Morning Five: 05.13.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on May 13th, 2013

morning5

  1. It seems like Rutgers cannot get anything right. Even the hiring of Eddie Jordan, which seemed like a no-brainer, has turned into a public relations disaster as Jordan never graduated from college. This is not at the level of George O’Leary and his fake degree with at an institution that never existed, but it is still an ugly mark against an institution that has already been dragged through the mud with its handling of the Mike Rice situation. From what the school is saying Jordan never represented himself as a graduate of the school and it was simply a media relations error. If that is in fact true and the school claims that it does not require its coaches to have college degrees (Who cares since they do not count against the APR, right?), this issue will probably be swept under the rug, but we imagine that opposing coaches will use this to recruit against Jordan by pointing out that if he did not bother to complete his college degree it seems a little less credible that he would make sure your son ends up with a college degree when his basketball career is over.
  2. It appears that the recruitment of Andrew Wiggins, the #1 high school player in (North) America, will be coming to a close as he is expected to announce his decision at 12:15 PM today. Many fans and several analysts have voiced their displeasure with Wiggins taking so long to announce his decision, but with the way that schools get put on probation and players or coaches leave it makes sense for the top player in the country (or any coveted recruit for that matter) to wait as long as possible to make their decision. Wiggins is set to decide between Florida State, Kansas, Kentucky, and North Carolina. If Wiggins winds up in Lexington, you can be sure it will set off another round of hysteria about Kentucky’s incoming class. Interestingly, the most frequently cited destination we have seen from college basketball analysts is Florida State. If that were to happen, Wiggins would make the Seminoles a legitimate NCAA Tournament team and would create some very interesting match-ups against Duke and Jabari Parker.
  3. The Miami investigation is the mess that never seems to go away. The latest update is that Frank Haith‘s petition to question Bank of America employees on whether they gave unauthorized access to his bank accounts (allowing the NCAA to analyze his accounts) was denied by a federal judge in Miami on Friday. Based on what has been released about the case it appears that Haith will still be able to get the information if he decides to file a lawsuit, which he may be doing in the near future. If the NCAA did in fact illegally obtain Haith’s financial records it could be dealing with a very messy legal case and one that it cannot rely on its own jurisdiction to help it evade substantial penalties.
  4. Georgia Tech lost a pair of players over the weekend. The most significant was Julian Royal, who is headed to George Mason (announced via that Instagram picture) and will finally get to play for Paul Hewitt after Hewitt recruited him to Georgia Tech before moving to George Mason. On the surface, the addition of a player who was the odd man out in Georgia Tech’s rotation may not seem like a big get, but coming out of high school Royal was considered the best player in the state of Georgia and a player that Hewitt thought fit his system so perhaps playing for Hewitt in his system (and new scenery) will help Royal realize his potential. The other move from Georgia Tech was Brandon Reed‘s decision to transfer after his junior season. Reed, who averaged 5.2 points per game on 38.4 percent from three-point range last season, will graduate this summer as he also sat out a year after transferring from Arkansas State. As a result Reed will be able to transfer again without having to sit out a year if he picks an appropriate graduate degree program.
  5. We are still waiting on a few recruits from the class of 2013 to commit (see the big one in bullet #2), but a pair of highly rated recruits in the class of 2014 appear to have already made their choices. The more firm of the two commitments comes from Daniel Hamilton, a top 30 recruit, who verbally committed to play at Connecticut. The addition of Hamilton should give the Huskies a very potent backcourt for the 2014-15 season (when Rodney Purvis is eligible) as they will be looking to replace more experienced players. The other quasi-commitment comes from Chris Chiozza, who is a top-100 player, and appears to be headed to Florida with a formal announcement tomorrow. The news on Chiozza is not particularly noteworthy except for the fact that he is a high school teammate of Leron Black, a top-20 player in the junior class so perhaps Chiozza’s decision will offer some clue as to where Black is headed.
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Morning Five: 03.07.13 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on May 7th, 2013

morning5

  1. The beauty of advanced quantitative analysis in sports is that, when done correctly, it can validate things that you already inherently know. Trey Burke as the best player in America? It sure felt like it while we were watching him lead Michigan past Kansas and Florida on the way to the Final Four. Rick Pitino as the best coach going right now? Considering how his Louisville Cardinals were essentially the same cast of characters from a surprise 2012 Final Four run and became recognizably better on the offensive end (especially out of timeouts) in 2013? Sure seems like it. Of course, there are limitations — Florida rated tops in KenPom’s efficiency ratings for most of the season, but the Gators were merely a good team filled with good players, not a great one. SI.com‘s Luke Winn keeps us interested by doing what only he has proven he can do — sifting through terabytes of efficiency data and video clips to come up with his second annual Data-Based Coaching/Player Awards. Lots of good information in the piece, but perhaps the neatest has to be his quantification of Oregon’s Arsalan Kazemi as the nation’s best all-around defender. 
  2. Speaking of Pitino, the guy continues to get a surplus of positive press in the wake of his second national title. Several outlets had a Pitino/Kentucky Derby story coming out of the weekend, but ESPN.com‘s Dana O’Neil wrote the quintessential story about the man she calls “the Derby King.” The crux of the story is that regardless of whether Pitino’s horse “Goldencents” finished first, 10th, 17th or somewhere behind the barns in Saturday’s Derby, the 60-year old tattooed grandfather owns the town of Louisville and everything in it. Including Millionaire’s Row. It’s not the kind of read you see much of anymore in the instant-gratification world of online writing, but that makes it even more worth your time.
  3. This news is circumstantial and ultimately may not mean anything at all, but the possibility that it could mean something is really disturbing given recent events. Dennis Dodd at CBSSports.com reported on Wednesday that Missouri head coach Frank Haith has filed a petition in federal court to determine how the NCAA got its hands on what appears to be microfiche copies of his personal bank records. According to the report, some of Haith’s Bank of America records were voluntarily turned over as part of the NCAA’s investigation into the Nevin Shapiro violations at his former school, Miami, but those records did not include the more detailed microfiche copies which Haith seems to believe that the NCAA has in its possession. The gigantic elephant in the room, of course, is that the NCAA already admitted missteps in this case by offering payment to certain witnesses for testimony, but an as-yet unfounded assertion that the organization may have illegally solicited bank records to bolster its case could set off yet another firestorm surrounding the organization. Stay tuned on this one.
  4. If there’s one thing we love about college sports, it’s when former stars come back into the fold as a coach at their alma mater. The Arizona Star-Republic reported on Monday that “Mighty Mouse,” former Arizona star and current Memphis assistant, Damon Stoudamire, is returning to Tucson to join Sean Miller’s staff as an assistant there. For those who don’t remember him at Arizona, he was a three-time all-Pac-10 guard, an All-American in 1995, and, along with backcourt mate Khalid Reeves, led the Wildcats to Lute Olson’s second Final Four in 1994. He’ll fit in great on Miller’s staff, focusing on work with the guards, a role he has fulfilled with Josh Pastner the last couple of seasons.
  5. One other significant coming and going from Monday was out of Florida, as the second Gator in a week announced his transfer out of the program. Last week it was freshman Braxton Ogbueze who say the writing on the wall with two top 10 recruits and Rutgers transfer Eli Carter entering the program; this week it is Devon Walker, a freshman wing who saw just a handful of minutes in 25 contests this season. The Gators are coming off three straight Elite Eight appearances, but none of those three teams were loaded with NBA talent (Bradley Beal’s freshman year was the lone exception). With Kasey Hill and Chris Walker both headed to Gainesville next season, though, the Gators could actually boast more elite talent in 2013-14 than it has the last several years.
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With Kentucky Loss, SEC Fan Apathy For Basketball Exposed Again

Posted by David Changas on March 16th, 2013

David Changas is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report while covering the SEC Tournament in Nashville this weekend.

You’ve heard the saying, “If you build it, they will come.” When it comes to Kentucky fans and the SEC Tournament, it goes more like this: “Wherever you hold it, they will come.” Everyone knows that the Wildcats have struggled all season with almost an entirely new team, and chances are, they will miss out on the NCAA Tournament. But if you happened to be in downtown Nashville Friday evening, you would think John Calipari’s team was a prime contender for the national championship. For Friday’s blowout loss to Vanderbilt, whose campus is two miles from Bridgestone Arena, the SEC Tournament drew its largest crowd of the weekend, and of the 18,000+ in attendance, at least 15,000 were part of the “Blue Mist,” the affectionate name given to Wildcat fans who take over whatever city the annual extravaganza is being held in. The Commodores would have felt more at home if the game had been in Rupp Arena, not that it was evident from their play.

uk fans nashville

Kentucky’s surprising ouster from this tournament was not only bad for the Nashville Chamber of Commerce, which was looking forward to a St. Patrick’s Day weekend with thousands of Wildcat fans in town, but it once again brought to light an embarrassing issue for the SEC.  Bridgestone Arena had plenty of empty seats for Saturday’s semifinals, and Sunday’s championship likely will be no different.  Mike Slive has made more money for this league since he took over as commissioner in 2002 than you can count. He’s overseen expansion into Texas and Missouri, massive television contracts, and rumor has it that he’s on the verge of announcing the formation of the SEC Network, expected to launch in August 2014.  But make no mistake: That money has been made because of football. It is the cash cow of college sports in every league, but there’s no question that the pigskin is more important to the SEC than any other. And there’s no clearer of example of that than the conference’s dominance of the BCS, which it was won seven consecutive times.

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A Puncher’s Chance? Breaking Down the Teams Driving the 2013 SEC Tournament

Posted by Christian D'Andrea on March 11th, 2013

Christian D’Andrea is a SEC Microsite contributor and an editor at Anchor of Gold and Nashville Sports Hub. You can reach him on Twitter @TrainIsland.

The SEC Tournament is upon us, and thanks to the league’s new 14-team format, fans get a whole extra day of win-or-go-home basketball in the south. The 2012-13 season hasn’t been particularly kind to the SEC. The conference suffered through a plague of upset losses and a dearth of quality wins which led to speculation that Florida would be the league’s only representative at the NCAA Tournament.

That course has been corrected over the final three weeks of the season thanks to some big wins across the conference’s second tier, but there are still plenty of teams battling for postseason slots. Tennessee and Kentucky will be looking to one-up each other as they duel for what might the last at-large invitation to the Big Dance. Alabama and Ole Miss will look to re-enter the postseason conversation with legitimizing wins. Arkansas, Texas A&M, and Vanderbilt will try to rally hard and extend their seasons one day at a time.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the 14 teams that will be competing for conference honors when Wednesday rolls around.

The Prohibitive Favorite: Florida

 (Photo via John Raoux / AP)

Florida Seeks Another SEC Title in Nashville (Photo via John Raoux / AP)

Billy Donovan’s team hasn’t been perfect against a downtrodden conference, and that has cost the Gators a shot at a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Their best recourse for that will be to put together a dominant run in Nashville, and an easy Friday match-up against LSU or Georgia will give them the opportunity to get off on the right foot. Much like the rest of the season, this will be a high-risk, low-reward endeavor for Florida. They won’t face a top-50 opponent until a theoretical Sunday match-up in the title game. They’ll have to hold court and prove that they can reclaim the dominance that led them to a string of double-digit wins to open league play.

The Savvy Bet: Missouri 

Mizzou may have the richest depth of any team in the SEC, but Frank Haith’s squad has been vulnerable against the conference’s good and mid-level teams in 2013. The Tigers have struggled to play well as a team despite the wealth of experience on their roster, but they’ve been able to regroup (4-2 in their last six games) as the SEC Tournament approaches. Mizzou has the scoring, ball movement, and rebounding to push any opponent to the limit. Players like Alex Oriakhi, Laurence Bowers, and Phil Pressey can create mismatches against any team they face. Can they ratchet up the defense and come together as a cohesive unit when the pressure is on? The Tigers are just a #6 seed in the SEC bracket, but they have the potential to do so much more — especially with a relatively weak draw on the road to the conference championship game.

The At-Large Brawlers: Tennessee, Kentucky

Tennessee and Kentucky represent the conference’s best candidates for a third and possibly fourth NCAA Tournament bid, but it may be a case of one-or-the-other when it comes to the selection committee’s final bracket. Both of these teams proved that they can beat Florida over the past two weeks, but their victories came with the help of home court advantage. Now, they’ll have to prove that they can travel to a neutral court and roll that momentum into a season-sustaining run through the SEC Tournament. The Volunteers and Wildcats will be pitting their resumes against each other for a chance to make it to the Big Dance, and while either team can make a case for inclusion based on their regular season performances, another significant win would all but ensure their spot in one of the NCAA’s four regions.

Jordan McRae and Tennessee are the hottest team in the SEC. (USA Today)

Jordan McRae and Tennessee are the hottest team in the SEC. (USA Today)

The only way these two would meet in Nashville is in the SEC title game, and both teams would be likely locks for the 68-team filed at that point. Kentucky has the better collection of talent, but no team has been hotter over the past month than Tennessee. The Volunteers are at the tail end of an 8-1 run that rallied the team from CBI territory and on to the happy side of the bubble. However, they may have been pushed down to NIT status after Saturday’s UK win over the Gators and Middle Tennessee State’s surprising Sun Belt Tournament loss. Is there room for both of these teams in the NCAA bracket?

The Forgotten Bubble Contenders: Ole Miss, Alabama

Ole Miss and ‘Bama belonged in the previous group until late-season slumps effectively tanked their seasons. For the Rebels, February and March represented a precipitous fall from grace. Marshall Henderson and his teammates plummeted from a potential five-seed or better all the way off the NCAA Tournament bubble with a 6-6 record down the stretch that included losses to South Carolina and Mississippi State. Still, Henderson, Murphy Holloway, and Reginald Buckner could lead the third-seeded Rebels to a big weekend if they can regain their early-season magic.

The Crimson Tide didn’t have a bad spring, they just failed to produce any resume-defining wins. Anthony Grant’s team is solid across the court and strong enough to hang with the SEC’s best teams, but they’ve been unable to lock down an impressive top-50 victory in 2013. This rebuilding Alabama squad has the pieces in place for a big 2014 run, but they might not have the gas this week to get to the SEC title game and back to the bright side of the bubble.

Puncher’s Chances: Vanderbilt, Texas A&M, Arkansas, Georgia, LSU

The SEC Tournament occasionally fails to follow rhyme, reason, or tradition. Some years, a tornado hits the host arena and wills a 4-12 Georgia team to the Big Dance. In others, a Vanderbilt team that hadn’t known much beyond abject failure in the conference bracket wins their first postseason title since 1950. Five teams at the lower end of the Southeastern spectrum could end up adding to that legacy in 2013.

Vanderbilt, thanks in part to the emergence of freshman Sheldon Jeter, is finishing its season better than they started it. A team that can shoot from three-point range and play hard-nosed defense on the perimeter is always dangerous in tournament play, and that will give Kevin Stallings’ team a shot. Same goes for Texas A&M, a squad that could ride Elston Turner Jr.’s hot hand to a marquee match-up on Sunday.

Arkansas, with wins over Kentucky, Florida, and Missouri, may have the best resume of the group when it comes to the league’s third tier and a high-paced style that could wreak havoc in a four-day tournament setting. Georgia has been streaky all year and could be an upset of Florida away from an easy path to the SEC title game. Finally, LSU has been wholly unpredictable in 2013 and that volatility could result in a surprising run to a weekend match-up or a Thursday exit at the hands of Georgia.

Saving Money on Costly Weekend Hotels in Nashville: Mississippi State, Auburn, South Carolina

Frank Martin’s team has some young talent, but doesn’t have a path to a Friday game unless Bruce Ellington or Michael Carrera catch fire for the Gamecocks. Even with a big, slightly inexplicable win over Ole Miss, Mississippi State is still a rebuilding team with just seven scholarship players to count on in Nashville. Auburn held Alabama to just 37 points once and also beat Florida State this season, but that’s about it for bright spots in a season that’s ending on a 1-14 skid.

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SEC M5: 03.08.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on March 8th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. Tempers flared on Tuesday night when Arkansas squared off against Missouri, but the real showdown was between coaches. Razorbacks coach Mike Anderson returned to Columbia for the first time since leaving the Tigers, and current Missouri coach Frank Haith apparently hasn’t taken too kindly to some of the credit Anderson has placed upon himself for Haith’s recent success. Anderson made no secret that he felt he left the program in great shape for Haith two seasons ago. “That was a team that probably could have contended for a Final Four. I really thought that. … So you ask me what kind of shape it was in? … It was in great shape. Most guys don’t inherit a team like that.” Did Haith take that statement personally? Perhaps he did take offense, based on the altercation during one of the timeouts of Missouri’s thumping of Arkansas.  So  it just might make you giddy to know that there is still a possibility that Missouri and Arkansas could face off once more in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament, if a couple of things go the right way for both teams this weekend.
  2. There has been a lot of bubble chatter on this site, nationally, and among anyone who follows college basketball even moderately. The stakes were clear for both Ole Miss and Alabama, two teams widely considered among the first four out or close thereafter,  going into Tuesday’s game. Win, and live to see another day. Lose, and the bubble would burst. But according to at least one opinion, all of the excitement over the bubble was for naught because ultimately, “this Alabama team is not an NCAA Tournament team. Over and out.” Alabama has wins over Villanova, Tennessee, and Kentucky, but none of those are victories are likely to impress the committee too much. With three losses in their last four games, it is probably time for the Tide to focus their efforts on the postseason, but perhaps the NIT is a more appropriate goal at this point.
  3. Auburn senior guard Frankie Sullivan finally broke out of a severe slump on Wednesday night against the Tennessee Volunteers. He scored 24 points, his largest contribution since a 26 point effort against Arkansas on January 16. Following that double overtime loss in Bud Walton Arena, Sullivan was averaging almost 18 points per game, but from that point on, he managed just 9.7 points per game on 31 percent shooting from the field. Head coach Tony Barbee thinks it’s all in Sullivan’s head. “This stretch right here is as mind-boggling as anything I’ve seen,” Barbee said. “Those are shots that are as automatic as automatic can be for a guy. He’s just struggling mentally right now.” Unfortunately, Sullivan’s resurgence against the Vols is too late for the Tigers to make an impact in the league after losing fourteen of their last fifteen games.
  4. Florida is still experiencing some gaps during stretches on offense, but the Gators continue to rely on defense to win games. “Defense got it done for us tonight,” UF forward Erik Murphy said. “We weren’t clicking on offense early and it allowed us to overcome some things before we got into a rhythm.” Coach Billy Donovan said the Gators’ level of defensive efficiency against Vanderbilt is the way it should always be. “We need to do that to all the teams we play,” Donovan said. “They were a team that, scouting them, definitely was playing better and making shots from the 3-point line. We really collectively, I thought, did a good job there and didn’t give them too many easy layups.” Florida held Vandy to just 40 points on 26.9 percent shooting from the field. If UF continues to be inconsistent on offense, its defense will be forced to lead the way.
  5. Nerlens Noel is filling up his free time by dropping rhymes for his new rap, and it was actually pretty good. The real kicker came towards the end when Noel teases Kentucky fans with the line,  “I might come back — but I don’t know yet.” Check out the video for yourself. Enjoy on this Friday morning:

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SEC M5: 03.01.13 Edition

Posted by DPerry on March 1st, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. Missouri earned its second road win of the season at South Carolina last night, thanks to a fantastic shooting display. The Tigers hit nearly 70% of their shots, including 6-of-9 from three-point range. “I don’t think we could have played any better offensively,” head coach Frank Haith said. Guards Keion Bell and Jabari Brown enjoyed a size advantage over the smaller starting Gamecock backcourt, enabling them to combine for 47 points. Phil Pressey (one game after scoring 27 against Kentucky) didn’t attempt a single shot, opting instead to serve as a pure play-maker, finishing with nine assists. Missouri will head home for a two-game stretch before traveling to Tennessee for its regular season finale.
  2. After suffering its first three losses of its SEC schedule, the air of invincibility has vanished from Florida. Don’t be too quick to remove them from your list of title contenders, though, as the Gators are finally getting healthy. Billy Donovan announced Thursday that both Will Yeguete and Michael Frazier II have been cleared for this weekend’s game against Alabama. “Our guys that have been through the grind of most of the last month or so, they can’t rest and relax,” Donovan said. “They’ve got to understand that they’ve got to step up and they’ve got to play and they cannot take the approach of, ‘Well, we’re a little bit deeper. We have more guys available.’ Because I just don’t know if Frazier and/or Yeguete are going to be really able to be able to really provide some significant minutes for us.” Frazier missed only one game, but Yeguete has been sidelined since February 5, during which Florida desperately missed his rebounding ability, only out-boarding its opponent in two of six games.
  3. With the Gators finally having the luxury of a full squad, their biggest worry this Saturday will be Alabama guard Trevor Releford. The junior guard from Kansas City has been a revelation for the Tide this season, earning him quite a bit of praise. “I see a lot more confidence in his shot,” said LJ Goolsby, Releford’s AAU coach. “That’s been evident the last couple of games, most importantly. The bigger the game, the better he is a lot of times. That speaks volumes about his competitiveness. Competitors want the biggest challenges. They accept it and embrace it.” With the departures of JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell, the position of #1 scoring option was up for grabs in Tuscaloosa this season, and Releford has locked it down. He’s been especially hot recently (including a career high 36 points against LSU), and will have to be at his best to upset the Gators in Gainesville.
  4. Tennessee waited until the last possible opportunity to turn its season around, displaying some pretty remarkable composure during their late-season run. What’s behind this new and improved Volunteers team?  The Chattanooga Times Free PressPatrick Brown credits coach Cuonzo Martin and his stoic nature. “You can’t get overemotional in certain situations,” Martin says. “You’ve got to be even-keeled. But that’s easier said than done.” The second-year coach rarely changes his tone in his interactions with the media, even when some of the Vols’ early-season performances undoubtedly had him boiling inside. Consider leading scorer Jordan McRae impressed. “You guys see our practices, the way Coach Martin is, you would think we hadn’t won a game yet this year,” said the junior guard. “That’s just the way it’s going to be, and I think Coach Martin does a really good job of making us realize we always have a game after this one.”
  5. Kentucky fans were treated to a night of celebration on Wednesday. The Wildcats easily dispatched Mississippi State, as expected, but the real draw was the 1996 team’s return to Rupp Arena. With stars like Antoine Walker, Tony Delk, and Walter McCarty all in attendance, coach John Calipari will hope uber-recruit Andrew Wiggins, who was taking his official visit to the Lexington campus, was impressed by the tradition. The Bulldogs were a bit of a break for the Wildcats, whose NCAA Tournament hopes will be put to the test when they travel to Arkansas (undefeated at home in SEC play) on Saturday.
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An Outsider’s Trip to the Heart of Big Blue Nation

Posted by dnspewak on February 28th, 2013

Danny Spewak (@dspewak) is an RTC Correspondent. He covered College Gameday and Missouri/Kentucky at Rupp Arena on Saturday.

Kentucky’s intro video is long. It’s not even the only intro video — there’s a hipper version that plays right before the public address announcer introduces the Wildcats’ starters. The first one isn’t as hip, though. It’s nostalgic. It’s a full two minutes (possibly an NCAA record for intro videos) of grainy, black-and-white video from the Dark Ages set to the tune of Bittersweet Symphony.

It is awesome. As the shots move at lightning speed from frame to frame to frame to frame, you see Adolph Rupp, Joe B. Hall, Pat Riley, Jamal Mashburn, Patrick Sparks, Tayshaun Prince, Frank Ramsey, Tony Delk, Sean Woods, Kenny Walker, Dan Issel and all the other Kentucky legends this state has embraced for almost a century. Tubby Smith makes a few appearances. Rick Pitino does not. For 120 seconds, Big Blue Nation stands and claps in unison to the beat of Bittersweet Symphony, and you realize whatever’s about to start in a few minutes isn’t just a basketball game. It’s some sort of religious experience, something that’s bonded the 24,000 people in the building together for decades.

Kentucky Enjoyed The College Gameday Festivities

Kentucky Enjoyed The College Gameday Festivities

I met a man on Saturday morning who told me he’d been driving 75 miles from Northern Kentucky to watch games at Rupp Arena since 1980. I met another woman from Bowling Green, Kentucky, who said she’d had season tickets since her teenage children were toddlers. These people exist at every level of college basketball and in every single arena across the country, but here, there are thousands of them. It’s just a little different in Kentucky, and you can feel that the second you walk into Rupp and see the eight hundred million banners in the rafters. There are so many retired jerseys, it’s a wonder they haven’t run out yet.

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SEC M5: 02.27.12 Edition

Posted by DPerry on February 27th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. The red-hot Tennessee Volunteers extended its winning streak to six games Tuesday night, handing Florida their second loss in three games. Jordan McRae provided most of the offense with 27 points, while Jarnell Stokes (14 rebounds) dominated the glass in a game that was almost a must-win for the Vols to make the NCAA Tournament field. Florida began SEC play with 11 straight victories, looking almost infallible in comparison to the rest of the weak conference. However, injuries have taken their toll (Will Yeguete and Michael Frazier II, most recently) and the Gators have lost some of that shine, maybe enough to completely excuse themselves from the #1-seed conversation. With the loss, Billy Donovan’s record against Cuonzo Martin fell to 0-3.
  2. Anthony Grant charged Trevor Releford with putting the offense on his back through the rest of the season, and he started out in style. Behind 21 points from the junior guard, Alabama avenged an ugly February 6 loss to intrastate rival Auburn with an easy win Tuesday night. Nick Jacobs chipped in with 10 points and 10 rebounds. “We talked about the importance of every game going forward, but obviously any time you get a chance to play your in-state rival that adds a different meaning,” Grant said after the game. Alabama travels to Gainesville this weekend with, unbelievably, a chance to tie the Gators atop the SEC standings.
  3. Believe it or not, Georgia still has a chance to grab a first-round bye in the SEC Tournament. Show of hands: Who thought the Bulldogs would be able to say that at the end of February? Really? Really? Coach Mark Fox will face a challenge tonight, as he brings his young backcourt into the uncomfortable environment that is Vanderbilt’s Memorial Gym, the only venue in the nation that features benches along the baseline. “I’m probably more worried about it this year with such a young perimeter group,” Fox said of the Commodores’ court configuration. “There’s a lot of the game they’ll have to manage on their own on the floor.” Freshman Charles Mann has been seeing more time at the point, while classmates Kenny Gaines and Brandon Morris have earned their share of minutes as well. The Bulldogs have lost three of four games after a previous five-game winning streak.
  4. Andrew Wiggins, the top recruit in the class of 2013 according to both Rivals and ESPN, will take an official visit to Kentucky, probably while you’re reading this. He’s visited the Lexington campus before, but expects to see more than he did on his previous unofficial trip. “He’ll have a chance to meet different people: the academic people, the athletic director,” said Rob Fulford, Wiggins’ coach at Huntington (WV) Prep. “It’s more official as far as what you’re looking for and getting a feel for the school.” The forward originally from Canada is also considering Florida State, Kansas, and North Carolina. Also, watch this.
  5. Frank Haith hasn’t been hesitant to criticize his team this season. His most recent target is his team’s subpar defense on the road against Kentucky. “We had nobody play on that end of the court,” Haith said. “And when you have nobody play on that end of the court, you don’t have a chance. We had so many breakdowns where we didn’t rotate, we didn’t shrink the gap and allowed them driving lanes and loose balls and poor closeouts.” Kentucky entered Saturday’s game with Missouri without any momentum, but the Tigers’ lax defense allowed the Wildcats to shoot over 50% from the field, as well as over 40% from long range. Haith believes that his team only plays quality defense when their offensive game is on, which may help to explain much of the Tigers’ road struggles this season.
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After Saving the SEC’s Tourney Chances, What’s Next For Missouri?

Posted by DPerry on February 22nd, 2013

It’s no secret that the SEC is having a down year. From defending champ Kentucky suffering a 30-point loss at Tennessee to first-year head coach Rick Ray struggling through an 11-game losing streak and multiple suspensions, the evidence is overwhelming. SEC fans, however, were able to breathe a collective sigh of relief Tuesday night after Missouri’s victory over Florida, one of the most important results of the conference season.

Laurence Bowers

Laurence Bowers had 17 points and 10 rebounds in Missouri’s upset of Florida. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

If the Gators had been able to hold on to their 13-point second half lead, I’d probably be writing a piece about the very real possibility of the SEC sending only one team to the NCAA Tournament. According to the most recent projections from Joe Lunardi and Jerry Palm, only Florida, Missouri, and Ole Miss have résumés worthy of Tourney invites, with the latter two only just making the cut. A few more road losses would have sent Mizzou further down the “S-curve”, while the Rebels seem really committed to complete capitulation, having lost five of seven since this. Kentucky and Alabama could play their way in, but their margin for error is slim.

Yes, Missouri’s upset of Florida was the most direct route in virtually ensuring that the SEC wouldn’t join the likes of the Patriot League and the Summit League as one-bid conferences, but Frank Haith won’t be satisfied with a repeat of a first-round exit. Expectations were high in Columbia entering the season, and the Tigers have been largely disappointing. Can Mizzou use the home upset as a springboard for a late-season run?

If they can make these three improvements, don’t be surprised to see the Tigers carrying a lot of momentum into March:

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SEC M5: 02.21.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on February 21st, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. Have Mike Anderson’s Razorbacks worked their way onto the NCAA bubble? Arkansas’ resume is considerably better at home than it is on the road, but as ESPN.com points out, “Since Febuary 2, the Razorbacks are 4-1 with wins over Florida and, most recently, Missouri. They also — in typical fashion — lost 67-49 at Vanderbilt. On January 26, they lost 75-54 at South Carolina. So, yeah, there’s plenty of work to do here.” But unfortunately for the Hogs, NCAA Tournament games aren’t played at home, and they just haven’t been the same team away from Bud Walton Arena. 
  2. Missouri Athletic Director Mike Alden isn’t abandoning Tigers coach Frank Haith in the wake of potential NCAA violations. “You know, I’m looking forward to working with Frank for a long time. And he’s done great things here with us, and we look forward to continuing to do great things,” Alden said. At this point, however, the AD doesn’t know the extent to which Haith will be punished for the alleged violations. While a show of confidence is important at this stage in the game, it doesn’t really mean much if bad news is pending. If penalties are imposed on him at some point down the road, a statement of full confidence at that point will be far more telling.
  3. Florida blew a 13-point second half lead against Missouri on Tuesday night, and it’s time to start pointing the finger to locate the problems. The Florida Times Union points to an ill-advised three pointer by Kenny Boynton, costly turnovers by Mike Rosario, and key missed free throws by Patric Young as reasons for the demise. And as the author points out, this isn’t the first time the Gators have unraveled during a close game. Three turnovers and a missed free throw during the final minute cost UF a six-point lead at Arizona, and Florida was within one point against Kansas State but it just couldn’t close out with a win. Billy Donovan’s squad has reason for concern as it is 0-3 in games this season decided by single figures.
  4. Florida’s late-game struggles have a common theme — the head coach. While Donovan is the greatest head coach ever to stand on the sidelines at the University of Florida, his winning percentage in games decided by five points or fewer doesn’t stack up to that of his national championship-winning peers. The most recent three-point loss to Missouri gave the accomplished Donovan a mere 57-75 record in games with the outcome at five points or fewer, which is just a .469 winning percentage. In comparison, just to name a few, Donovan’s mentor Rick Pitino sits at .503, John Calipari is at .570, and Jim Boeheim is the leader among active national championship winners at .628. Donovan’s record is in fact the worst among active national championship-winning coaches, and he is the only coach with that criteria with a losing record in close games.
  5. Rick Ray just can’t catch a break. The Mississippi State coach suspended sophomore forward Roquez Johnson for an unspecified violation of team rules, leaving him with just five scholarship players. But Ray didn’t back off of his zero tolerance approach to discipline. “What they’re trying to figure out is… how much can they get away with without getting punished?” Ray said. “I think there’s a little bit with this situation with those older guys. ‘Hey, how much can I get away with without getting punished?’ And the answer is: nothing.” If this basketball coaching gig doesn’t work out for Ray, he joked that he has enough material from this first year on the job with the Bulldogs to write a book.
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ACC M5: 02.21.13 Edition

Posted by mpatton on February 21st, 2013

morning5_ACC

  1. Fox Sports: I would’ve said the ACC Player of the Year race was a dead heat as late as last week. But as long as Miami keeps dominating the league (even by low margins of victory), I’m starting to think Shane Larkin holds the best card. Barring some outrageous performances to close out the season (and at least one marquee win) Erick Green should be done. It may not be fair, but life isn’t fair. Mason Plumlee has a very good shot at the award too — assuming he bounces back to form after struggling against Maryland and looks good against Miami (a Duke win against Miami next Saturday would turn the tables somewhat). But Larkin is the most important player on the conference’s best team. At a minimum, he and Kenny Kadji are first-teamers.
  2. Orlando Sentinel: Great news out of Tallahassee, as Terrance Shannon has been cleared for no-contact practice. Shannon suffered a nasty neck injury early in conference play at Virginia. He had to be carted off the court in one of the scarier moments of the season. Apparently, Shannon sought a second opinion and will be back much sooner than expected. Assuming the rest of his rehabilitation goes according to schedule, it’s possible he’ll be back before the end of the season. Shannon adds tons of energy and toughness to a young Florida State front line.
  3. Duke Basketball Report: Every year there’s a team in the ACC (usually one in the lower tier) that plays more than its fair share of close games. This year three of the league’s bottom five teams are struggling to win the close ones. Just in conference games alone, Boston College, Clemson and Georgia Tech are a combined 4-15 in games decided by five points or fewer. Meanwhile, all of Florida State’s conference wins have been by five points or fewer (thank Michael Snaer for that 6-1 record in close games), while close games are a coin flip for Wake Forest and NC State. Miami is the only team unblemished in close games with a 4-0 record, although the Hurricanes have been flirting with disaster recently.
  4. Washington Post: That sound was Maryland falling back to the wrong side of the bubble after a brutal letdown loss at Boston College following its emotional upset win against Duke. Want to know what this Maryland team is starting to look dangerously like? A worse version of 2010-11 Virginia Tech. Ugly non-conference resume with no quality wins? Check. Talented roster shaped largely around two dynamic players but with a fatal flaw? Check (the Hokies couldn’t shoot; Maryland can’t hold onto the basketball). Huge upset win over Duke that boosted NCAA hopes dramatically immediately followed by a soul-crushing loss to Boston College? Check. NIT? Yes and to be determined.
  5. Kansas City Star: The details of Frank Haith‘s notice of allegations were released by Missouri. The reported “unethical conduct” charge was dropped to “failure to monitor” (which is far less severe). The big charge levied against Haith is that he failed to notify the athletic department of Nevin Shapiro’s instability and gave money to an assistant to pass along to the renegade booster. With the NCAA’s recent struggles, it’s hard to see Haith’s punishment with much teeth. If the NCAA does try to get medieval, expect him to fight back and potentially get a settlement. A suspension of some kind is the most likely punishment.
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Morning Five: 02.21.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on February 21st, 2013

morning5

  1. After nearly two years of investigations and countless missteps the NCAA finally sent Miami and people who left the school their notice of allegations. All of the reports that we have at this point are from sources as nobody outside of the school’s administration has access to the official notice, but the primary allegations are for “lack of institutional control”, which is amusing given the lack of institutional control that the NCAA has shown in controlling their own investigators. While most of these allegations are around the football team, at least a few of them involve the basketball staff under former coach Frank Haith, who has moved on to Missouri. According to reports Haith is facing a failure to monitor charge rather than the more serious unethical conduct charge that could have carried a show-cause penalty.
  2. When NCAA Selection Committee Chairman Mike Bobinski claim that the RPI was the best computer predictor of NCAA Tournament success we were stunned, but unlike many of us who just laughed at the suggestion John Ezekowitz decided to take a look at the data and found that Bobinski was wrong. As you would expect Ken Pomeroy’s rankings outperform the RPI (of course every college basketball fan knows that Pomeroy is the most amazing thing ever), but what is more interesting is how much Ezekowitz’s Survival Advantage model (explained here) outperforms both the RPI and Pomeroy in predicting the NCAA Tournament. This is something that you should remember in a month when you are filling out your bracket.
  3. As usual Luke Winn’s weekly power rankings have their usual wealth of great information packed into the most concise format this side of Twitter. While Luke always makes great use of graphics and charts his weekly column typically focuses on one or two major themes. This week’s themes (outside of enraging every single college basketball fan in the state of Michigan) are Winn’s analysis of three players (Trey Burke, Tyler Zeller, and Kelly Olynyk) having exceptionally efficient high-usage seasons and two players (Kenny Kadji and Erik Murphy) who have become much more perimeter-oriented later in their college careers.
  4. The success of a few individuals (most notably Mike Leach in football before his closet fiasco) has led some to speculate that there could be a change in the way that sports are played. One of the latest examples to make the media rounds is the style of play from West Liberty, a Division II school, that has been highly successful in playing an up-tempo style of basketball. While we have had our issues with gimmicks in basketball (see our takedown of Malcolm Gladwell from 2009), but this attack and others like it are obviously more nuanced than what Gladwell espoused. We doubt that any power conference schools (read: athletic directors) would be willing to try it, but we would love to see a mid- or low-major try it out.
  5. Since the Fab Five, which technically didn’t exist (we’re still going with that, right), Michigan has experienced relatively little success in the NCAA Tournament. However, this season the Wolverines have realistic Final Four aspirations and with the NCAA’s dissociation of Chris Webber and the school ending in May, the school has been reaching out to the former members and with Juwan Howard now on board it seems like only a matter of time before the school has some big event to celebrate the group. Frankly we cannot see the downside of it other than irritating the NCAA, which will still leave a black mark next to the team’s accomplishments. However the administration has expressed some reservation in celebrating the group so it will be interesting to see what they decide.
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