SEC M5: 10.20.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on October 20th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. The ability to recruit was (and still is) a big question mark surrounding first year Missouri head coach Kim Anderson. To address this expected deficiency, Anderson added Huntington Prep coach Rob Fulford to his staff, and that decision has already paid immediate dividends in landing four-star wing Montaque (“Teki”) Gill-Caesar from – you guessed it – Huntington Prep. Fulford told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the time Gill-Caesar spent playing with Andrew Wiggins at Huntington was invaluable. “Teki would never back down from Andrew. Now, there were points in practice where Teki would get the better of Andrew until Andrew decided, ‘OK, enough’s enough.’” The Tigers will need that kind of confidence from Gill-Caesar as they replace Jordan Clarkson, Jabari Brown and Earnest Ross, three players that accounted for virtually all of the team’s scoring last season.
  2. Luke Winn and Dan Hanner continue their intricate, raw number modeling at SI.com, this time predicting which transfers will have the biggest impact at their new schools. Texas A&M’s Jalen Jones (SMU) lands the second spot on the list as the model predicts he will score 13.9 points per game for the Aggies. This infusion of scoring talent is vital for Billy Kennedy since his team was at times difficult to watch offensively last season. The addition of Jones and a healthy Davonte Fitzgerald should give Texas A&M the offensive boost that it needs. Florida’s Alex Murphy (#70) and Jon Horford (#90) check in pretty far down the list, but each will be heavily relied upon in the frontcourt while Chris Walker serves his three-game suspension, and they could shoot up this list if Walker’s off-court problems persist into the season.
  3. LSU junior guard Joseph Gray checked in at #12 on the SI.com list, and his journey to Baton Rouge has been tumultuous and at times heart-breaking. The Louisiana native, whose mother passed away while he was in high school, was spurned as a prep recruit by former Tigers coach Trent Johnson and ended up Texas Tech. He left the Red Raiders after one productive season (9.3 PPG, 3.2 APG) for Odessa Community College, where he averaged 34.7 PPG in his single season of JuCo action. New LSU head coach Johnny Jones gave Gray the chance to return home and he has a massive opportunity in front of him. He should be in position to earn a lion’s share of the minutes at point guard with Andre Stringer (graduation) and Anthony Hickey (transfer to Oklahoma State) now out of the picture. And despite all the movement in his young career, Gray has two years of eligibility to establish himself as a star at LSU.
  4. Unfortunately for Alabama, one of its transfers won’t see the court at all this season. Christophe Varidel, a graduate transfer from Chaminade, will miss the season because of a pre-existing knee injury, thus ending his collegiate career. Varidel was a part of Florida Gulf Coast’s Sweet Sixteen team in 2012-13, but transferred to the Islands when Andy Enfield left for USC after that season. First and foremost, it’s a sad situation for Varidel, as he will miss out on his only chance to play basketball in a power conference. It’s also an early blow for Anthony Grant since Varidel, a career 38.5 percent three-point shooter, would have played a part in trying to replace the scoring production that left with Trevor Releford.
  5. Frank Martin is angry — this time about criticism leveled at the lack of fan support for basketball at South Carolina. “It’s hard to tell me people don’t care, and yet you’re in the top 40 in the country in total attendance, you’re fifth in the SEC, and there’s an opinion that people don’t care,” Martin told the Charleston Post and Courier. The article points out that South Carolina was actually 41st in attendance with an average of 10,074 fans per game last season, but Martin’s argument is still well-taken. It’s rather impressive that a team without much success in recent history can post that kind of attendance figure, because winning leads to crowds no matter the sport and no matter the level. If Martin can turn the Gamecocks around, Colonial Life Arena and its 18,000-seat capacity will become a daunting challenge. For his part, Martin is about determined as a person can be to reach that point. “I’m not going to stop until the good Lord either takes me, or we put 18 [thousand] in that building when we play,” he said. Touche.
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Back and Forth: Midnight Madness Edition

Posted by David Harten on October 17th, 2014

Each week, we’ll profile some of the week’s biggest upcoming games by taking a look back at some relevant history that relates to the match-ups. This is Back And Forth.

For our first entry, we will take a look at what’s right in front of us. The week of various Midnight Madness events are popping up in arenas across the country, with some naturally creating more of a buzz than others. Places like Lexington, Lawrence, East Lansing and Gainesville will pack fans and students into their respective arenas, domes and fieldhouses, lighting fireworks, putting on costumes and introducing this year’s roster with aplomb – at some point, they’ll also do some basketball stuff.

So what are some of the more memorable Midnight Madness moments for great teams in recent history? Glad you asked. Let’s review three recent champions to determine if there were any clues as to what was to come six months later:

Kentucky, Big Blue Madness – 2011-12

A few months removed from a run to John Calipari’s first Final Four as head coach of the Wildcats, a lot was expected from a semi-veteran team of Terrence Jones, Darius Miller and Doron Lamb pairing with the next loaded recruiting class coming to town, featuring future lottery picks Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Amid all the introductions, lights and pageantry, the Wildcats staged their customary Blue vs. White scrimmage.

National Title Moment: During the scrimmage, Big Blue Nation got to see the full talents of Davis on display. The 6’11” forward was a physical freak, swatting shots and throwing down dunks, taking off from outside the paint on the baseline. The future NPOY put it all on display from day one as a Wildcat.

UConn, First Night – 2010-11

No one was expecting what they saw out of UConn in 2010-11. It all started at “First Night,” UConn’s annual nightly open practice. Around 7,000 fans showed up for the player introductions and skills challenge. That was the night Kemba Walker started it all in motion. The rest is history.

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Where 2014-15 Happens: Reason #29 We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on October 17th, 2014

Here we go… headfirst into another season heralded by our 2014-15 edition of Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball, our annual compendium of YouTube clips from the previous season completely guaranteed to make you wish games were starting tonight rather than 30 days from now. Over the next month you’ll get one reason per day until we reach the new season on November 14. We’ve captured what we believe were the 30 most compelling moments from last season, some of which will bring back goosebumps and others of which will leave you shaking your head in astonishment. For all of this year’s released posts, click here

#29 – Where Foreshadowing Happens.

We also encourage you to re-visit the entire archive of this feature from the 2008-092009-10, 2010-112011-122012-13 and 2013-14 preseasons.

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SEC M5: 10.17.14 Edition

Posted by David Changas on October 17th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. Florida has had a rough week thus far, as the Gators were forced to suspend sophomore forward Chris Walker on Wednesday for an undisclosed violation of team rules. The three-game suspension will force Walker to miss the Gators’ exhibition game against Barry University as well as the regular season’s first two games against William & Mary and cross-state rival Miami. It has been speculated that Walker, who missed a good portion of last season with academic issues, may have violated the school’s drug policy. The Gators also found out they will be without four-star freshman guard Brandone Francis because of his academic shortcomings. Francis is ineligible to practice with the team this fall, but could return to the court in the spring if his performance in school improves.
  2. Despite having two teams in the top 10, it’s no surprise that the SEC is not particularly well-represented in the first preseason USA Today coaches poll. Kentucky tops the list, receiving 24 of the available 32 first-place votes.  Florida checks in at No. 7, and the only other SEC team to even receive votes was Arkansas. Given the league’s lack of national success over the past several years – Kentucky and Florida aside – and so many questions that must be answered by so many teams in the league, the Wildcats and Gators might be the only two schools from the conference who consistently spend time in the poll throughout this season.
  3. It is no secret that Kentucky’s Andrew Harrison often didn’t see eye to eye with coach John Calipari last year, and that his freshman campaign was mostly disappointing. While he redeemed himself in helping the Wildcats make their surprising run to the national championship game, his success there did not erase the shortcomings of the rest of the season. By contrast, CBSSports.com’s Gary Parrish thinks Harrison can be a great redemption story this season. While he did not live up to the hype that came with being one of the nation’s most heralded freshman, he has put that disappointment behind him. His first season in Lexington failed to match those of other great point guards who have played under Calipari — players like Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans, John Wall, and Brandon Knight — but that doesn’t mean he can’t turn things around this year. By all accounts, Harrison is in better shape than when he arrived in Lexington last August, and has worked hard during the offseason to be ready to raise the overall level of his game. If Kentucky is going to live up to those lofty preseason expectations, he will need to do just that.
  4. The announcement earlier this week that SEC Commissioner Mike Slive will retire in July 2015 received a lot of attention nationally, mostly because of the remarkable job Slive has done in bringing the conference to a level of college football dominance not seen in some time. He is also credited with putting together the fledgling SEC Network, which virtually every cable and satellite provider in the country offers as part of its basic packages. And while there is no questioning the financial success that the league has enjoyed under Slive’s leadership, his relative inability to lead the conference to commensurate success in basketball is certainly worth discussing. Kentucky has been again dominant since Calipari’s arrival in 2009, and Florida has been a perennial top-10 power for over a decade under Billy Donovan’s leadership, but the overall profile of the league has not improved since Slive took the job in 2002. In fact, it could be reasonably argued that it has diminished, and that the league is perceived, now more than ever, of being concerned only with football success. While it obviously would be overly simplistic to put all of that at Slive’s feet, it is fair to direct some criticism his way, especially in light of the great accolades he receives for the conference’s success on the gridiron.
  5. There were plenty of surprises that came with Tennessee‘s unexpected run to the Sweet Sixteen last year, but none was bigger than the emergence of forward Josh Richardson. The defensive stalwart averaged just under 10.0 PPG during the regular season, but his average soared to 19.3 PPG in the team’s four NCAA Tournament games. Now, with most of his running mates from last year’s team as well as his coach having moved on, new coach Donnie Tyndall is leaning heavily on Richardson to lead his young group of Volunteers. It appears the senior forward has taken Tyndall’s admonitions to heart, and while it is unrealistic to expect Tennessee to duplicate its March success this season, if the Volunteers are going to have any real success, they will need Richardson to lead the way on both ends of the floor.
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Morning Five: 10.16.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on October 16th, 2014

morning5

  1. Like last year, Chris Walker will be watching the start of Florida‘s season from the sidelines. Unlike last year, Walker is only suspended for three games for an unspecified violation of team rules compared with having to sit out the first semester last season due to academic eligibility issues. Speaking of eligibility issues, four-star shooting guard Brandone Francis will have to miss the entire season as he was not approved for collegiate competition by the NCAA Clearinghouse. The loss of Walker should not be a huge issue as he will sit out an exhibition game and two regular-season games (William & Mary and Miami), but Francis’ absence could hurt them in terms of depth in the long-run even if we was only projected to be a reserve guard. If Francis improves his grades enough to become eligible, he could practice with the team in the spring semester even if he cannot play for them.
  2. Mississippi State‘s chances of being competitive in the SEC this year took a big hit with injuries to Craig Sword and Johnny Zuppardo. Sword, who led the Bulldogs in scoring with 13.7 points per game last year, is scheduled to undergo surgery on his back today due to a herniated disc and is expected to be out for 4-6 weeks. Zuppardo, a junior college transfer, will be out for the season after suffering a torn meniscus and ACL in his left knee. Although Zuppardo will be out for the entire year and is expected to seek a medical redshirt, Sword should be back in time for the start of SEC play, but his level of fitness at that time could be another issue.
  3. It has been quite a while since we feature a piece by Luke Winn in this column, but with the season rapidly approaching (never fast enough), he teamed up with Dan Hanner (another Morning Five favorite) for a project where they try to predict the top players this upcoming season by simulating the season 10,000 times using models that Hanner has created over the years (think of it as a college basketball Monte Carlo simulation. The project is being revealed in pieces, but so far they have given us their projections for leaders in scoring, rebounding, and assists and who they think the top freshmen will be. As Winn mentions in an accompanying video with David Gardner there are some issues with projecting how good freshmen will be since many times they have played against vastly inferior competition in high school, but it does provide some interesting analysis while we wait for the season to start.
  4. We actually have quite a bit of basketball arena news. The biggest news was the announcement by Arizona that former Wildcat guard Steve Kerr and his wife planned to donate $1 million for McKale Center renovations and upgrades to the academic facility. We are sure that Kerr’s five-year, $25 million contract for his first head coaching job certainly made that $1 million figure a little easier. UCLA, the other traditional power in the Pac-12, might need its own wealthy donor in the near-future for the recently remodeled (at a cost of $136 million) Pauley Pavilion because reports indicate that it is still not ready for play almost 2.5 months after it was flooded. The Bruins have been forced to play in the nearby Student Activities Center, but are expected to be back in Pauley in time for their season-opener, an exhibition against Azusa Pacific on October 31. In Chicago, the plans for DePaul‘s controversial Rosemont-based arena appear to be on schedule with the team expecting to play there starting in 2016-17 season. When the plans were first reported they drew a great deal of criticism because of the arenas distance from the school and the fact that the fan base has been largely apathetic.
  5. Mike Slive’s name might not carry as much weight in the college basketball world as it does in the college football world due to the relative strength of the conference in each sport, but his announcement that he will be retiring on July 31, 2015 to deal with a recurrence of prostate cancer could still be significant for the college basketball world. Slive will continue on as a consultant for the conference which is already beginning its search for his replacement. Even though the conference has been underwhelming on the basketball court (outside of Kentucky and Florida), his departure after 13 years at the helm of the SEC raises the possibility that the next commissioner of the SEC could have ambitions to expand it beyond its current reach and set off another chain reaction of conference realignment.
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SEC Offseason Reset

Posted by Brian Joyce on October 15th, 2014

The gym is open and the ball is bouncing. College basketball is here. Well, almost. The clang of the ball bouncing off the rim will soon turn into the sweet sound of the nothing but net shot that comes with practice, practice and more practice. The offseason was eventful in the SEC, and now that the dust has settled, here are a few conference predictions, observations, and questions for each team as they begin their 2014-15 journey.

John Calipari is in a good mood with this many All Americans on his roster (AP).

John Calipari is in a good mood with so many prep All-Americans on his roster (AP).

  1. Kentucky: Kentucky dominated the headlines this offseason, and for good reason. After a national title game run last April, expectations could not be higher for this group. The Wildcats played well in six games in the Bahamas during an August trip, earning high praise from observers despite a loss in their final game. The exhibition tour gave John Calipari‘s group of new highly-touted freshmen an opportunity to log significant minutes, a valuable advantage for this time of the year. The big story in Lexington is the possibility that Calipari will rely on a platoon system to provide sufficient minutes for the abundance of talent on his roster. Whether it works is something to watch for this season, but with returnees Alex Poythress, Dakari Johnson, Willie Cauley-Stein, Andrew Harrison and Aaron Harrison joining another impressive recruiting class, it is hard to imagine this group failing to dominate the SEC.
  2. Florida: The Gators looked like a team that could have won it all last season on its way to a Final Four, a 36-3 overall record, and a perfect 21-0 in SEC play. The key pieces in that run are now gone, but coach Billy Donovan reloads yet again in Gainesville. Sophomore Chris Walker figures to play a more significant role, as do Kasey Hill and Dorian Finney-Smith. Florida has always thrived with the team-first approach, but it will rely heavily on the sharp shooting of junior Michael Frazier to carry the scoring load. The Gators will again find themselves in the upper echelon of the conference standings.

How will the rest of the conference shake out?

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Morning Five: 07.23.14 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on July 23rd, 2014

morning5

  1. The dog days of summer mean that the Morning Fives in July and August typically consist of a somewhat mind-numbing combination of three things: 1) hot air (people saying things that they shouldn’t be saying, or saying them without the benefit of tact); 2) player movement (transfers; injuries; arrests); and 3) organizational movement (strategy pivots and programmatic shifts, in the hopes that nobody notices while they’re on vacation with the family or otherwise not thinking about college athletics). Today’s M5 will address each of these areas, for your thoughtful consideration and bemusement. October can’t get here soon enough.
  2. From the organizational movement department, the NCAA — which, due to its academic calendar construct, loves to release key information during the summer months, and especially on Fridays — announced late last week that its Board of Directors is set to take a vote next month that would ultimately give the five power conferences (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, SEC, Pac-12) greater autonomy over the future structure and workings of the NCAA. Let’s call this move what it is — administrative extortion, designed to give the revenue-producing schools more weight commensurate with their power and influence in return for keeping the NCAA in one piece. The power leagues have long chafed at the notion that 300 low-level schools could band together to prevent them from doing what they want to do (i.e., institute the $2,000 full cost of attendance stipend proposal that was DOA in 2011), and know that the NCAA (the organization itself, not a grouping of schools), overwhelmingly funded by the NCAA Tournament’s broadcast agreements, wouldn’t have much of a financial leg to stand on if those five conferences decided to do their own thing. The Yahoo! article linked above explains many of the proposed details, but the objective is clear here: the coup d’etat has begun in Indianapolis; just make sure to look up from your beachy pina colada to witness the culling.
  3. Speaking of the NCAA Tournament, a $700 million (annually) behemoth that the NCAA cannot afford to screw up, Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione was recently named the Chair of the Selection Committee for the 2015-16 season. So, a year away, as Utah athletic director Scott Barnes will hold the reins for the upcoming 2014-15 season. As Matt Norlander notes in the article, although the NCAA has done a solid job of moving away from the consistently white maleness of the Committee Chair in recent years (2009 Chair Dan Guerrero is Latino; 2010 Chair Gene Smith is African-American), it still hasn’t managed to cross the gender divide. Two members of the current committee — Conference USA’s Judy MacLeod and UNC-Asheville’s Janet Cone — would ostensibly have the inside track at the Chair in the next couple of rounds, but there are obviously no guarantees.
  4. The hot air department brings us to Castiglione’s conference commissioner, the Big 12’s Bob Bowlsby. During the conference’s football Media Days event on Monday in Dallas, Bowlsby expounded on the dirty little secret that anyone who closely follows collegiate athletics already knows but avoids discussion publicly: as he said, “cheating pays presently.” Noting that the NCAA Infractions Committee has not had a meeting in over a year, Bowlsby pounded the point home that if a school “seek[s] to conspire to certainly bend the rules, [it] can do it successfully and probably not get caught in most occasions.” He went on to defend the NCAA’s overall business model as a sustainable enterprise only in its current or near-current form, but the damage was done with respect to his pointed comments on cheating. While it’s difficult to test the veracity of Bowlsby’s overarching claim, it is much easier to determine how often the NCAA is doing its job with respect to policing infractions. A brief search of the organization’s Legislative Services Database shows that only two Division I schools — Howard and New Hampshire — have received NCAA penalties since January 1, 2014. Neither play FBS football, of course, and the sports involved were cross-country, gymnastics, volleyball and track and field. While again, it’s very hard to prove a negative, the absence of higher-profile and frankly, more, revenue-producing schools on that list, is more indicative of willful ignorance than of active compliance.
  5. And now, on to player movement. After eschewing a year at SMU to play with his older brother, Emmanuel Mudiay has reportedly signed a one-year deal worth $1.2 million to play in China. Brandon Jennings had trouble adjusting to the lifestyle of a professional and the culture shock of a new country (Italy) in 2008, but he turned out to be a fine player upon arrival to the NBA a year later. Mudiay’s year overseas will also be worth watching, but his international childhood (born in Zaire, speaks French) will surely help him adjust. As for players still in the US, Florida junior Devon Walker tore his ACL in practice late last week and will miss the entire 2014-15 season as a result. Notching seven starts on last year’s Final Four squad, Walker was expected to log significant minutes for a Gators team that has numerous holes to fill. His depth will be valuable to have a year from now too, though, and we wish him a speedy recovery.
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Ten Most Pivotal Moments of the 2013-14 Season

Posted by Bennet Hayes on April 16th, 2014

Within every 40 minutes of college basketball, there is a moment or two that sets a tone, shifts momentum, or otherwise dictates the game’s final result. If we think bigger picture, we’ll notice that the five-month college basketball season is also shaped by a number of similarly formative moments. We may not always know their full significance at the time, but these moments conspire to transform the course of a season. In 2013-14, these were those 10 moments – some occurring inside the lines, others far away from the hardwood – that proved most pivotal to the season’s final snapshot.

UConn Felled Florida Back In December In What Would Turn Out To Be The First Installment Of Many  Napier Clutch Shots

UConn Felled Florida Back In December In What Would Turn Out To Be The First Installment Of Many Napier Clutch Shots

  • 10. Tyler Ennis Downs Pitt at the Horn (February 12). The Syracuse freshman’s memorable game-winner extended the Orange’s inspiring perfect start, but might it have ended up wounding both teams? Pitt would never really find its way over the hump, while Syracuse’s continued chase of perfection may have shielded a few critical flaws that would later cause its sharp downfall.
  • 9. Scottie Wilbekin Returns From Five-Game Suspension (November 25). A solid performance (12 points, seven assists, three steals) in a rout of Atlantic Sun also-ran Jacksonville was just the beginning of a redemptive season for Wilbekin, who overcame offseason turmoil to become the unquestioned leader and MVP of a team that, for the better part of 2014, played at a far loftier level than any other squad in the country.
  • 8. Wichita State Comes Back Against Missouri State (January 11). Shockermania hadn’t yet grown into the hysteria it would become, but Wichita State overcame a 19-point second half road deficit in the most improbable of their season-opening 35 victories. Read the rest of this entry »
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College Basketball’s Five Best Games of 2013-14

Posted by Bennet Hayes (@HoopsTraveler) on April 15th, 2014

As we continue to sift through the memories of the 2013-14 college basketball season, we take a look back at some of the best games of the season. In order, here are the five best games from 2013-14. We covered the five best stories of the season last week, if you’re interested.

  1. November 12: Kansas 94, Duke 83 – Two of the most anticipated freshmen in recent college hoops history matched up in the Champions Classic nightcap, and neither Wiggins (22 points, eight rebounds) nor Parker (27 points, nine rebounds ) disappointed. Kansas broke open a close game behind a late push from Wiggins and Perry Ellis (24 points, nine rebounds), in the process earning one of the season’s first true statement victories. The young Jayhawks would go on to win 25 games and the Big 12 regular season title, but their finest (and most entertaining) win may have come in their second outing of the year.

    Star Freshmen Jabari Parker And Andrew Wiggins Matched Up In What Was A Memorable Champions Classic Battle. (Getty)

    Star Freshmen Jabari Parker And Andrew Wiggins Matched Up In What Was A Memorable Champions Classic Battle. (Getty)

  2. March 29: Wisconsin 64, Arizona 63 (OT) – The low-possession game that everyone expected came to fruition, but both the Badgers (1.05 PPP) and Wildcats (1.03 PPP) managed solid offensive efforts in this Elite Eight battle. Neither team was able to build more than a three-point lead during the final 17 minutes of play (including overtime) in a tangibly tense seesaw battle, but it was the offensive clinic put on by the Badgers’ Frank Kaminsky (28 points, 11 rebounds) that proved to be the ultimate difference. After a controversial replay review in the final seconds that gave the ball back to Arizona, Nick Johnson was unable to get up a winning shot attempt in time, and Wisconsin was headed to the Final Four for the first time under Bo Ryan. Read the rest of this entry »
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What’s Trending (Final Four Edition): Dallas, #cheerfortheears, Drake, and More…

Posted by Nick Fasulo (@nickfasuloSBN) on April 7th, 2014

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Nick Fasulo (@nickfasuloSBN) is your weekly host.

Hello, friends. There is only one college basketball game left in the 2013-14 season, and it will be played to crown a most improbable national champion and end a three-week long soap opera. Sorta like the original Dallas.

Lightning Strikes in North Texas

Great shot from Tom Fox on Final Four Eve as “North Texas” weathered a brutal thunderstorm.

BkWCx78IgAANG1L

Storms Have Pounded the DFW Area But That Didn’t Stop the Final Four

Cheer for the Ears

CBSSports.com‘s Matt Norlander made good after being on the losing end of a season-long bet made with Rush the Court‘s Randy McClure. Despite an early exit from the tournament, Wichita State made it to the big dance with a fat zero in the loss column. Norlander (pictured, right) didn’t think that would happen. So, as a result, he had to wear a set of bunny ears out on the town at the Final Four. He looks good. Maybe even better than NBCSports.com‘s Raphielle Johnson (left) and Rob Dauster (center).

DeAndre Daniels with the Dagger

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 04.07.14 Edition

Posted by Griffin Wong on April 7th, 2014

RTC_tourneycoverage

March Madness is finally upon us, and we here at RTC are here to make everything a little bit easier for you. From the First Four until One Shining Moment, we’ll be dropping daily tidbits of knowledge regarding the teams in each region.

Kentucky

  • Kentucky entered the NCAA Tournament unranked, but the Wildcats now find themselves playing for their second national championship in the last three years. With all the blows it took this season, it’s incredible that Kentucky is still playing. “It’s nuts,” [coach John] Calipari said. “We’re still standing.”
  • With Final Fours at three different programs and on the fringe of his second National Championship, Kentucky coach John Calipari has a shot to cement himself as arguably the best coach in the game right now.
  • Kentucky center Willie Cauley-Stein will be on the sidelines tonight, but he’s trying his best to accept his new role as a coach/cheerleader. He added, “I think that’s kind of my role now: staying in somebody’s ear. When you see something, make sure you let them know. It could help them. If they take the advice, cool. That’s really all I can do.”
  • Starting five freshmen, the similarities between Kentucky and Michigan’s Fab Five are uncanny. Coach John Calipari sees the similarities between his team and the Fab Five not in appearance, but rather in the manner that both teams handle themselves. “What they did and how they came together, anything you ever watch on that [the Fab Five], can’t you just feel the brotherhood?” Calipari said. “These guys are the same way. They’re fighting for each other. They closed ranks as things got ugly. They were there for each other.”
  • It’s been a wild road for Kentucky, and not even Coach Calipari can know what is coming next. However, what he does know is that his team can perform when it really counts. “Late in the game, they have an unbelievable will to win,” Calipari said.

Connecticut

  • UConn All-American Shabazz Napier  added another honor to his long list: the 2014 Bob Cousy Award for the Nation’s best point guard.
  • Florida was arguably a better all-around team that UConn, but the Huskies excecuted a brilliant strategy to shut down the Gators. Behind its “Ace of Spades” strategy, UConn harassed Florida star Scottie Wilbekin and held him to just 4 points. In describing the his game plan, UConn coach Kevin Ollie kept it simple: “We wanted to take him [Wilbekin] out.”
  • Kemba Walker led the way during UConn’s 2011 National Championship run, but now it’s Shabazz Napier’s turn. Napier may be his own man, but there’s no doubt he wants to end his career the same way Walker did. “A lot of comparisons are going to be thrown around. I’m not going to shy away from it. But at the end of the day, I’m not him. I want to do what he did and win the championship, but we’re walking our own path. We all want to get to the same promised land.”
  • Check out some of the anecdotes that UConn players gave about their leader Shabazz Napier.
  • UConn coach Kevin Ollie has a long way to go if he wants to measure up to his predecessor, Jim Calhoun, and his three National Championships, but winning tonight would be a good way to start creating his own legacy. “I’m not trying to be Coach Calhoun; I can’t fill those shoes,” Ollie said. “But I am trying to be the best Kevin Ollie I can be, and that’s what I am trying to do each and every day.”

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SEC M5: The National Title Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on April 7th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. Of all the accolades that can rightfully be given to people connected to Kentucky, the man in charge should be first in line. Though I don’t agree with it, I do understand the vitriol John Calipari receives from often random places. But what do his detractors have left to point to, other than simple dislike? We’re still waiting for that 2011-12 title, or 2010-11 Final Four, to be vacated. And the “he can’t coach” sentiment probably needs to be put to rest. He just improved to 18-2 in the tournament at Kentucky, and five weeks ago the Wildcats lost at South Carolina and looked dead in the water. The players are still the same, but the situation is far different. I’m not smart enough to know exactly what happened, but the change has to begin with Calipari.
  2. Willie Cauley-Stein’s situation is the one sour note in the Wildcats’ run to the title game. Deep in this Louisville Courier-Journal article is a sad, sad quote from the sophomore when he was asked about giving advice to the team. “I can’t really speak to them like I’m a player,” Cauley-Stein said softly, “because I don’t feel like a player anymore.” Cauley-Stein was one of the lone bright spots for Kentucky late last season, and it’s frustrating to see a guy not be able to fully enjoy a run like this after sticking around. Will missing out in playing in the Final Four enough to pull him back for a third season in Lexington? It wouldn’t be the smart business decision, but you never know.
  3. Despite a roster loaded with top nationwide talent, Kentucky’s 2013 Mr. Basketball contributed 11 minutes Saturday night against Wisconsin. Dominique Hawkins wasn’t the typical Calipari recruit, carrying only three stars from Rivals, and offers from Murray State, Western Kentucky and Morehead State. But in what was surely, at least in part, a shrewd move to appease the fan base, Calipari got himself a valuable piece going forward. Hawkins only scored two points against the Badgers, but he’s gaining important experience and by the time he is an upper classman should be, at the least, a productive defensive player.
  4. DeAndre Daniels will get a rare opportunity tonight against Kentucky: facing the team he nearly signed with in the national championship game. John Calipari mentioned in his postgame interview that he had recruited some of the Huskies’ players, and one of those was Daniels. Surprisingly, the 20 points and 10 rebounds Daniels recorded against Florida was the first double double in the Final Four since Carmelo Anthony did it over ten years ago. Considering the track record Julius Randle has in that department this year, we may not have to wait as long for the next double double.
  5. Alligator Army has a comprehensive look back, and look ahead, after the Florida’s disheartening loss to Connecticut. One interesting question is what the legacy of this Florida team will be. Will they be remembered as one of the greatest SEC squads of all time? As Andy Hutchins points out, the undefeated conference season the Gators pulled off is a rarity in this era. Each of their three losses came to a Final Four team, and they may end up owning three wins over the eventual national champion. That’s a heck of a resume for a team, even if it did fall short of winning it all.
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