SEC M5: 02.01.13 Edition

Posted by DPerry on February 1st, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. Frank Haith has had a rough month. Questions over his job security in the wake of violations at Miami have been festering, and his Missouri Tigers, previously ranked in the top 10, were in free fall after heavy losses to Ole Miss and Florida. But forward Laurence Bowers’ return would solve the latter problem at least, right? Wrong. Missouri lost to LSU in Baton Rouge, and Haith is not amused. “We have no toughness in the first half; we have no resolve,” Haith said. “It’s disappointing. It’s really extremely disappointing. Guys are tending to do their own thing when the game’s getting tight or there’s adversity.” Star point guard Phil Pressey, despite finally finding his scoring touch, should shoulder as much of the blame as anyone. The Wooden Award nominee has become a gunner from long-range, and missed a hurried effort (one of his 8 3-point misses on the night) late in the game when Missouri had been steadily coming back. “We (had been) driving the ball, and we needed to keep driving the ball,” Haith said, noting there was plenty of time left. “We said that in timeouts.” The Tigers are 0-4 in true road games this season.
  2. “They’re real good.” -Frank Martin. He was talking, of course, about Florida, right after his Gamecocks succumbed to a nearly 40-point loss at their hands. The Gators, sporting a 7-0 conference record with a point differential of over 28, are making a mockery of the SEC. They’ve beaten up on the bottom of the league, but the sheer dominance of their victories, not to mention the shellacking of 17th-ranked Missouri, indicates that weak opposition isn’t the only explanation for their success. Florida isn’t unbeatable, but their balanced offense (the nation’s 4th most efficient) is somewhat of a safeguard against an unexpected upset. Four players average more than 11.0 points a game, and a fifth (Scottie Wilbekin), was just named SEC Player of the Week. Even if the odds are defied and every Gator has an off shooting night, coach Billy Donovan can just fall back on the 2nd best defense in the country. Your move SEC.
  3. Tennessee will be likely be shorthanded for their trip to Fayetteville this weekend. Junior guard Trae Golden suffered an injury to his right hamstring late in the Volunteers victory over Vanderbilt and is unlikely to recover by Saturday. “It’s tough for our team,” Vols head coach Cuonzo Martin said. “I thought he had really been assertive (lately) with the ball. So it’s tough for our team, but more importantly, it’s tough for Trae. He wants to be out there. He’s upset about it. But we have to keep moving.” Hometown walk-on Brandon Lopez should be the next in line to pick up the slack for Golden. The early scouting report on him features a lot of the standard buzzwords for walk-ons, so any offensive output will be a bonus. Arkansas’ up-tempo style and the loss of Golden puts points at a premium, so the Volunteers will have to count on Jordan McRae rediscovering his shooting stroke and Jarnell Stokes continuing his recent offensive resurgence.
  4. As if having 12 of your shots blocked by one person wasn’t painful enough, the hits keep on coming for Ole Miss in the aftermath of their loss to Kentucky. Reserve forward Aaron Jones suffered a torn ACL while senior guard Nick Williams re-aggravated a foot injury. Jones is obviously done for the year, while there is no timetable for Willams’ return. This represents a serious blow to the Rebels’ depth, affording coach Andy Kennedy no game time to adjust his rotation before traveling to Gainesville this weekend. Freshman Derrick Millinghaus, who has seen his minutes dwindle since the start of conference play, should see more time, while classmate Terry Brutus seems like the best bet to contribute a few minutes in the paint.
  5. I said a few months ago that we wouldn’t mention this guy on this microsite again, but circumstances are forcing my hand. Big Blue Nation favorite and apparent troll Billy Gillispie will be in attendance for Kentucky’s trip to College Station this weekend. In response to Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy‘s invite, Gillispie said “Actually, I’m playing golf [in College Station] on Friday. I said, ‘Who are y’all playing Saturday?’ They said, ‘Kentucky,’ and so I said, ‘I think I’ll go.’ But it’s no big deal.” Kentucky players will be focused on stopping Aggie guard Elston Turner, who scored 40 in his trip to Rupp Arena, but Wildcat fans will certainly be paying attention to an individual on the sideline. Expect one of ESPN’s cameras to be attached to Billy, treatment usually reserved at Kentucky games for Ashley Judd.
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Handicapping the SEC POY Race Heading Into February

Posted by Christian D'Andrea on January 29th, 2013

Christian D’Andrea is a microsite contributor and an editor at Anchor of Gold and Nashville Sports Hub. You can complain about his terrible oddsmaking in the comments, or find him on Twitter @TrainIsland.

The first three weeks of conference play have come and gone in the SEC, and we’ve uncovered some revelations about the league. Ole Miss, for example, showed that a weak non-conference schedule camouflaged an emerging team. Florida, who hasn’t played a league game that it hasn’t won by 17 points or more, is every bit the beast they were expected to be. Missouri and Kentucky, on the other hand, have struggled despite talented rosters. What’s less clear is who the best player in the conference is. Several athletes have stepped up this year, some big men like Nerlens Noel and Reginald Buckner to guards like Phil Pressey and Kenny Boynton. They’ll all have their chance to join legends like Shaquille O’Neal, Charles Barkley, Bernard King, and Dan Langhi in earning SEC Player of the Year honors. So far, a surprising player leads the pack as January winds to a close. Ole Miss is 6-0 in conference play, and a big part of that revival has been thanks to Marshall Henderson’s shooting. He’s not the only one with his eyes on the SEC POY hardware, though. Let’s take a look at who is gunning for league honors, and where their odds stand nearly 20 games into the season.

The Frontrunners

As If Enough Hadn't Been Written About Him Already This Week... (AP)

As If Enough Hadn’t Been Written About Him Already This Week… (AP)

  • Marshall Henderson, Ole Miss (5:1 odds to win POY)  – Well this is certainly surprising – at least to people not named Marshall Henderson. Henderson has been the catalyst behind Ole Miss’ surprising season by leading his team in scoring and swagger. The cocksure shooter has willed Mississippi to a 6-0 start in conference play. He leads the SEC in scoring and his shooting touch has pulled the Rebels out of tight games against Auburn, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt. Henderson has plenty of negatives, though. He’s shooting less than 40 percent from the field and a big function of his game is having players like Reginald Buckner and Murphy Holloway up front to clean up his mess. He’s also an unreliable passer who averages more turnovers than assists from the backcourt. Still, he’s been the focal point of Mississippi’s 2013 revival, and his scoring and ability to come up big in the clutch have made him the POY front-runner as January winds down.

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SEC M5: 01.25.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 25th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. Earlier this week it seemed inevitable that Missouri’s Frank Haith was doomed to receive a notice of allegations from the NCAA and a potentially devastating penalty to go along with it. Then, the NCAA reported unethical conduct within its own investigation of Miami booster Nevin Shapiro. Our overlords on the RTC home page discussed the embarrassment associated with another botched scenario for the NCAA in Wednesday’s Morning Five. The NCAA’s ineptitude could end up giving Haith a temporary victory. With the NCAA sidelined with sorting out its own transgressions, a notice of allegations for Haith probably will not be coming anytime soon. Haith might not get away from this scandal unscathed, but now it appears that he will at least have a temporary reprieve.
  2. John Calipari is continuing to openly question his young team’s commitment to playing winning basketball in the wake of a 59-55 loss to Alabama. “Look, we still haven’t totally bought in,” Calipari said. “Individual players haven’t. But they just haven’t bought in, so we’re still doing it. But this is a team that’s growing and getting better. We showed signs and now we took a step back.” To paraphrase the words of former Kentucky coach Billy Gillispie, this team needs toughness, but Calipari maintains his staff can’t coach the intangibles. “If we have to coach emotion and intensity and effort, you’re not really coaching basketball.” One has to begin to wonder if Calipari’s decision to publicly criticize his team is based on a strategic move or has simply the result of frustration.
  3. Calipari also praised Alabama’s effort in pulling out the win in a close game against his Wildcats. “I love that kind of game. It’s a gut game. Had nothing to do with anything else. Neither one of us played well. They gutted it. They had discipline at the end. We did not – and that sometimes happens with a young team.” Alabama coach Anthony Grant agreed and praised the way his team finished the game. “To be able to win speaks volumes about the character of our guys and the resiliency of our guys,” Grant said. Alabama’s tough play of late has the Crimson Tide firmly in third place in the SEC standings with a 4-1 start to conference play.
  4. Florida’s 64-47 win over Georgia wasn’t a thing of beauty, but Billy Donovan was proud of his team’s effort. “I’m proud of our guys because we gutted the win out,” he said. “It wasn’t a pretty thing [where] we were just coming down and everything was easy. This was a hard-fought, tough, tough grind-out win”. Florida’s rebounding numbers have been key to the Gators’ continued success as they grabbed 10 offensive rebounds and tallied an over 80 percent defensive rebounding percentage on Wednesday night.
  5. LSU had a gameplan in its victory over Texas A&M, and it didn’t necessarily involve Anthony Hickey‘s career-high eight steals. Johnny Jones plan consisted of shutting down scorer Elston Turner. “I think a couple of things helped us with Turner: We extended the defense, which put him away from the basket, and when he got in the half-court sets, they didn’t have as much time on the shot clock,” Jones said. “I thought our guys did an excellent job, Malik Morgan and Charles Carmouche did a great job of shadowing him well, and then I thought the post guys did an excellent job of trying to trap the ball out of his hands and force him away from the basket.” Turner scored just five points on a season-low seven field goal attempts. It is clear that SEC defenses will focus on Turner after his 40-point performance in Rupp Arena so the Aggies need to find a second scoring option to help shoulder the load.
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SEC M5: 01.23.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 23rd, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. Scottie Wilbekin is probably not the first player you think of on the Florida roster, but he is emerging as a superstar on defense. “He’s always hung his hat on being a great defender,” coach Billy Donovan said about his starting point guard. “That’s always been important to him. Our defense has gotten better and he’s got a lot to do with that. As a point guard, it’s probably somewhat changed our team’s mentality a little bit going out there and defending the way we have.” Wilbekin’s lock-down defense held Texas A&M’s Elston Turner to four points (a season low) on 1-of-10 shooting after a superb 40-point performance against Kentucky. Then, he held consensus preseason SEC player of the year Phil Pressey to two points (a season low) and 10 turnovers (season high) over the weekend.
  2. It seems like Florida Gator Erik Murphy has been playing through one injury or another all season long. But Murphy admits he’s playing through some pain caused by a broken rib. “Duke [Florida trainer Dave "Duke" Werner] pads it up pretty good, so it doesn’t really hurt that much when I get hit on it,” Murphy said. “Just trying to take care of it every day. Ice it. It’s getting better. The longer I wait, the better it’ll get. It’s healing over time, feeling better. But it’s not that bad when I’m playing.” The casual observer might not even notice a difference. Murphy’s statistics haven’t dropped off since missing his only game of the year on January 6 at Yale. He’s scored in double figures in each of the four games he’s played since.
  3. Kentucky won big at Auburn on Saturday, and coach John Calipari said that he saw something during that game that he’s “been waiting all year for.” It wasn’t necessarily the victory that got Coach Cal riled up. “See, I’m trying to convince them that the wins and losses, they come and go. You’re not going to be judged just by that. You’re going to be judged by your effort, your fight, your scrappiness. At the end of your career, that’s what they’re going to look at. Did you have it or not?” Cal’s corps of freshmen might not have it yet, but sometimes it takes a reminder that many of the Wildcats’ core group of leaders are just 17 games into their college careers and it takes more time than that to develop a cohesive team.
  4. Is Arkansas a football state or is there a possibility that fans of the flagship university can support basketball along with their love for football? Mike Anderson was brought in to save the Razorback program with a fast-paced (and winning) brand of basketball, but is it working? There seems to be more questions than answers regarding its current state, but fan support remains an important component to the measure of success. It was, in large part, a portion of the reason John Pelphrey was dismissed from the program. And right now, fan support in Arkansas is dwindling. Is that because of a lack of institutional support or is it because Anderson simply isn’t getting it done? He still has time to turn things around, but how much of a leash he has may be the most important question of all.
  5. On the flip side, Auburn sees its fan base growing in large part because of its belief in third year coach Tony Barbee’s ability to win games. A sold-out crowd against Kentucky on Saturday night showed the coaching staff that the fans are behind them and the team. “The excitement around Auburn basketball is the highest it’s been since we’ve been here,” assistant coach Randall Dickey said. And the interest in the team coincides with improved play from the Tigers. Auburn has a losing overall record, but wins over Florida State and LSU, along with a positive effort against the Wildcats, has Auburn seemingly headed in the right direction.
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Ten Tuesday Scribbles: On Duke, Title Contenders, USC and More…

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 15th, 2013

tuesdayscribbles

Brian Otskey is an RTC columnist. Every Tuesday during the regular season he’ll be giving his 10 thoughts on the previous week’s action. You can find him on Twitter @botskey

  1. Over the last week we have seen the number of undefeated teams reduced to zero. Now that every team has a loss, the speculation about which team should be #1 is heating up. Those who adhere to the résumé argument will say that Duke deserves to stay atop the polls despite its Saturday loss to NC State and they are absolutely right. The problem is, in my opinion, that ranking teams based on their résumé  alone is the easy way out. We have a NCAA Tournament Selection Committee who does that for us every year in mid-March. There is more to ranking a team than who it has beat and who it has lost to. There are other factors to consider including statistics and extenuating circumstances. When it comes to the Blue Devils as they are currently constructed, I can’t say they are the best team in the country. Duke is a potent offensive team, but there are other areas for concern. While acknowledging that the efficiency numbers say otherwise, I don’t believe Duke is an elite defensive team. The Blue Devils have allowed 70+ points on only four occasions, but all have come against good competition–Minnesota, Louisville, Santa Clara, and NC State. That tells me when the chips are down against good teams, Duke might not be able to get the stops it needs to win a close game away from Cameron Indoor Stadium. Rebounding is also a concern for Mike Krzyzewski’s team despite having Mason Plumlee in the middle. But perhaps the more immediate concern is the injury to Ryan Kelly who is out indefinitely with a foot injury. Duke has been quiet about it, with Coach K only saying it could be a long-term recovery. This only creates more doubt about a player who is very important to the team’s success. Duke is certainly among the top three or four teams in the country right now, but with Kelly’s uncertainty, some defensive concerns (especially compared to say, Louisville), and the rebounding Achilles heel, I have a hard time saying Duke is the flat out best team in the nation.

    Ryan Kelly's injury is a major concern for Duke.

    Ryan Kelly’s injury is a major concern for Duke.

  2. Watching Connecticut take it to Louisville in the first half of last night’s Big Monday game probably created some doubt about the Cardinals among those watching. Of course, there are two halves to a basketball game and Louisville showed why it was ranked #1 in this week’s poll with a dominant second half against the Huskies. There are two main keys to Louisville’s success: Peyton Siva and team defense. Siva was on the bench for quite some time in the first half with foul trouble, but came back and took over after intermission. Louisville’s defense, after giving up 54% shooting in the first half and likely enduring the wrath of Rick Pitino at halftime, held Connecticut to 24 points on 26% shooting over the final 20 minutes. Louisville’s ability to lock you down is second to none. There is not another team in the nation that combines the quickness and ball pressure of two all-conference guards, tall and agile forwards, depth, and an eraser with a massive wingspan on the back line. If the Cardinals are to win a national championship in Atlanta this April, defense will be the reason why. While Louisville is certainly better offensively than it was last season, I still have some concerns on that end of the floor. Louisville could have a tough time against a team with a good interior defense (Kansas for example) because three-point shooting it a major weakness. Can the Cardinals score in a halfcourt game (as tournament games usually are) against strong competition when they absolutely have to come up with a bucket? In my view, that is still to be determined.  If the answer is yes, Louisville will be your national champion. Read the rest of this entry »
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SEC M5: 01.14.13 Edition

Posted by DPerry on January 14th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. The defending national champions are squarely on the bubble. That realization hit the Kentucky faithful hard this weekend as the Wildcats dropped their fifth game of the season in a home loss to Texas A&M. The idea that John Calipari’s team wouldn’t be invited to this year’s tournament scarcely cross the minds of college basketball fans going in to season, but through the first half of the season, Kentucky’s season-opening win over Maryland is their only RPI Top 100 victory. “It’s still early January. It’s going to be another month before this team comes together,” Calipari said Saturday. “I just hope we are winning enough games as we learn to do this.” He may be out of luck. There’s a lot of basketball to be played, but with the SEC’s lack of quality, there are very few opportunities for quality wins left on the schedule.
  2. Texas A&M’s Elston Turner has deservedly been admitted to the  unofficial pantheon of “Cat Killers”. He can’t claim the top spot (the belongs to David Robinson and his 45 points way back in ’87), but I can’t imagine that the Aggie senior would be too bummed about finishing behind the Admiral. Maybe he can just settle for National Player of the Week. Singing the praises of a guy who just dropped 40 points in one of college basketball’s most hallowed venues is tough to do without sounding overly obvious. But I’ll try. He simply couldn’t miss. Opponents know that stopping Turner is practically synonymous with stopping Texas A&M, and Kentucky’s collection of athletes still couldn’t him. He made 14 field goals on 19 attempts, and while I haven’t found an official stat for so-called daggers, Turner had plenty of those as well. The Aggies are peaking at the right time, and will hope to carry that momentum through to their home date with Florida this week.
  3. In addition to being charged with creating a gameplan to stop Turner, Billy Donovan will be dealing with another injury to a contributor leading up to Florida’s trip to College Station. Casey Prather suffered a lower leg injury in the Gator’s blowout of LSU over the weekend, and the junior swingman is  facing an indefinite (quickly becoming college basketball’s new buzzword) stretch on the sideline. “That is what they are saying right now— a high ankle sprain,” said Donovan. “Those things are tough to come back from and they’re a long healing process if that’s what it is.” Prather joins Mike Rosario (suffering from a high ankle sprain as well) on the trainers table, and while neither injury appears to be season-ending, Florida’s depth in the short term will clearly be taking a huge hit. Erik Murphy’s return against LSU couldn’t have come at a better time, but a six-man rotation isn’t conducive with the brand of basketball Donovan wants to play.
  4. Does Missouri really need Laurence Bowers? I can’t imagine that anyone was actually asking that question, but the answer is a resounding yes. The 10th-ranked Tigers were run off the floor in Oxford over the weekend, unable to overcome the loss of their primary frontcourt scoring option. Point guard Phil Pressey finished with as many turnovers as he had assists, stifled by an offense that struggled mightily for creativity and inspiration. Jabari Brown, Earnest Ross, and Pressey combined to miss 13 3-pointers, several of which were forced because of the newly-reinstalled 4-guard offense’s inability to cope with the Ole Miss pressure defense. “I don’t think they ever got in an offensive rhythm and that’s a tribute to how much effort our guys had defensively,” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy told reporters.
  5. Vanderbilt’s Kevin Stallings doesn’t strike me as coach who would admit to believing in moral victories, but last week’s close call against Kentucky was undoubtedly an improvement for his young team. Any momentum from that effort, however, was quickly extinguished as the Commodores failed to compete against Arkansas, totaling only 33 points for second time this season. The Commodores turned the ball over 25 times and barely reached double digits in made field goals. Stallings wasn’t in the mood to dig for a silver lining. “Well, there’s not a lot to say,” he told reporters. “We got our tails whipped, and I was real disappointed in our play in just about every way.” The Dores’ unfortunately doesn’t have a lot of time for adjustment as Ole Miss visits Tuesday night, Vandy’s third game in six days.
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Resetting The SEC Race: A Look At The Seven “West” Teams

Posted by Christian D'Andrea on January 9th, 2013

Christian D’Andrea is a SEC microsite contributor and an editor at Nashville Sports Hub. You can find him on Twitter @TrainIsland.

Conference play began for Alabama and Missouri last night, and soon after the rest of the SEC will fall in line. The SEC East has carried the conference banner over the first third of the NCAA basketball season, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t “West” schools that will be vying for postseason bids when March rolls around. The state of the former division has been muddled by a throng of underwhelming non-conference schedules, but it’s almost a lock that at least one of these teams will surprise their opponents en route to a NCAA Tournament berth. Ole Miss, LSU, Arkansas, and Texas A&M have all gotten out to hot starts in 2012-13. Can they sustain them?

Let’s take a closer look at each program in what was once known as the SEC West:

Texas A&M – The Aggies Are Headed Into Their First Season of SEC Play, But a Weak Non-Conference Schedule May Have Masked Their Flaws.

  • The good: Texas A&M will enter the SEC with a 10-3 record thanks to head coach Billy Kennedy’s deliberately-paced play-calling. This team has used spacing, shooting, and patience to create open looks and bring inferior opponents down to their level. Senior Elston Turner Jr. has benefited the most from the Aggies’ new style of play, leading the team with 15.5 points per game thanks to a stellar performance from behind the arc.Kennedy’s preference is to grind down opponents, and it’s worked for TAMU so far. Only four opponents have cracked the 60-point barrier on the Aggies this season, and much of that success comes from a team defense that is helping to hold opponents under 40 percent shooting from the field. However, it’s a big question mark as to whether or not these trends can continue when the team’s schedule dives into more hostile waters during SEC play.
  • Elston Turner Jr. has one of the smoothest strokes in the game (AP)

    Elston Turner Jr. (31) has one of the smoothest strokes in the game (AP)

  • The bad: A&M has played a cupcake schedule so far, and its three losses have come with varying degrees of disappointment. Their only win over a team ranked in Ken Pomeroy’s top 100 came in a 55-54 squeaker over Washington State, and that has been tempered by losses to Saint Louis, Oklahoma, and Southern.They’ll have to shape up quickly if they want to stay afloat in the SEC. They’ll open with Arkansas before traveling to Kentucky and then hosting Florida in their first three games. These showdowns will give the Aggies a chance to prove themselves, but it could also give this team a big hole to climb out of just two weeks into conference play.
  • Player to watch: Elston Turner Jr. The Washington transfer has one of the smoothest shooting strokes in the game, and he’ll carry on a tradition of behind-the-arc dominance that SEC gunners John Jenkins and Rotnei Clarke have left behind in recent years. He’s become a more complete player in his second year at A&M, and he’ll be driven to make his transfer a prudent choice by leading his team to the postseason.
  • Can it last? No. The Aggies have played just two teams from power conferences, beating a mediocre Washington State team and losing by double-digits to a better but still underwhelming Oklahoma squad. They’ve proven that they’d be able to burn through the Sun Belt, but haven’t shown enough through an easy non-conference schedule to prove that they can hack it in their first year of SEC play. Billy Kennedy’s team will have some success in league games, but their current pace looks unsustainable.

Ole Miss – The Rebels Are Scoring and Have the Best Record in the SEC at 11-2, But Who Have They Played?

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SEC M5: 12.21.12 Edition

Posted by DPerry on December 21st, 2012

SEC_morning5

  1. Jabari Parker’s commitment was the lead story in college basketball yesterday, and to the chagrin of almost everyone, the Chicago product chose to attend Duke. He had narrowed down his choices to five schools before his announcement, with Florida serving as the SEC’s only representative. Any program would benefit greatly by adding a talent like Parker, but the Gators will still have one of the nation’s best incoming classes. Billy Donovan will bring in Chris Walker and Kasey Hill, both consensus top 10 recruits, in addition to South Carolina transfer Damontre Harris and Virginia Tech transfer Dorian Finney-Smith. Of all the spurned schools on Parker’s final list, Florida is probably in the best position going forward.
  2. Tennessee has gotten back on track with wins over Wichita State and Presbyterian, but after a miserable start to the season, Volunteer fans are still counting the days until they see Jeronne Maymon back on the floor. Unfortunately, it may be a while. Maymon’s rehabilitation from knee surgery hasn’t gone as smoothly as the Vols had hoped. The ambitious diagnosis had the senior forward returning to action as early as this month, but as Maymon continues to limp around Tennessee’s training facility, the possibility of a medical redshirt has been explored. “He’s open to everything,” coach Cuonzo Martin said. “One thing about Jeronne, he’s a coachable guy. He wants to do what’s best for the team. If that means coming back (for a redshirt season), he’ll come back. We’re trying to figure out what’s best for Jeronne Maymon first and foremost, then our team.” Coming back for only a few games surely isn’t the smart move, but in a season filled with high expectations in Knoxville, getting Maymon back on the court is absolutely essential in Tennessee’s efforts to meet those goals.
  3. Texas A&M has had an especially unremarkable season. Outside of a slight upset of Washington State on a neutral court (maybe?), the Aggies have beaten every inferior team and lost in both games against superior competition. This is progress, however, for second-year coach Billy Kennedy, who struggled mightily in his first season, posting a 4-14 record in the Big 12. He’ll hope that the SEC schedule is kinder as he enters a new conference, and he may be in luck. The middle of the SEC is weak, and A&M has the talent to take advantage. Senior Elston Turner has improved on his shooting percentages, and at 16.1 points per game, he’s the type of player who can make a difference as the Aggies take on the SEC’s many mediocre teams.
  4. In the wake of the Michael Dixon situation, off-the-court news hasn’t been especially kind to Missouri this season. That changed on Thursday, however, as the Tigers revealed that the basketball team had achieved their highest collective GPA (over a 3.0) in over a decade. “I’m so proud of our guys and their efforts in the classroom,” coach Frank Haith said. “We demand a lot from them throughout the year and they delivered in a big way, which deserves recognition.” Tigers’ leading scorer Laurence Bowers is one of the stars in the classroom as well. The senior forward has already finished his undergraduate degree, and is a semester away from a master’s in Health Education and Promotion.
  5. “Going Big”, the ESPN Films documentary about former Kentucky great, Sam Bowie, premiered on ESPNU last night. Every basketball fan knows the basics of Bowie’s tale, but director Tom Friend utilizes an unfamiliar perspective to tell his story: the perspective of Sam Bowie. It’s impossible to ignore the Michael Jordan factor with this subject, but any true connection between Jordan’s success and Bowie’s struggles with injury are the product of a fabricated narrative (a compelling one, to be fair). For the former Kentucky center, getting over the Jordan comparisons was tough, but the support of the Lexington community made it possible. “I always knew when the [NBA] season was over that I was immediately going to go back to Kentucky, because that was a safe haven for me to get away from the Michael Jordans, from the critics,” Bowie said. “And that’s a beautiful thing, because when you’re getting beat up like I was getting beat up, you run for cover. And my cover was getting back to Lexington.”
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SEC Power Rankings: Week Four

Posted by DPerry on December 14th, 2012

Every week, the SEC microsite will post a composite power ranking list for the league’s performances coupled with a short commentary justifying each team’s specific ranking. Here are Week Four’s SEC Power Rankings (all statistics via TeamRankings).

The Gators Are the Class of the SEC (Photo via John Raoux / AP)

The Gators Are the Class of the SEC (Photo via John Raoux / AP)

  1. Florida- There’s not a lot missing from the Gators’ resume. They’ve beaten every opponent by double figures, while playing the nation’s 13th toughest schedule. As of the release of last week’s rankings, however, they hadn’t had the chance to prove their mettle in a true road game, a situation in which they struggled last season (losing their first four). After their trip to Tallahassee last week, consider that mettle proven. The Gators embarrassed rival Florida State in a 72-47 win, holding the Seminoles to only 15 first-half points. Florida’s ability to win away from the O-Dome will be crucial over the rest of the season. In addition to this Saturday’s trip to Arizona, the Gators will have road games at Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee, and Kentucky, all among the more hostile environments in the SEC.
  2. Missouri- Do I have to put a team here? There’s a massive gap between Florida and the rest of the conference, but the Tigers are the choice at #2. Missouri hasn’t been tested against quality competition since they left the Bahamas, but their performances against smaller conference foes have been far from convincing. A nasty little habit of starting slow has been their biggest problem. The Tigers trailed Southeast Missouri State by 10 at the half, and only held a three-point advantage over Tennessee State after 20 minutes. In fact, Mizzou ranks 101st nationally in first half scoring margin, at only +3.1 points. Big second half scoring outputs have saved Frank Haith’s team, but with Brandon Paul and the Fighting Illini looming next week, another slow start may be too much to overcome.
  3. Kentucky- After consecutive losses to Notre Dame and Baylor, the Wildcats made history when they dropped out of the rankings from the #8 spot, receiving only 186 votes, the largest single-week drop in AP poll history. Kentucky proceeded to easily handle its next two opponents in Samford and Portland, but somehow fell even further in the next AP poll, garnering only 44 votes. I’m not claiming that the Wildcats deserve to be ranked, but why would they lose ground after two convincing victories? It appears that quite a few voters realized a week too late that they were allowed to leave Kentucky off their ballots. Read the rest of this entry »
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Rushed Reactions: Texas A&M 55, Washington State 54

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 20th, 2012

rushedreactions

Brian Goodman is an RTC editor. He filed this report from the consolation game of the Edward Jones CBE Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City.

Three thoughts from Texas A&M’s one-point victory in the consolation final against Washington State.

  1. Wazzou Defense Improves, But It’s Still Incomplete: Washington State’s defense held tight in a see-saw battle that saw ten ties and eight lead changes, but couldn’t hold on its final possession, as Texas A&M guard Elston Turner sank a three from the top of the key to send the Aggies back to Lubbock with a 56-54 win (more on him later). The Cougars were especially strong in the backcourt, frustrating Texas A&M into bad shots throughout the game. After getting blown away by the Jayhawk offense on Monday, Ken Bone‘s team did a much better job on short rest, but the Turner’s game-winner proves the importance of playing tight defense each trip down the floor. Washington State’s rebounding must also improve, especially on the defensive end as the Cougars allowed the Aggies to clean up 13 of their 33 misses.
  2. The Turners Hold The Keys To A&M’s Season: The aforementioned Elston Turner shook off a cold shooting night to deliver when his team needed him the most. As one of the senior leaders of an otherwise young team, Turner will have to lead by example, and that means stepping up and maintaining poise even when things aren’t breaking right. Turner had missed 11 of his first 12 shots on the night, but kept his confidence on the final possession. Ray Turner bounced back from a passive game Monday, leading the Aggies with 14 points and eight rebounds Tuesday, three of which came on the offensive glass. The Aggies are at their best when the Turners are clicking, as they did in the early part of the second half. Trailing by five at intermission, Texas A&M went on a 13-5 run, and the Turners were responsible for 11 of those 13 points.
  3. Dexter Kernich-Drew Emerges Off The Bench: If the Cougars’ defensive effort tonight proves to be an aberration, WSU can take solace in the potential of the Australian sophomore to compensate with smooth outside shooting. Kernich-Drew scored 13 of his game-high 16 points in the second half, and hit four of seven from distance, his last three coming from NBA range. The Aggies and Cougars traded buckets throughout the second half down to the very last possession, and Kernich-Drew was right in the thick of it as his contributions kept the Cougars close. Wazzou was much more balanced offensively tonight, with Kernich-Drew, Mike Ladd, Brock Motum, and D.J. Shelton each chipping in. As its defense develops, it will be up to scorers like Kernich-Drew to keep Washington State in games.
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Rushed Reactions: Saint Louis 70, Texas A&M 49

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 19th, 2012

Brian Goodman is an RTC editor and correspondent. He filed this report from the first semifinal of the Edward Jones CBE Hall of Fame Classic Monday night.

Here are three thoughts from Saint Louis’ dismantling of Texas A&M:

  1. SLU Can Get By And Then Some Without Mitchell and Majerus. The Aggies aren’t likely to turn many heads in their first season in the SEC, but Billikens’ head coach Jim Crews did a terrific job executing his game plan in all facets despite some athletic mismatches. Saint Louis frustrated Texas A&M by denying second chances, holding Billy Kennedy‘s team to a meager 15.2% offensive rebounding rate and forcing 18 turnovers. The methodical pace of the game didn’t allow for gaudy individual totals, but a collective defensive effort and constant activity in SLU’s halfcourt sets allowed the Billikens to get stops and open looks with regularity. Transition offense was hard to come by, but in a tougher Atlantic 10, Saint Louis’ patience and defensive toughness will allow the team to hang with the conference’s best squads. SLU also showed an ability to bounce back from adversity. Last week, the team took two significant losses, one to Santa Clara and one to their coach’s declining health as Majerus officially stepped down from his post and the “interim” tag was removed from Crews’ title. Majerus’ departure wasn’t unexpected, but the same can’t be said for Saint Louis’ head-scratching home loss to SCU. Beating a mediocre Texas A&M squad won’t erase last week’s blemish, but there’s something to be said for a team that can bounce back in such convincing fashion.
  2. Texas A&M Is Sorely Lacking In Cohesion: Ray Turner may have sunk all of his shots tonight, but he attempted only four. As one of the expected leaders at Texas A&M, he’ll have to play a bigger role than what he displayed Monday night. Turner was only passively involved in the offense and his frustration may have been planted in the opening minutes of the game. He was forced to call an early timeout on an inbounds play, and at the foul line a few minutes later, Turner came away with an empty trip. He was hardly the only one on his team who struggled, however. Elston Turner poured in a team-high 16 points, but did so on an inefficient 12 shots while committing five turnovers. The Aggies turned the ball over 18 times as a team, committed 22 fouls, and shot an abysmal 44% from the stripe. Tabbed to finish ninth by the SEC media, A&M was bound to struggle after Khris Middleton’s departure, but the Aggies will need much more from their senior leaders, to say nothing of their role players, to stay competitive in a top-heavy conference.
  3. Keep An Eye On Jordair Jett In The Backcourt: It wouldn’t be a cliche if there wasn’t some truth to it, but SLU has an invaluable cog in its experienced point guard, Jordair Jett. The junior displayed excellent court vision against the Aggies, dishing out a career-high eight assists. Jim Crews was very laudatory towards his floor general after the game, citing his familiarity with the system and knowledge of where his teammates are at all times. As a big guard at 215 pounds, one might expect Jett to be more aggressive and use his body to absorb contact on the way to the rim at least occasionally, but his patient and savvy style is a breath of fresh air from some of the out-of-control point guard play we’ve seen throughout the country in the young season. Jett wasn’t afraid to use his strength on defense, though, as he grabbed five rebounds and tallied three steals. His four turnovers indicate that he’s far from a finished product, but his willingness to let plays develop could play a huge role in SLU’s chances against Kansas Tuesday night.
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SEC Power Rankings: Week One

Posted by DPerry on November 19th, 2012

Every week, the SEC microsite will post a composite power ranking list for the league’s performances coupled with a short commentary justifying each team’s specific ranking. We’ve been able to see each team in action, but with vastly different degrees of difficulty as far as scheduling, we’ll need to see more before the rankings truly take form.

A perfect night for Erik Murphy propels the Gators to the top spot.

  1. Florida- The Gators’ offense has shown the potential to be dominant. The lineup is bursting at the seams with skilled scorers, both in the frontcourt and backcourt. In going 10-10 from the field, we’ve probably seen senior Erik Murphy‘s best performance of the season, but he should have no problem improving on last year’s breakout campaign. Turnovers have been a concern, but with the reinstatement of point guard Scottie Wilbekin allowing Kenny Boynton to move to the two, Florida should be able to take better care of the ball.
  2. Kentucky- The loss to Duke isn’t a huge concern. The Blue Devils are a quality, veteran team. No, the real problem with the Wildcats so far is the lack of depth. Jarrod Polson, a star against Maryland, was completely ineffective against a more disciplined defense, and John Calipari only trusted Willie Cauley-Stein enough to give him six minutes. The continued absence of Ryan Harrow leaves Kentucky without a true point guard, a role not suited for Archie Goodwin or Julius Mays. Still, in watching the young Wildcats play, it’s tough to argue that they have the highest ceiling of any SEC team.
  3. Missouri- Frank Haith has used his first few games to assess all the new talent that arrived in Columbia this offseason. Auburn transfer Earnest Ross and freshman Negus Webster-Chan have been particularly impressive. We’ll know a lot more about the Tigers after the face three quality opponents in the Battle 4 Atlantis this week. Read the rest of this entry »
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