The RTC Interview Series: SEC Preview with Dave Baker, Barry Booker and Chris Dortch

Posted by WCarey on November 4th, 2013

Rush The Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you periodically throughout the offseason. If you have any specific interview requests or want us to interview you, shoot us an email at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

With the college basketball season nearly upon us, we thought it would be a good idea to gather some expert opinions on the nation’s major college basketball conferences. As part of our national preview of the SEC, we recently had the pleasure of speaking with three SEC experts in television analysts Dave Baker and Barry Booker, as well as Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook editor, Chris Dortch. (Ed. note – we spoke to each individual separately, but for the sake of expediency, combining their answers into a round table format made the most sense.)

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Booker, Baker and Dortch Shared Their SEC Thoughts With Us This Preseason

Rush the Court: How good is Kentucky and what makes it that good? Do you expect the Wildcats to win both the SEC and the national titles?

Dave Baker: A lot of folks think that Cal can be a little blustery at times. I think he’s actually pretty frank in his assessments. Last year, he thought they were gonna be better than they were. He thought they were gonna be a good team; he didn’t they they could be a great team. But he’s really got that swagger back this year. And this team is an incredibly talented team. People can debate whether, coming into their college careers, this is the best recruiting class of all-time, but I can tell you, just in the couple of practices I’ve seen, there has been a marked difference in terms of talent level, attitude and the way these guys are working together. There are some natural leaders that have come in this class. Based on what I’ve seen, his confidence is well-placed. With what their expectations are, they certainly believe they should be in the mix at the end of the year.

Barry Booker: Kentucky has everything it takes to be extremely good. It has elite talent all over the court. I think Kentucky is the surefire favorite in the SEC and I believe it has to be considered one of the top contenders to win the national title. This 2013 recruiting class is just one of the best we have seen – by all reports. It seems like every year, Kentucky gets some of the best recruits. In a year like this, where Kentucky has an outstanding class and it has players like Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein returning, it would be hard to see the Wildcats not being a top-notch team. It is amazing what John Calipari is doing in bringing in that top flight talent to replace top flight talent every year.

Chris Dortch: This historically great recruiting class gives coach John Calipari his most talented team ever, with at least seven future NBA first-round draft picks. Kentucky is definitely favored in the SEC and will be a title threat come March, but there are a handful of teams with more experience that are capable of executing a game plan and sending the Cats home short of the championship game.

RTC: Florida lost its three leading scorers from last season’s Elite Eight team. Are this season’s Gators a legitimate challenger to Kentucky in the SEC?

Baker: I think Billy and Florida will have another really good team. He’s got a situation down there where he just finds people to replace the players who have moved on. They are just incredibly consistent year-in and year-out. I know that they would have liked to have made some deeper runs in the NCAA Tournaments since their championships, but other than that, they’re just really consistent.

Booker: Absolutely. The Gators have gone to the Elite Eight three straight seasons and they are at that level again this season. I am not sure if you can call them number two – maybe Kentucky is 1A and Florida is 1B. If Kentucky does stumble and does not get things figured out, Florida can come in and take over at the top of the league. Freshman Kasey Hill is a dynamic point guard. Even with the departures from last year, Florida is still very strong on the perimeter with Scottie Wilbekin and Michael Frazier. The Gators also return Patric Young inside – who is the best interior player in the league. This is a very solid team. It just has to stay healthy this season. The injury to Will Yeguete really hurt the team last season. It was never able to get back to the same level that it was at before the Yeguete injury.

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SEC M5: 10.31.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on October 31st, 2013

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  1. James Young was the star of Kentucky’s Blue/White scrimmage. The 6’6” freshman wing scored 25 points, including three out of five from beyond the arc. Young with his length, athleticism, and ability to shoot is a type of player John Calipari hasn’t really had since taking over at Kentucky. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Terrence Jones had plenty of length and athleticism, but neither was a reliable outside shooter. If Young’s exhibition play is any indication of what he will be, then Kentucky will truly be able to hurt teams in a variety of ways given the low-post options they have. Another interesting tidbit is that Alex Poythress took only five shots. Last week we discussed Poythress’ importance to this Kentucky team, and the need for him to be more aggressive. It’s only one scrimmage, but this isn’t a good start for Poythress in that regard.
  2. Marshall Henderson‘s suspension is no longer indefinite. Ole Miss announced on Tuesday that the reigning SEC scoring champ will miss three games this upcoming season. Athletic director Ross Bjork and the Ole Miss administration got creative: Henderson will miss the season opener against Troy, but the balance of his suspension will be carried out in the Rebels’ first two SEC games against Auburn and Mississippi State. Henderson’s “flair for the dramatic” (to put it lightly) first got widespread attention after his interactions with the Auburn crowd, but the January 9 game he will miss is in Oxford. The January 11 Mississippi State game is in Starkville, and I imagine Bulldog fans will be upset they won’t see Henderson on the court (for a number of reasons). Ole Miss did a good job making this suspension look meatier than a brief absence against lesser competition while not sacrificing their season.
  3. Auburn cruised in its Tuesday exhibition game against Victory University winning 109-67. Chris Denson led the team with 21 points and asserted himself early by going 5-6 in the first half. This is a positive sign for Auburn because Denson will be counted on to replace Frankie Sullivan’s scoring. Tony Barbee gave point guard minutes to freshman Tahj Shamsid-Deen and junior college transfer Malcolm Canada, and liked what he saw. ““Those two together, they play well off of each other,” Barbee said. “They both bring something different to the floor. You look at their assist-to-turnover numbers, that’s unbelievable. We will take that every night if we can get it.” Shamsid-Deen hit three three-pointers as well, and should be an intriguing young player for a program that needs excitement. Christian talked about him in his impact freshman piece, and I (foolishly) failed to discuss him in my piece on SEC freshman poised to see big minutes at point guard this season.
  4. Billy Donovan secured another blue chip recruit on Wednesday, as five-star 2014 forward Devin Robinson committed to Florida. Robinson is a big signing for Donovan because he will need to replenish his frontcourt after this season. Patric Young, Will Yeguete, and Casey Prather are all seniors. Despite this loss of talent the Gators should still be in good shape in 2014-15, at least in terms of potential. Robinson’s offensive game is apparently more perimeter-oriented, but at 6’8” it’s likely he can defend post players. Five-star 2013 forward Chris Walker will be around, if he doesn’t leave for the NBA after becoming eligible this December. Since this is such a strong draft class it’s likely Walker stays. Transfers Dorian Finney-Smith and Damontre Harris will also be around, and we pointed out, Finney-Smith could be a breakout rebounding star.
  5. South Carolina plays USC Aiken this Sunday in an exhibition game, and Frank Martin wants his team to learn from their in-state opponents. “I love being around people that love the game of basketball, and [USC Aiken coach Vince Alexander] and his staff love the game and have done an incredible job here,” Martin said before the Pacers’ Tip-Off Banquet, where he was the guest speaker. “They’ve created a culture of winning here at Aiken, which is something we’re trying to build at Carolina.” Martin has spent a lot of time around Alexander and the Aiken program, and it’s neat he’s made these efforts to enter the state’s basketball culture. Exhibition games are ho-hum experiences for many fans. But it’s nice that Division II schools like USC Aiken and their players get a chance to play in the in-state Division I arenas.
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SEC M5: 10.23.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on October 23rd, 2013

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  1. The uncertainty hanging over Frank Haith from the Nevin Shapiro/Miami scandal has finally reached its end. The NCAA on Tuesday suspended Haith for Missouri’s first five regular season games for failing to “promote an atmosphere of compliance” while head coach at Miami. Haith, while publicly disagreeing with the suspension, has decided not to appeal it. This is a probably a wise decision, as it provides instant closure for himself and the Missouri program. An appeal would have stayed the suspension and kept the issue lingering in the background. If the suspension was then appealed and upheld, Haith could have missed critical late season games. Instead, Haith will miss five games in which Missouri will be a heavy favorite even without his leadership on the sideline (Southeastern Louisiana, Southern Illinois, Hawaii, Gardner-Webb, and IUPUI). The logical bet for his fill-in would be Dave Leitao, who has been the head man at DePaul and Virginia at different points in his career.
  2. Florida got a verbal commitment from 2014 guard Zach Hodskins on Monday, who will join the program as a preferred walk-on. What’s significant about a 6’4″ preferred walk-on? How about that Hodskins was born without the lower half of his left arm. Whether Hodskins ever sees big minutes for the Gators is irrelevant; a player with that kind of perseverance and commitment can only have a positive impact on the team in the long run. And after watching a Hodskins’ highlight reel, it’s not hard to envision him contributing at some point in his Gator career.
  3. Frank Martin isn’t having a relaxing fall. The second year South Carolina coach said the best thing that his team does thus far is “aggravate him.” But he also said his team, with its eight newcomers, is “trying their rear ends off” to learn his system. The Gamecocks return only six players who averaged more than 10 minutes a game last season. Martin built competitive teams at Kansas State with less than ideal talent, and he has a good opportunity to lay that kind of groundwork with so many of his own players early in his tenure in Columbia.
  4. Alabama guard Trevor Releford was named to the Bob Cousy Award watch list for the second consecutive season. This continues a string of recognition for Releford, who was also named to the preseason SEC first team last week. Releford is the active SEC leader in career points and assists, and is arguably the best returning point guard in the league, with Scottie Wilbekin also in the discussion. Freshmen Andrew Harrison and Kasey Hill are expected to vault into that category too this year.
  5. This is a bit dated, but former Kentucky stars Anthony Davis and John Wall returned to Rupp Arena for an NBA preseason game between Davis’ New Orleans Pelicans and Wall’s Washington Wizards last Saturday. The Pelicans won 93-89 in front of 14,000+ fans in attendance. Davis scored 16 points and grabbed four rebounds, while Wall scored 16 points and handed out 11 assists. This is another example of the NBA’s creativity in expanding their brand. Are there are other college heroes returning home possibilities? The Oklahoma City Thunder (Kevin Durant) and Portland Trail Blazers (LaMarcus Aldridge) playing in Austin could work. From the SEC side, perhaps Joakim Noah and the Chicago Bulls could tune up against Al Horford and the Atlanta Hawks in Gainesville next season. But to continue something like this you’d need a relatively large population area, a particularly interested fan base, and multiple guys with accomplished careers at the same school. That seems like a rare mix.
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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.

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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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As Minority Head Coaches Decline Elsewhere, the SEC Sets the Standard

Posted by Brian Joyce on February 27th, 2013

Brian Joyce is a writer for the SEC microsite and regular contributor for Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about SEC basketball at bjoyce_hoops.

Twenty-five years ago, Tennessee broke the color barrier in the SEC when it hired Wade Houston as the first African-American head coach in the conference. Today, the SEC is a model for other conferences around college basketball. In an era where minority, and specifically African-American coaches, are not given the benefit of the doubt in hiring decisions and are given the hook far too quickly in times of trouble, doing the right thing isn’t always easy. Diversity is far too often a buzzword with no true culture of systemic change. The NFL institutionalized the “Rooney Rule” to encourage interviews of minority coaches, but the SEC demonstrated its commitment and value to diversity without the enforcement of a mandate.

Frank Martin is one of eight minority coaches in the SEC. (Bruce Thorson/US Presswire)

Frank Martin, a Cuban-American, is one of eight minority basketball coaches in the SEC. (Bruce Thorson/US Presswire)

The South isn’t exactly a region of the United States known for valuing its diversity, yet today the Southeastern Conference has eight minority head basketball coaches including seven African-Americans among 14 schools. “Sometimes you hear about the South — I grew up in the Midwest — and you have some negative connotations, especially when you start talking about places like Mississippi and Alabama and race relations,” Mississippi State coach Rick Ray said. “I think it speaks volumes about the hiring process in the SEC and the schools in the SEC that they would reach out and have this many African-American head coaches.” The seven African-American coaches currently in the SEC equals the most ever in a Power Six conference. The commitment to hiring the best candidates, regardless of skin color, is an accomplishment worth being applauded. “The thing the SEC should be most proud of is that us having this many African-American coaches is really not a big story. It means it’s accepted here in the South and that it’s really not a problem.” Frank Martin, a Cuban-American in his first year coaching at South Carolina and within the SEC, applauds the league’s commitment to diversity. “I think it’s awesome this league believes in everybody and not just in certain stereotypes,” Martin said. “I am grateful that Kansas State University and now South Carolina have believed in me to give me an opportunity to do what I dreamt of doing when I was a young kid.”

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SEC M5: 02.19.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on February 19th, 2013

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  1. Nerlens Noel’s high school coach said his torn ACL injury on February 12 at Florida could have occurred in large part because an injury during his sophomore year of high school did not fully heal. Noel rushed back to play basketball in the spring on the recommendation of his advisors despite being told to rest through the summer. “If the leg healed awkwardly and (Noel) had a malalignment in that knee,” Dr. Robin West, orthopedic surgeon for the Pittsburgh Steelers said, “that could predispose him to future injuries in that leg.” It’s certain those same advisors are now trying to get a piece of the pie if Noel can maintain his NBA Draft position throughout this process.
  2. Tennessee beat Kentucky by 30 points on Saturday, and now the Vols are feeling confident heading into the last portion of the season. “It’s amazing what confidence can do for you,” head coach Cuonzo Martin said. “It’s the same team. We haven’t changed anything, outside of tweaks here and there. It’s the same system.” The Volunteers are now on a three-game winning streak, but a blowout win over the Wildcats may be more about the hardships of UK than it is about Tennessee.
  3. Frank Martin’s first season in Columbia has been less than superb, but the fellas at Garnet and Black Attack say don’t blame Martin for that. Former coach Darrin Horn left the cupboard bare, but this year isn’t when the first-year coach will be judged. “This season isn’t the real test for Martin. It would have been fantastic for him to have managed to make something happen with this team, but barring a miracle, that’s off the table now. The test for Martin is to build a program where one wasn’t before. That’s going to require recruiting and getting talented players to buy into his philosophy.” And Martin is already well on his way to building a future with recruiting more talented players for the Gamecocks.
  4. It seemed clear that the NCAA had botched its investigation into current Missouri coach Frank Haith, but now it’s official. An external review of the NCAA’s investigation techniques revealed several missteps and insufficient oversight during an inquiry into Haith’s time at Miami. “With the completion of the external enforcement review, we recognize that certain investigative tactics used in portions of the University of Miami case failed our membership,” NCAA president Mark Emmert said. In other news, nobody, including the NCAA itself, was actually surprised that the governing body made errors during its own investigation.
  5. Are five Florida players actually better than Michael Jordan? Well, no, but five Gators currently have offensive ratings higher than Jordan’s rating his junior year at North Carolina. But college basketball is arguably more of a team game than it was in Jordan’s era, and the Gators are one heck of an efficient team. Florida’s offensive balance is extraordinary, as seven Gators have a possession percentage above 18 percent. UF is shooting a solid 40 percent from beyond the arc while taking 41 percent of its shots from three-point range, contributing to its outstanding overall efficiency.
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Bruce Ellington’s Presence For South Carolina Makes a Difference

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 28th, 2013

Brian Joyce is a writer for the SEC microsite and regular contributor for Rush The Court. He filed this report after Saturday’s South Carolina-Arkansas game in Columbia. Follow him on Twitter for more about SEC basketball at bjoyce_hoops.

A 40-11 run enabled South Carolina to erase a big early deficit and then some against the Arkansas Razorbacks on Saturday afternoon. The Gamecocks outrebounded the Razorbacks 42-26. They only turned the ball over five times in the first half. USC even shot almost 60 percent from beyond the arc, but it was something slightly more intangible that led the Gamecocks to a 75-54 victory over Arkansas. Point guard Bruce Ellington’s leadership in the huddle and on the court gave Frank Martin’s squad the boost it needed to succeed. Football has limited Ellington’s ability to spend quality practice time with his team, but he’s doing a lot of catching up now.

Bruce Ellington's return is paying huge dividends for South Carolina.

Bruce Ellington’s return is paying huge dividends for South Carolina.

Down 15-3 with 15:39 left in the first half, Martin turned to his team during the first media timeout and said, “this ain’t good.” And after that, the coach did something he doesn’t often do, he stayed quiet. What happened next could eventually define Martin’s first season in Columbia. “And then Bruce did most of the talking. Just wanted to make sure we stayed on the same page and we’re good.” Ellington played football for Steve Spurrier in the fall before re-joining the Gamecocks’ basketball team last month. He missed valuable practice time, but Martin trusts his leadership skills. “He’s got that personality, he’s got that demeanor. If you’re an athlete and guys have been practicing for three months, you can’t walk in the first day and open your mouth. Now he’s been with us a little while. He’s better understanding what we’re supposed to do.”

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SEC M5: 01.24.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 24th, 2013

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  1. What is wrong with Kentucky? That’s the question on everyone’s mind following a 59-55 loss at Alabama. The success of similar John Calipari coached teams make this situation even more baffling. For whatever reason, Calipari made past freshmen look like upperclassmen with years of experience, but his magic wand isn’t working on this new crop of players in Lexington. The inconsistency in play this season should at least create more of an appreciation of the tremendous coaching job Calipari and his staff completed over each of the past three seasons. As ESPN’s Eammon Brennan points out, “each new UK game seems to bring with it new obstacles.” That’s the challenge of a team filled with freshmen. Calipari made it look easy in year’s past, but now we’re seeing the flip side of what an inexperienced team can look like.
  2. Calipari was fairly clear in his assessment of the reason the Cats lost the game on Tuesday night. “Our guard play was not near their guard play,” Calipari said. “It just wasn’t. We reverted back to just throwing it to Kyle Wiltjer in the post to try to keep the game close to give us a chance to win.” Kentucky’s guards, Ryan Harrow and Archie Goodwin, combined for just 13 points on five of 22 shooting. “We played not to lose, which young guys do on the road at times,” Coach Cal said. Kentucky has six road games on the schedule remaining in SEC play. In five true road games so far this season, the Cats are just 2-3, spelling trouble for the remainder of the season.
  3. Kevin Stallings typically doesn’t play freshmen in his system, but this season he has no other choice. After losing six players, three of whom went to the NBA, Stallings is going a little deeper on the bench to find role players to make the Commodores competitive. And now he’s found a freshman in Sheldon Jeter, whom he trusts enough to place in the starting lineup. “Sheldon wants to get better,” Stallings said. “And he does have some talent. He does have some ability to make shots and finish plays around the rim. And for a team that’s challenged sometimes offensively like we are, that’s a good thing.” It was important for Vanderbilt to find a third offensive option to take some of the load off of Kedren Johnson and Kyle Fuller, and Jeter may be that guy.
  4.  Trevor Lacey was just one of eight from the field Tuesday night, before a drive to the lane with 4:26 left in the game and Alabama clinging to a one point lead over Kentucky. He made the layup, but went down to the floor with a leg injury that would sideline him for the remainder of the close win over the Wildcats. “I think he’s fine,” said Alabama coach Anthony Grant, who came onto the court to check on the sophomore guard. “He’s got cramps in both calves. He was obviously unavailable to finish the game, but I think he’ll be fine.” Lacey’s three point shooting has been a significant area of improvement for the sophomore guard. He had made a three in all but three games prior to Tuesday, but was 0-3 against Kentucky, adding to that total.
  5. South Carolina had an opportunity to win a big one at Missouri on Tuesday night, but failed to capitalize on its chances. When asked about a free throw discrepancy that gave Missouri 36 free throws as compared to the Gamecocks’ 17 attempts, coach Frank Martin said, “I ain’t going there. You ask me to talk about the economy, I’ll give you whatever you want. I’ll give you my opinions on whatever.” Martin added, “Don’t make me go there because it won’t be good for me, my school. Definitely my wife will be (angry) at me because you know what comes after I go there.” Martin’s team gave up a 13 point second half lead, but it sounds like he has some strong opinions on how that occurred.
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SEC M5: 01.07.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 7th, 2013

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  1. The biggest news of the weekend came with the announcement that Tennessee forward Jeronne Maymon will redshirt for the 2012-13 season. Maymon intends to give his left knee time to recuperate so that he can make a full return to the court in 2013-14. “It’s really tough to know that I can’t be on the court with my teammates this season,” Maymon said. “But I have confidence in them, just like I have confidence in these coaches and our medical staff. I know this is in my best interest, and I am going to work incredibly hard to come back as an even better player and teammate next season. I love Tennessee.” Maymon averaged 12.7 points and 8.1 rebounds per game last season, and would have been a huge boost to a struggling offense that has put up point totals of 36 and 38 points already this year. He led the team last year in effective field goal percentage at 55.8 percent, and the Vols could certainly use a low post threat to help out sophomore forward Jarnell Stokes. Maybe next year will be the year, assuming Stokes decides to suit up one more season in Knoxville.
  2. Another SEC school lost one of its top scorers over the weekend as well. South Carolina guard LaShay Page has been ruled academically ineligible because of what Gamecocks coach Frank Martin is calling an “academic glitch.” Page is the team’s second leading scorer at 11.7 points per game. Similar to Tennessee, USC has not exactly put on a clinic on the offensive end this season, so any personnel losses hurt — Page took over 30 percent of the Gamecocks’ shots, so he won’t be easy to replace even though he wasn’t exactly the most efficient scorer with a 41.9% effective field goal rate. The backcourt should get somewhat of a boost with guard Bruce Ellington’s return from the football field and freshman Michael Carrera’s return from injury, but Page’s loss will no doubt be a huge blow for a team on the upswing.
  3. Florida forward Erik Murphy is out again, this time missing Sunday’s game against Yale because of bruised ribs sustained in practice. Murphy will undergo x-rays to determine if any further damage has been done when the team returns to Gainesville on Monday. “It’s tough for us and certainly disappointing for him,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. Murphy averages 12.1 points and 4.7 rebounds per game, and is the most offensively efficient player on the Gators’ roster (fifth in the nation). Though Murphy was surely missed on the court against the Bulldogs, this is especially disappointing because the game was somewhat of a homecoming for the senior. He grew up about an hour from the Yale campus in Kingstown, Rhode Island.
  4. This season hasn’t exactly gone as planned for John Calipari and UK, but next season could be his most talented roster yet. And that’s without knowing which of his current superstars will return. Kentucky received another commitment from a high school senior over the weekend, the number one rated center in the country, Dakari Johnson. Coach Cal is waiting on decisions from another pair of high schoolers (Julius Randle and Andrew Wiggins), of which he will likely land one. Once finalized, some are calling this the greatest recruiting class of all-time. Not just at Kentucky, which would be quite the feat since Cal has been at the helm, but the best anywhere at any time. That’s impressive, but think of the talent that could return to help lead this group of fab freshmen. Kentucky could end up with a collection of starters in 2012-13 who may be sitting on the bench to make room for a new group of starters in 2013-14. Could be an interesting dynamic, but Calipari has made it work before.
  5. Speaking of super recruit Andrew Wiggins, after a string of top ranked recruits selecting the Wildcats, could Calipari and Kentucky actually lose a recruit? It seems so. Evan Daniels, Fox recruiting analyst, thinks Wiggins will choose the Seminoles of Florida State over the stacked Wildcats. The number of available shots in a loaded Wildcats’ lineup could be a factor in Wiggins’ decision. The Wildcats will likely play similar to last season, where minutes and shots are spread fairly evenly among six to eight talented players. If Wiggins wants the ball in his hands, then Lexington may not be the spot for him.
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Resetting the SEC at the Midpoint: A Three-Bid League?

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 2nd, 2013

Many of us are aware that a significant portion of our SEC brethren pay more attention to the football field than the hardwood during November and December. Yeah, football’s alright, but think of all the great moments those poor sports fans have missed thus far during this college basketball season. Okay, maybe not from SEC basketball, but the sport as a whole has been great. At least nobody can argue that action from the SEC hasn’t been, well, eventful. And now we’re here to catch you up with what’s happened in the league and throughout the SEC microsite during the early part of this 2012-13 season:

November and December has been tough for Rick Ray and the rest of the SEC coaching brethren.

November and December has been tough for Rick Ray and the rest of the SEC coaching brethren.

Conference Recap

Well, things aren’t going as planned around here. SEC schools have lost to the likes of Troy, Alabama A&M, Winthrop, and Marist just to name a few. Barring a huge collapse, just a few SEC squads should hear their names in March (Florida, Missouri, and Kentucky), but the rest of the teams in the conference have significant work to do. As a whole, the conference has been downright wretched. And that’s the nice version. On the bright side, it has been fun, and it’s only the beginning. We have a lot of catching up to do, so let’s get right down to it.

All SEC Non-Conference Performers

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SEC M5: 12.28.12 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on December 28th, 2012

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  1. The New Jersey Nets fired coach Avery Johnson on Thursday, thus beginning the hunt for a replacement, and, of course, an established college coach is always a viable option. Cue the rumors of Kentucky coach John Calipari’s departure to the NBA. It is an annual rite of passage at this point, but Calipari and Kentucky have been there and done that. And he did it in New Jersey to boot. It just does not seem possible that he would leave at this point for another try in the big leagues, and definitely not a return to the same franchise. By the way, Calipari will have Kentucky in the hunt for another National Championship next year. He’s a coach made for the college game, and call me naive, but I think he finishes his career in Lexington.
  2. Frank Martin continues to rack up some top shelf talent at South Carolina. With a strong recruiting class already set for 2013, Martin secured a commitment from Villanova transfer Ty Johnson. Johnson is a 6’3″ guard who averaged 3.3 points and 2.0 assists per game in 32 games of action in his freshman season, but will fill a need at point guard for the Gamecocks when he becomes eligible in December 2013. Martin is stockpiling talent in Columbia since his arrival this offseaso — in addition to Johnson, a top-75 recruit coming out of high school, Martin has also collected commitments from five-star Sindarius Thornwell, three-star center Desmond Ringer, and the son of former Gamecock star BJ McKie, guard Justin McKie. With improved talent in Columbia, things could turn around fairly quickly for South Carolina in the next several years.
  3. LSU guard Anthony Hickey spent three games on the sidelines for disciplinary reasons earlier in the year, and now he will be out for a fourth game because of another violation. “Anthony has a lot of improvement to do in a lot of areas not only on the floor but off as well,” Tigers coach Johnny Jones said. “We have to try to help him develop.” Hickey is averaging 10.3 points and a national best 3.5 steals per game, but the point guard duties will be handed off to junior Andre Stringer. This string of suspensions isn’t the first time Hickey has landed in the dog house for various LSU coaches, and it likely won’t be the last.
  4. Frank Haith’s Missouri Tigers are hitting their stride with big victories over Illinois and Virginia Commonwealth, but have recently suffered a minor setback as reserve power forward Tony Criswell will miss tonight’s UCLA game with a broken finger. Criswell is among the nation’s best offensive rebounders, with a 13.7% offensive rebounding rate. The Tigers are somewhat thin in the frontcourt beyond their starters Alex Oriakhi and Laurence Bowers, so Haith may choose to play small ball in Criswell’s absence with a three- or four-guard lineup. It’s not like Mizzou hasn’t gone small before, and been quite successful.
  5. Kentucky guard Archie Goodwin went 4-of-17 from the field on Saturday in the Cats’ win over Marshall, but John Calipari needs Goodwin to make the easy ones against Louisville. Goodwin missed several shots at the rim against the Thundering Herd, leaving Calipari searching for answers. “I was disappointed, he missed four layups. I think he’s flippin’, Rod (Strickland) thinks he’s looking down, he’s not seeing the basket, he’s looking up at the last moment to shoot it. I don’t know what it is, I’ll watch the tape, see if I can figure out.” Expect Cal and Goodwin to watch the tape and figure it out quickly. Regardless, Calipari does not have much depth to put Goodwin on the bench if it happens again.
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