a 6’3 guard). Tinsley also collected three steals and only turned the ball over twice. If Tinsley provides playmaking and stability at the point, Taylor lives up to his future lottery pick billing as an impact wing, Jenkins continues his proficiency from deep and Ezeli gives Vandy a presence inside, the Commodores will win 24 games again.

2. Two wins on Friday night may fly under the radar a bit, but are absolutely worth highlighting. The first is Minnesota’s convincing home victory over Wofford. I expected the Terriers to give Tubby Smith’s squad all kinds of trouble and possibly even win this game straight up. Wofford returns four starters, including potential SoCon POY Noah Dahlman, from a stout defensive team that gave Wisconsin a scare in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Heck, I even pegged them as my Cinderella last week. Throw in yet another Minnesota suspension on Thursday (this time off-guard Devoe Joseph) and this had all the makings of a super competitive test for the Gophers. Instead, Minnesota controlled the game throughout, leading by ten at half and winning 69-55 behind 20/13 from Ralph Sampson and 14/10 in Trevor Mbakwe’s debut in maroon and gold. The Gopher bigs also contained Dahlman to 15 points and the Wofford guards couldn’t find their stroke from deep. Don’t be surprised if this is an RPI top-100 win for Minnesota by season’s end. A second win that stood out is West Virginia’s romp of Oakland, another squad favored to win their conference behind potential first round pick Keith Benson. Benson did his thing with 22/15 but received no help as the Mountaineers utilized a balanced attack- Joe Mazzulla, Dalton Pepper, John Flowers, Deniz Kilicli, Casey Mitchell and Darryl Bryant all scored in double figures- to romp the Golden Grizzlies 95-71. Without an all-Big East perimeter threat like Da’Sean Butler at their disposal, this type of team effort is imperative if the Mountaineers want to vault themselves into the upper echelon of the Big East this season.

3. It’s painfully obvious that Georgetown is going to live and die with their backcourt this season. Their frontcourt pieces- Julian Vaughn, Nate Lubick, Jerelle Benimon and Henry Sims- are unspectacular, role players that can crash the boards, provide versatility and dish from the top of the key in the Georgetown halfcourt offense, but simply cannot be relied upon as consistent scoring threats. The Hoyas opener at reigning CAA champion and preseason favorite Old Dominion exposed this weakness inside. The Monarchs out-rebounded Georgetown by 11, blocked nine more shots and the Hoya forwards only scored eight of the team’s 62 points. Yet Georgetown eked out an enormous road victory on the heels of their experienced and savvy backcourt trio of Chris Wright, Austin Freeman and Jason Clark. The threesome led Georgetown back from a second-half deficit with clutch threes and free throws down the stretch, including one from Wright on a crosscourt Hollis Thompson feed where the 6’1 senior wasn’t even able to even land as the shot clocked expired. Given the Monarchs defensive prowess and the return of four starters from a team that advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, this is in all likelihood a top-50 RPI win for Georgetown in the first week of the campaign. If more of those marquee wins are to come, Wright, Freeman and Clark will be the reasons.

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