Deconstructing Vanderbilt Heading Into the Stretch Run

Posted by rtmsf on February 9th, 2012

David Changas is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from the Vanderbilt-LSU game in Nashville last night.

The Vanderbilt Commodores continue to be one of college basketball’s biggest enigmas.  It is hard to understand how such an experienced team with so much talent has managed to lose seven games this season. Senior center Festus Ezeli, who has missed practice time over the past week nursing a knee injury, was dominant inside, scoring 21 points in just 27 minutes of action against talented LSU center Justin Hamilton.  Meanwhile, Jeffery Taylor and John Jenkins combined to go 8-of-12 from behind the arc, and showed why the Commodores could be dangerous come March.  The three-headed monster combined for 60 of Vanderbilt’s 76 points in the Commodores’ 15-point victory in Nashville.

Festus Ezeli Has a Huge Test Against Anthony Davis Upcoming (AP/Mark Humphrey)

As impressive as Vanderbilt was in the second half, its first half performance was equally perplexing.  The Commodores were suffering from a hangover from last week’s losses at Arkansas and Florida, or were looking ahead to Saturday’s ESPN prime time tilt with top-ranked Kentucky.  Whatever Kevin Stallings said to his team at the break got it going, as the Commodores outscored the Tigers 49-34 after intermission. Stallings was pleased with his team’s effort and saw this game as a challenge. “I expected a hard-fought game, and got one.  I was proud of my team.  I thought we showed our experience there at the end of the game,” he said. Stallings was also pleased with what he got from his bench.  The reserves’ contributions may not have been noticeable on the stat sheet (four points), but Stallings thought they gave his team a lift. “I thought our bench played very well tonight. I thought [it] was very, very solid, and that’s what we need from them.”

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Set Your TiVo: 01.31.12

Posted by bmulvihill on January 31st, 2012

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

Conference battles are heating up across the country as we head into the last month of regular season play. A lot will happen from not till the beginning of March, so it’s more important than ever to get a glimpse of as many teams as you can before tourney time. Let’s take a look at tonight’s action.

Tom Izzo and Michigan State need to prove themselves on the road.

#8 Michigan State at Illinois – 7:00PM EST on ESPN HD (****)

  • As of Sunday, there are only three teams that rank in the top ten in KenPom’s adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency ratings – Kentucky, Syracuse, and Michigan State. In Big Ten play, Michigan State is lighting it up on the offensive end, ranking number one in both two-point and three-point shooting percentage. The Spartans face a true road test tonight against Illinois and it is on the road where Tom Izzo’s club still needs to prove itself. Michigan State is 2-2 on the road in conference and 4-4 on the season away from the Breslin Center. Michigan State has only allowed 5 teams to shoot over 50% eFG all season and each time it was on the road. They are 1-4 when a team goes over 50% eFG. Izzo and company has to play strong defense against 7’1” Illini center Meyers Leonard, who is hitting 60% of this two-point attempts. Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne are Michigan State’s tallest regulars at 6’9” and 6’10”, respectively. That’s a tough match-up for them individually, so look for the possible double team to prevent Leonard from taking over the game. If the Spartans get beat, it will be because the Illini two-pointed them to death.
  • Illinois started the season off at a promising 10-0. They have since gone 5-6 and dropped their last three games and are in danger of dropping completely out of contention in the Big Ten. While Illinois has maintained its mediocre shooting in Big Ten play, their downfall has been an increase in turnovers and poor offensive rebounding. More turnovers and less second chance points equals empty possessions. For a team that has shot under 50% eFG in over half of its games, that’s a losing equation. However, the Illini has two saving graces on their side, they are playing at home where they are 11-1 (3-1) and they have the tallest guy on the court who happens to be very skilled. Illinois needs to feed the big man to have a chance in this one.
  • The game hinges on Leonard’s ability to establish himself on the interior and Michigan State’s defensive strategy to deny him the ball. The winner of that chess match is likely to win the game. Also, keep a close eye on turnovers. Michigan State leads the Big Ten in steals, while Illinois gets the ball stolen more than anyone else in the league. Empty possessions for Bruce Weber’s squad will spell doom.

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SEC Morning Five: 01.25.12 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 25th, 2012

  1. Alabama forward Tony Mitchell is officially on a cold streak. After scoring nearly 14.5 points per game this season, Mitchell is averaging just three points per contest in the Crimson Tide’s last two games — both losses to Vanderbilt and Kentucky. “We have a couple of plays set up for Tony,” senior forward JaMychal Green said. “We just have to uncover him and get him moving so he can just play ball.” Mitchell’s frustrations showed on Saturday against Kentucky as the junior fouled out after only 20 minutes of play. The Crimson Tide are on a three-game losing streak in which Mitchell hasn’t scored more than eight points. Prior to the Tide’s loss to Mississippi State on January 14, Mitchell had scored in double figures in 10 straight games and in 15 of the Tide’s first 16.
  2. Renardo Sidney’s progress for Mississippi State is evident, especially on the defensive end. Sidney held Vanderbilt center Festus Ezeli to four points in 25 minutes over the weekend and came up with a big block in what appeared to be an easy dunk for Ezeli. “The old Sid would have let him just dunk it,” freshman Rodney Hood said about the key block. “He went after it. That’s when I really realized he’s coming along – he’s back. Defensively, he’s being a presence out there.” While Sidney’s minutes are still somewhat limited, he has been effective for the Bulldogs. Sidney’s field goal percentage has improved from 51.7% last year to 55.5% in 2011-12.
  3. Artist renderings of a renovated Rupp Arena interior have been released. The 23,500 seat venue, opened in 1976, is home to the Kentucky Wildcats, and the Cats haven’t lost in Rupp since John Calipari took the helm in the 2009-10 season. Kentucky currently holds the nation’s longest home court winning streak with 46 straight victories, 45 of which came under Calipari. Pictures of the Rupp Arena concourse have also been released, complete with some interesting characters hanging out awaiting UK basketball. The recent push for a new and improved Rupp surely doesn’t have anything to do with the $238 million dollar KFC Yum! Center down the highway that opened in October 2010 to host the Wildcats’ in-state rivals, the Louisville Cardinals, right?
  4. Calipari says his newly crowned number one team might need a loss to fuel the Wildcats’ competitive juices. “We probably need a loss,” Calipari said. “So we’ll come together and say, ‘We’re not losing like this.’ The Kentucky head coach knows his Cats have taken a few “on the chin” in recent games, and need to develop a mentally tough attitude to continue winning games. The blueprint for defeating the Wildcats involves physical play in the post to push around Kentucky’s thin front line. This isn’t to say that Calipari isn’t happy with his team. “We’re young,” he said, “but we’re good, too.”
  5. Our own Rush the Court’s official bracketologist Zach Hayes has a couple of SEC teams on the bubble, with one surprise team on the positive end. While we have maintained that only five SEC teams will make it into the Big Dance, Hayes has six conference teams making it in. Kentucky, Florida, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and Alabama all seem to make a good case for inclusion, and Hayes has all five in comfortably. The Arkansas Razorbacks are one of his last four teams out. Mike Anderson’s Hogs have a 14-5 record with a recent quality win over Michigan. But RTC also includes Ole Miss as one of the last four teams in the Tournament. The Rebels are 13-6 with an RPI of #31, but lack a quality win on their resume. Ole Miss’ best win thus far was a 75-68 win over its in-state rival Mississippi State.
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Set Your TiVo: 01.20 – 01.22

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 21st, 2012

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

Cincinnati and Vanderbilt will look to keep rolling but a Big 12 clash highlights Saturday’s slate.

#5 Missouri @ #3 Baylor – 2:00 PM EST Saturday on ESPN (*****)

This Clash Between Big 12 Powers Offers a Contrast in Strengths

  • This game could really come down to which team imposes its will. For Missouri, it would love nothing more than to speed the game up, force turnovers and not let Baylor get set in its half court defense. Missouri’s strength is its guard play. Frank Haith employs a four-guard lineup and it has worked wonders this season. The Tigers have shot the ball very well this season and that’s going to have to continue on the road in Waco. Missouri has struggled against teams with bigger front lines so its guards must shoot well if penetration is cut off and Ricardo Ratliffe is limited inside by Baylor’s trees. Kim English, Michael Dixon and Marcus Denmon can flat out shoot the basketball and Haith will need all three contributing in order to beat Baylor. It will be a bonus if Ratliffe can get anything going inside but Mizzou’s guards must continue to make shots in a tough environment.
  • Baylor is the stronger team inside and Scott Drew knows it. Getting Perry Jones III to assert himself in the paint along with Quincy Acy could be the key for the Bears in this game. Baylor will have the home crowd and energy behind itself and capitalizing on that is going to be very important against a team that loves to speed you up and force turnovers. In order for Jones and Acy to get the ball, Baylor’s guard play must be up to the task. Missouri will pressure Pierre Jackson and A.J. Walton all game because the Tigers need to run up the turnovers and transition points in order to offset what should be a significant Baylor edge on the glass. If Baylor can slow the game down a bit, limit turnovers and get the ball inside, it should be on its way to a win. If Jones III and Acy are hot in the paint, that will open up Brady Heslip and Jackson from deep. Jackson does so much for this team with penetration, passing and shooting ability but Heslip is great spotting up or coming off a screen. Baylor has multiple weapons of varying height, something Missouri may have a very hard time dealing with.
  • As we said, Missouri must speed the game up and create turnovers against the turnover-prone Bears. Ratliffe is a very good post player but we’re not sure if he’s going to be able to score consistently as the only Mizzou big man against Baylor’s immense height in the paint. If Missouri can’t get anything inside it must knock down deep shots and get to the free throw line. The Tigers shoot 77.6% from the charity stripe and that could end up being their most efficient way of scoring against Baylor aside from the three ball. Baylor didn’t defend well against Kansas but Missouri was exposed in a tough environment at Kansas State. If Baylor is physical and sticks to the game plan of good half court offense, the Bears should win. Missouri should play better in its second time on the road against a very good team but you have to favor Baylor at home given the size mismatch.

Cincinnati @ West Virginia – 3:00 PM EST Saturday on ESPNU (****)

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Is Vanderbilt’s Turnaround Complete?

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 20th, 2012

Vanderbilt started out the season with the highest expectations in program history, but a disappointing 6-4 start including losses to Cleveland State and Indiana State labeled the Commodores as underachievers not able to overcome their defensive liabilities. Center Festus Ezeli returned, but doubts of Vanderbilt’s potential remained. Even an eight game winning streak hasn’t won over the Commodores’ critics, but a 69-59 win in Tuscaloosa was good enough to convince me. Vanderbilt still has a lot to prove because of a lack of recent NCAA Tournament success, but its defense against Alabama displayed just how high the ceiling is this year.

Vanderbilt is a completely different team mid-way into the season

The Commodores’ defense was the key to their win on Thursday night. Kevin Stallings’ club held Alabama to 32.9% shooting by putting the Crimson Tide’s stars on lockdown. Leading scorer Tony Mitchell, coming into the game averaging 13.7 points per game, scored zero points on 0-8 shooting. Alabama forward JaMychal Green managed only six points. Ezeli’s impact on the Commodores’ interior defense was on full display, as was the potential of Vanderbilt’s defense when the center is on the court.

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Night Line: Is Vanderbilt Back? Commodores Are Getting Stronger Every Game

Posted by EJacoby on January 20th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is an RTC contributor and correspondent. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. Night Line will run on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s slate of games.

The popularity of Alabama’s basketball team might pale in comparison to that of its National Championship football squad, but the boys on the hardwood win its games in a similar fashion: defense, defense, and more defense. So the fact that Vanderbilt showed up in Tuscaloosa on Thursday night with the more physical defensive effort was impressive, especially considering how poor the Commodores struggled on the defensive end just a few weeks ago. Kevin Stallings’ team allowed just 59 points in the road win, and Vanderbilt (14-4, 4-0 SEC) is a much tougher team now with physical force Festus Ezeli back in the lineup. This group is a changed bunch from the team that lost to Indiana State at home in December, and the Commodores must be taken seriously now as a team with the formula to make a run in March.

With Ezeli Back, Vanderbilt is a Much Tougher Team Defensively (Getty Images/G. Halverson)

Vanderbilt entered this season a preseason Top 10 team, bringing back all five starters and three NBA prospects in Jeffery Taylor, John Jenkins, and Ezeli. Jenkins has held up his end of the bargain, leading the conference in scoring at 19.8 points per game. He’s arguably the best shooter in college basketball, currently leading the nation in three-point field goals (67) at a 45.3% rate (third in the SEC). Taylor has done his part, too, displaying his all-around game to the tune of 16.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.0 assists, and 1.4 steals per game on 53.6% field goal shooting and the ability to hit from deep (45.3% on 3.5 attempts per game). But Ezeli missed six games due to an NCAA violation-related suspension, and another three recovering from knee surgery, and the Commodores struggled without him. While he doesn’t provide the statistical production of his fellow team leaders, Ezeli is their only true interior threat and most impactful defender. Take away those two aspects, and Vanderbilt barely looked like an above-average team for the first 10 games of this season.

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Set Your TiVo: 01.19.12

Posted by bmulvihill on January 19th, 2012

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

More great conference action tonight as one team looks to prevent history from repeating and repeating and repeating.

Festus Ezeli has Vanderbilt back on track

Vanderbilt at Alabama – 7:00PM EST on ESPN2 HD (****)

  • Vanderbilt is a different team with Festus Ezeli on the court. The Commodores are 5-3 without Ezeli and 8-1 with him. While the schedule was also more difficult when he was injured, his impact on both the offense and defense is undeniable. Keep a close eye on how he manages the interior against Alabama’s JaMychal Green.  Green lit up the Commodores for 23 points last year in a losing effort. Vanderbilt has certainly torn through its first three SEC opponents this year, shooting 47% from three and almost 55% from two. Alabama and its top-five defense will present very difficult obstacle for Kevin Stallings’ team particularly on the Crimson Tide’s home court. A key factor in this game will be Vanderbilt’s ability to get second chance points on missed shots. Alabama’s field goal defense is so strong, especially against the three, that the Commodores can easily go one and done and shoot themselves out of this game.
  • Alabama is only allowing teams to shoot 25.7% from three-point land. With Vanderbilt’s bread and butter being the long ball, this sets up for very interesting situation on the perimeter when Alabama is on defense.  Give the edge to Alabama as they have only allowed two opponents to shoot over 50% eFG so far this season. The Commodores shoot 42% of their field goal attempts from downtown. Look to see how Vanderbilt adjusts their offense against such tough perimeter defense.
  • This game sets up as another offense versus defense match-up. However, the key may actually be on the offensive boards. Neither team is particularly fantastic on the defensive glass and offensive rebounding is a key factor in the offensive efficiency of both teams.  The team with more second chance points should win this game.
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SEC Morning Five: 01.12.12 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 12th, 2012

  1. ESPNU will debut the latest in the SEC “Storied” documentary series on February 11 with 40 Minutes of Hell. The film goes behind the scenes on former Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson‘s success with the Razorbacks in the early 1990s. The “40 minutes of hell” fast paced and pressing style that Richardson employed in the SEC won him the National Championship in 1994. Richardson’s separation from the university was anything but amicable as he slapped Arkansas with a wrongful termination lawsuit. The Razorbacks hired Richardson’s protege, Mike Anderson, as head coach helping to bring the former coach closer to fans, players, and the University of Arkansas. Not to mention, the hire also brought back a style of play that is modeled after Richardson’s championship winning system.
  2. Senior forward Lance Goulbourne has found his role on Vanderbilt’s roster, and he is making his impact felt on the defensive end. Goulbourne has limited the role of several prominent big men in recent games, holding Marquette’s Jae Crowder to 30.8% shooting and Auburn’s Kenny Gabriel (just to name a couple) to just 2 points on 1-7 shooting. “He’s done an unbelievable job about three games in a row where the team’s best player was the four man,” Vanderbilt guard Brad Tinsley said. “He’s really figured out how to take what the coaches tell him and put that out on the court.” With the return of center Festus Ezeli and solid defense from Jeffery Taylor, Goulbourne’s defense is an added plus for a team known more for its offense. The Commodores’ commitment to the defensive end has their defense ranked ahead of their offense in latest Pomeroy efficiency rankings.
  3. Kentucky coach John Calipari has a theory for why his Wildcats haven’t been effective on the road in the last couple of years. He says the SEC is not an easy league to compete in, and declares that the league could have as many as five teams competing in the Sweet Sixteen. “This league, with the top five teams that we have, that are all NCAA Tournament teams, and really,” said Calipari. “I’ll make a prediction, other than us, of those five, I would say four of those, without us, will be Sweet 16 teams. How about that?” It’s not that far-fetched of a prediction. Vanderbilt and Florida have the talent to compete with anybody in the nation, and Alabama and Mississippi State have both proven its legitimacy within the top 25 teams in the country. And of course, Kentucky, which Calipari didn’t put as a Sweet 16 team, will be competing well into March and most likely early April.
  4. Billy Donovan wasn’t happy with Florida’s defense in its loss against Tennessee, but the Gators played with much more intensity in their win Tuesday night over the Georgia Bulldogs. With all eyes on the defensive end, Florida held the Dogs to just 36.4 percent shooting on the night. Donovan was satisfied this time around. “I thought we defended them very, very well,” Donovan said. “We held them to 48 points. I think if you hold any team to 48 points you’ve done a pretty good job defensively.” The Gators, however, continued to neglect Patric Young in the post, as Young attempted just five shots on the night. If Florida can continue to hold opponents to 48 points, the lack of a post game may be a moot point.
  5. Mississippi State’s big man Renardo Sidney didn’t start on Saturday for the Bulldogs because of a coach’s decision. “I wanted to save him some foul trouble,” head coach Rick Stansbury said. “He had two fouls early in all those games.” The strategy wasn’t very effective as Sidney still committed three fouls in the first half. The fast paced action perpetuated by Arkansas’ full court pressure limited Sidney’s effectiveness. He scored just six points and four rebounds in 22 minutes of play. His replacement in the starting lineup, Wendell Lewis had similar issues. Lewis was limited to two points in 14 minutes of action.
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SEC Morning Five: 1.04.12 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 4th, 2012

 

 

 

  1.  Kentucky fans may compare Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to Superman, but he’s not completely immune to injury. Kentucky coach John Calipari says that Kidd-Gilchrist went to the locker room with a chest injury that he sustained during the Louisville game. “I don’t know if it is a pulled muscle or what in his chest area,” Calipari said in his postgame press conference. “It was last game that it happened but we are going to get him checked up and he didn’t feel right at halftime. I told them to give him some medicine to see if they could loosen it up. We will check on him tomorrow, but I think he will be fine.” Kidd-Gilchrist was injured in the Louisville game, but still suited up to play against Arkansas-Little Rock last night. The Superman comparison may not be too off base.
  2. Made free throws were a huge factor in Kentucky’s 69-62 win over Louisville. The Wildcats are not normally known for their accuracy at the charity stripe, but Calipari has made the team run sprints for every missed free throw the Cats shoot in a game. It obviously worked as Kentucky was a solid 32-42 from the line against the Cardinals. Over the last four games, the fear of running has propelled the Cats to shoot 77.2% from the stripe. An Achilles heel for almost every Calipari-coached team has turned into a positive for UK as of late. With Calipari’s critics no longer able to make fun of Kentucky’s free throw shooting, they are frantically writing new jokes as you read this.
  3. LSU lost on Monday night to a Top 25 Virginia team, but the Tigers received good news with the return of senior guard Andre Stringer. Stringer had sat out the previous five games with a head injury sustained in practice three weeks ago. He started the game, but was somewhat limited with 24 minutes of play and just eight points. “It was great to get back,” Stringer said. “I felt great afterward, but obviously it doesn’t feel too good right now.” Stringer admitted to feeling winded, and will work on improving his conditioning before SEC play. Stringer was LSU’s leading scorer before his departure. He is averaging 11.7 points, 2.0 assists and 1.8 steals per game.
  4. Somewhat quietly, Vanderbilt center Festus Ezeli recently broke the school record for career blocks. Ezeli broke former Commodore Will Perdue’s former mark with the 158th block of his career against Miami (Ohio). Last season, Ezeli averaged 2.6 blocks per game, setting the single season record for the Commodores with 87. His defense will have a major impact on Vanderbilt’s ability to rebound, guard the post, and alter shots in the lane. Ezeli could give the ‘Dores some much needed consistency on both ends of the court as he is slowly working his way back into the lineup.
  5. Kenny Gabriel’s career night was mentioned in yesterday’s M5, but his 24 points, 13 rebounds and 10 blocked shots deserves some more love here today. Gabriel accomplished a feat that nobody at Auburn before him has been able to do. “It’s pretty special, a triple-double,” coach Tony Barbee said. “When you consider the type of talent that has come out of this program, the Chuck Persons, the Charles Barkleys, the Wesley Persons, the Mike Mitchells, you can go down the line and this is the first triple-double in Auburn history? It’s special.” And to think, Gabriel almost didn’t play because of stomach issues. His 24 points and 13 rebounds both tied his career highs, and his 10 blocks was a career high by itself. Gabriel is averaging 12.8 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game on the season.
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SEC Morning Five: 12.30.11 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on December 30th, 2011

  1. The plan going into Vanderbilt’s win over Marquette on Thursday night was to ease Festus Ezeli into action. Ezeli played limited minutes (17), but looked good scoring eight points and grabbing seven rebounds. Despite his positive play, head coach Kevin Stallings says that Ezeli isn’t yet at 100%. “[Festus] has looked better the last few days,” Stallings said. “I would probably say he’s at about 75% and may be starting to inch above that. We’ll just keep trying to give Festus some time and see how it goes.” The play of both Ezeli and the entire Commodores team last night has again brought up the question of who this Vandy team really is. Vanderbilt hasn’t looked the part of a Top 25 team for most of the year, but lived up to its preseason hype in the win over the Golden Eagles. The Commodores’ inconsistent play and the return of Ezeli to full health remains the most intriguing storyline going into conference play in the SEC.
  2. Louisville plans to put Kentucky’s freshman point guard Marquis Teague to the test on Saturday. Although Teague had begun to play better of late, he reverted to his old ways in committing six turnovers in UK’s win over Lamar on Wednesday. Before he started talking about turkeys during the Marquette and Vanderbilt game, ESPN analyst Jimmy Dykes said, “Louisville will extend pressure and try to wear down Marquis Teague. They’ll try to get into Teague.” Teague, of course, thinks he knows how to handle the pressure. “The easiest thing with the press is if you pass through it, you don’t have to waste energy,” he said. “It’s when you try to dribble through it that you get tired.” Which version of Teague will show up? We will find out on Saturday if the young point guard is up to the test against what is likely the best defensive pressure the Cats will face all season long.
  3. The guys at A Sea of Blue make the case that the Kentucky and Louisville rivalry is the best in the nation. While conventional wisdom says North Carolina and Duke create the premier matchup of the college basketball season, they also meet two to three times per season. In a typical year, the Tar Heels and Blue Devils split the season series, and go forward without real bragging rights over the other fan base. But with Kentucky and Louisville, “you have 365 days, more or less, to suffer at the hands of your rivals. If this all sounds extreme, it is, and insanely exciting. And that’s why this rivalry is the best. There are no half-measures, no splits, no draws — only victory, and defeat.” And as ASoB points out, “being the loser is P-A-I-N-F-U-L, especially when you live behind enemy lines.” A lot is on the line on Saturday, and we will all benefit by witnessing a great game filled with the emotion and passion of a true rivalry.
  4. Auburn coach Tony Barbee has been pleased with the Tigers’ defensive effort , but acknowledges a lot of work needs to be done on the offensive end. “Offensively, we were anemic tonight,” Barbee said. “Hopefully, we can chalk it up to being an off night. More of a concern was we didn’t have guys make plays when they had an opportunity to make plays.” Unfortunately for Auburn, the offensive struggles are more of a season long trend than simply an off night. The Tigers are currently shooting 44.8% from the field, and just 33.8% from beyond the arc on the season. Barbee’s squad ranks #233 in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency, which is the worst in the SEC. I hate to be the bearer of bad news for Auburn fans, but the Tigers’ defense isn’t that good either, ranking 11th out of 12 teams in the SEC in adjusted defensive efficiency. Not a good sign heading into SEC play.
  5. Jarnell Stokes has reached celebrity status in Knoxville, and he hasn’t even played his first game yet. After spending the day signing autographs and talking with Volunteer fans, Stokes said, “I’m no savior, I’m a basketball player. But I’ve always been a winner, and I plan on being a piece of what Coach [Cuonzo] Martin is putting together here. The fans here, man, they’re great. Today was awesome.” The Vols could use a little extra boost to push them over the edge. All six of Tennessee’s losses this season have been by 10 points or less. Four of the losses were decided by less than five points. One little addition (or one major addition in the case of Stokes) could be the difference between a win or another close loss for Tennessee.
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SEC Morning Five: 12.15.11 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on December 15th, 2011

  1. How did Festus Ezeli cope with watching his team lose two close overtime games in a row on November 28 to Xavier and December 2 against Louisville while he was out with an injury that sidelined him for Vanderbilt’s first eight games of the season? While the rest of us throw every item within arm’s reach at the TV during our favorite team’s close games, it sounds as though Ezeli has kept his cool watching in street clothes on the bench. “It’s just tough. I’m an emotional person and when the games start, I get into it a lot,” Ezeli said. “It’s just hard being on the bench and not being able to help, because I know I can help a lot. It’s tough. Just little stuff. I feel like I’m very good at helping them in the paint, especially on defense and protecting the rim and stuff like that. I feel like I could have helped a lot, especially in the last two minutes of the games – both games in overtime.” Ezeli returned to action last week against Davidson with 21 minutes of play, scoring 15 points and grabbing six rebounds. The big man is not at 100% just yet, but the Commodores will certainly be a different team once he is at full speed.
  2. Alabama‘s Anthony Grant realizes that the Crimson Tide will see a lot of zone after Georgetown used a 2-3 zone so effectively in Bama’s 57-55 loss to the Hoyas on December 1st. The Tide settled for outside shots against the Hoyas’ zone, going 3 of 16 (18.8%) from beyond the arc. “I think the fallacy there is people think you’ve got to shoot the ball from the perimeter,” Grant said. “I disagree with that. I think there’s obviously a lot of different ways, but no matter what you’re doing, the ball has to work inside down, no matter if it’s a man or a zone.” The Tide have not shot well from three-point range on the season shooting only 25.3% (37 of 146). Yep, the Tide are going to see more zone this year, and they will need to find better quality shots then what they have settled for thus far.
  3. Andy Kennedy has a good problem to have for his Ole Miss Rebels–too many guards! The Rebs have seven scholarship guards, including McDonald’s All American Jelan Kendrick who became eligible for his first game Wednesday night against Louisiana-Lafayette, but did not play due to a decision by Kennedy. Freshman LaDarius White played his first game for Ole Miss on Saturday, and he played well coming off the bench with 16 points, six rebounds and four assists in 26 minutes. Finding room for White and Kendrick could be a fix for many of the Rebels issues this season. “We’ve been terribly inconsistent in a lot of areas,” Kennedy said. “Twenty-three turnovers (on Saturday) is laughable. Our ball security needs a lot of work, but we continue to defend.” That is if Kendrick can make his way on the court this season.
  4. Maybe this isn’t interesting to anybody but Georgia fans, but they will be traveling to Italy next year to play from August 3-12, 2012. The interesting aspect to me is that young teams need the advantage of being together and playing earlier, and the Bulldogs seem to fit the mold of a team that could benefit from the extra time together. Georgia has a good freshmen and sophomore class that could make noise in the SEC next year if they keep their nucleus intact. The trip to Italy seems to be the right move at the right time for Mark Fox and his young Bulldogs, but Fox needs Kentavious Caldwell-Pope on the roster for one more year to be able to have the firepower to make a splash next year.
  5. Georgia is using its week off to find a solution to its second half woes. The Bulldogs have lost four games in a row, in three of which they blew a halftime lead. “We didn’t come out in the second half, and I think it’s just us needing to get ready to come out and play hard,” Caldwell-Pope said after the Georgia Tech game. “We haven’t had the mindset that we need to come out and just play as hard.” In the Bulldogs’ last two games, they were outscored by 15 (against Cincinnati) and 16 (against Georgia Tech) in the second half. Georgia has five more non-conference games to figure out what is going on before they open up SEC play on January 7 against Alabama. The Bulldogs have been tied or led going into the half in seven of their nine contests yet are currently 4-5 going into Saturday’s match-up with the USC Trojans.
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ATB: Florida’s Decison to Foul, Dezmine Wells’ Hops, & the Putridity of Utah Basketball…

Posted by rtmsf on December 8th, 2011

Tonight’s Lede. On the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, it’s only fitting that tonight’s slate of games was filled with the element of surprise. Astonishment at the ending of regulation in Florida versus Arizona; marvel at Vandy’s big man returning to the floor several weeks early; shock at just how far Utah basketball has fallen since its run to the finals in 1998; wonder that Badger fans didn’t pack the place tonight. There’s plenty to discuss on a busy Wednesday night in college basketball, so let’s jump to it.

Your Watercooler Moment. Florida’s Decision to Foul Arizona.

Donovan Could Not Believe That Prather Was Called For a Foul In the Late-Game Situation (AP)

Clearly Florida’s plan with five seconds to go and leading Arizona by three was to quickly foul the Wildcats to send them to the line. We’ve discussed the merits (and demerits) of this strategy in this space and on Twitter many times before, but it always creates an additional element of intrigue when a coach chooses to employ it. According to HSAC, teams only chose this strategy 12% of the time in 2009-10, and there was no discernible advantage in terms of the final outcome of the game (meaning teams won and lost at a statistically equal rates regardless of strategy). In tonight’s game, Florida’s decision for Casey Prather to immediately reach in and foul Solomon Hill on the inbounds play with five seconds remaining backfired in that the nearby referee rewarded Hill for throwing his arms into a shooting motion immediately after the catch. Three foul shot makes and a missed Florida prayer later, the game was headed to overtime. Florida ended up winning in the extra period, 78-72, but Donovan’s decision to have his player foul in that situation shows exactly why it terrifies coaches to employ the strategy. Even if it were statistically sound (and that’s not yet been proven, as far as we know), no coach wants to hear all the second-guessing that comes with such a decision when it backfires, as it very nearly did for the Gators tonight. More on the Arizona-Florida game below.

Dunkdafied. When Xavier’s Dezmine Wells dunks the ball, he shoots it down the rim like it’s a nerf ball coming out of his hand. As for Illinois’ Brandon Paul, he just takes everyone within a five-foot radius with him.

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