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

SEC_morning5

  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

SEC_morning5

  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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SEC Freshmen Report: Volume I

Posted by CNguon on December 21st, 2012

Christian D’Andrea is an SEC microsite contributor. He can be reached on Twitter @anchorofgold.

The SEC has always been home to some of the NCAA’s most talented newcomers. Much of that has to do with Kentucky’s one-and-done superstars, but Lexington’s five-star recruits aren’t the only players making an impact for Southeastern Conference teams. Several under-the-radar prospects – and some of them big names – are starting to get the feel for the NCAA game and bringing value to their programs early in their careers. As a result, teams like South Carolina and Auburn can put a little extra confidence behind their rebuilding efforts.

Nerlens Noel,

Nerlens Noel (Ken), Michael Carrera (SC) and Negus Webster-Chan (Missou) are just three of many freshmen making an impact this season in the SEC East

So who should SEC basketball fans be looking out for with conference play looming? Every week, we’ll look at how the best freshmen in the SEC have performed in their inaugural seasons. We’ll break the league down football-style into East and West divisions to provide an in-depth look at the young guns that may end up dotting all-SEC teams for years to come. This week, we’ll start with the East by introducing you to the most talented first-year players that the conference has to offer. While a team led by newcomers has carried Kentucky through an up-and-down first two months, teams like South Carolina, Vanderbilt, and Missouri are also leaning on rookies to carry them to the postseason. Here’s a breakdown on those fresh faces in the (former) SEC East and how they’ve impacted their teams so far.

SEC East

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Kentucky: Kentucky, a team replacing all of its starters in 2012-13, has easily gotten the strongest return from its freshman play-makers this winter. Nerlens Noel has been as good as advertised, and Willie Cauley-Stein has shown a combination of size and skill that suggests that he’d be a starter for almost any other team in the SEC this winter. The two have combined for 18 points, 14 rebounds, and nearly six blocks per game as the Wildcats’ primary big men. Archie Goodwin and Alex Poythress have carried the ‘Cats offensively. Both have shown well-rounded offensive play, while Poythress in particular has shown some defensive chops that could make him a nightmare matchup (a 7’1” wingspan and the size and strength to cover both forward positions) as the season wears on. However, both have struggled with turnovers early in the year, and their talent hasn’t been enough to cover up UK’s relative inexperience in three early losses. Kentucky may have gotten off to an unexpected start thanks to those losses, but they’re also playing on a steeper learning curve than most teams in the SEC. The development of their freshman class will be one of the conference’s biggest stories to watch once league play unfolds.

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SEC Power Rankings: Week Four

Posted by DPerry on December 14th, 2012

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

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

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

  1. Florida- There’s not a lot missing from the Gators’ resume. They’ve beaten every opponent by double figures, while playing the nation’s 13th toughest schedule. As of the release of last week’s rankings, however, they hadn’t had the chance to prove their mettle in a true road game, a situation in which they struggled last season (losing their first four). After their trip to Tallahassee last week, consider that mettle proven. The Gators embarrassed rival Florida State in a 72-47 win, holding the Seminoles to only 15 first-half points. Florida’s ability to win away from the O-Dome will be crucial over the rest of the season. In addition to this Saturday’s trip to Arizona, the Gators will have road games at Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee, and Kentucky, all among the more hostile environments in the SEC.
  2. Missouri- Do I have to put a team here? There’s a massive gap between Florida and the rest of the conference, but the Tigers are the choice at #2. Missouri hasn’t been tested against quality competition since they left the Bahamas, but their performances against smaller conference foes have been far from convincing. A nasty little habit of starting slow has been their biggest problem. The Tigers trailed Southeast Missouri State by 10 at the half, and only held a three-point advantage over Tennessee State after 20 minutes. In fact, Mizzou ranks 101st nationally in first half scoring margin, at only +3.1 points. Big second half scoring outputs have saved Frank Haith’s team, but with Brandon Paul and the Fighting Illini looming next week, another slow start may be too much to overcome.
  3. Kentucky- After consecutive losses to Notre Dame and Baylor, the Wildcats made history when they dropped out of the rankings from the #8 spot, receiving only 186 votes, the largest single-week drop in AP poll history. Kentucky proceeded to easily handle its next two opponents in Samford and Portland, but somehow fell even further in the next AP poll, garnering only 44 votes. I’m not claiming that the Wildcats deserve to be ranked, but why would they lose ground after two convincing victories? It appears that quite a few voters realized a week too late that they were allowed to leave Kentucky off their ballots. Read the rest of this entry »
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SEC M5: 12.06.12 Edition

Posted by DPerry on December 6th, 2012

  1. Florida added another impressive win to its resume Wednesday night, crushing Florida State 72-47 in Tallahassee. The Gators utilized a balanced offensive attack (five players with nine or more points) and shot almost 50% from the field. However, their defensive performance was the real story, especially in the first half. The Seminoles were only able to muster 15 points on five made field goals, going into the break already facing a 20-point deficit. Just to rub a little salt in the wound for the hosts, top 2013 recruit Andrew Wiggins was in attendance to see the ‘Noles get run off the court (though the love he allegedly got from some FSU coeds may be the trump card).
  2. In the wake of Kentucky’s poor start to the season, coach John Calipari has no intention of riding it out. After Tuesday’s game, the Wildcats officially entered “Camp Cal,” a three-week period in which practices will skew heavily toward conditioning. Calipari hopes the strategy will work to improve his team’s mental toughness. “I think we all got intoxicated, including me, about everything that was written and said about this team,” he told the Lexington Herald-Leader. “I kept telling you, ‘We’re not that good.'” Kentucky’s home stand continues for three more games, but a late December trip to Louisville looms large, undoubtedly the target Calipari has in mind for his players’ improvement.
  3. There isn’t much of a winning culture supporting South Carolina basketball, but new coach Frank Martin isn’t willing to quietly let it continue. His most recent problem with his team is with its inability to take care of the ball. “It’s embarrassing,” said Martin. “I wish I could use another word. We’ve lost three games, and all three games have basically been lost with our inability to play offense. We play with such an individual frame of mind on offense, and we don’t pass the ball. We don’t screen. We don’t know the concepts that we need to play with.” The Gamecocks have turned the ball over on a staggering 27.4% of their possessions this season (according to TeamRankings), ranking 338th in the nation in that statistic. Martin succeeded at a non-traditional basketball school in Kansas State, and while there hasn’t been much early success with the Gamecocks this year, there is a new sense of urgency about the program.
  4. Tennessee will honor the late Ray Mears on December 13 when the Vols host Wichita State in Knoxville. “(He) was such an admired and respected man and I think Tennessee fans view him as much more than a basketball coach,” UT coach Cuonzo Martin said in a press release. “I want to ensure that we never overlook his contributions.” Mears is the Volunteers’ all-time wins leader, as he coached Tennessee legends such as Bernard King and Ernie Grunfeld. If honoring Mears isn’t enough to get you out to Thomspson-Boling Arena, the UT athletic department will be offering discounted popcorn and soda (which this writer assumes is an apology for the Vols’ offensive showings against Georgetown and Virginia).
  5. Is getting relegated to a non-BCS bowl enough for LSU fans to eschew football for some basketball? Probably not, but they may be pleasantly surprised if they do. Ex-player and new coach Johnny Jones has his team off to its best start in four seasons. The young Tigers rallied to beat Seton Hall over the weekend to move to 5-0, and even earned a vote in the AP Top 25 poll. Though they’ve taken care of business so far, LSU will have to prove themselves against better competition to be considered a true player in the SEC. After a home date next week with Chattanooga, Jones’ team will get their chance as they leave Baton Rouge for the first time, traveling to play quality opponents in Boise State and Marquette.
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SEC M5: 12.04.12 Edition

Posted by DPerry on December 4th, 2012

  1. Florida may be without break-out forward Erik Murphy this Wednesday when the Gators travel to Tallahassee to take on Florida State. Murphy suffered a “bad hip pointer” against Marquette in the SEC/Big East Challenge, and hasn’t yet fully recovered. The senior forward made national headlines after a 10-10 shooting performance against Wisconsin earlier this season, and while he’s slowed down since, he still serves as the Gators primary frontcourt scoring option. In the event of his absence, Patric Young should be handed some greater offensive responsibility. The available minutes from Scottie Wilbekin’s early-season suspension seem to have provided Mike Rosario with invaluable confidence in his second season in Gainesville, and maybe Murphy’s brief absence can do the same for Young.
  2. In another in-state, out-of-conference SEC showdown this week, Georgia takes on rival Georgia Tech tonight, with the visiting Bulldogs desperate for a win. Mark Fox’s crew has only tallied victories against Jacksonville and East Tennessee State so far this season, doing very little to cool the coach’s hot seat. “It’s easy to be frustrated, in any endeavor that you have,” Fox said. “It’s your reaction to frustration that’s really critical. I think we are improving, I think we’re getting better in certain areas. I want it to be faster than it has, but we are where we are. We’ve gotta keep focusing on it and get better.” An inept offense is the primary culprit for Georgia’s struggles. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is the only legitimate scorer on the roster, but he’s shooting the ball at well under 40% from the field. No other player averages more than nine points per game, and until a reliable second option emerges, Caldwell-Pope will continue to be forced into taking bad shots.
  3. On Monday, LSU’s Shavon Coleman was named SEC Player of the Week. Coleman put on a second-half show when the Tigers hosted Seton Hall this past Thursday, scoring 14 of his 18 points as LSU overcame a 16-point deficit to beat the Pirates. The JuCo transfer also added six rebounds, three steals, and two blocks on the night. The undersized forward has combined with Johnny O’Bryant III to form a lethal rebounding tandem, a big reason why the Tigers are ranked 15th in the nation in rebounding rate.
  4. Frank Martin’s career at South Carolina hasn’t gotten off to the smoothest of starts, but NBC Sports’ Vin Parise warns against impatience. Martin took over a shaky program at Kansas State and had the Wildcats playing in the Elite Eight within three seasons. Jacob Pullen, a middling recruit, blossomed into a superstar under the tutelage of the fiery coach. His coaching style is certainly abrasive, but his track record of success in Manhattan, Kansas, is tough to ignore. An early season loss to Elon is never a good sign for an SEC team, though it’s far from the worst loss that the conference has endured. Big success isn’t in the cards for Martin in his first season, but a repeat finish at the bottom of the SEC seems unlikely as they’ll face stiff competition from a number of other teams in the conference.
  5. Monday’s new AP poll featured a little bit of history. Kentucky, ranked #8 last week, can no longer be found in the Top 25, the largest single-week drop in the history of the rankings. It also marked the first time that the Wildcats aren’t represented in the poll since John Calipari took over in Lexington. How much has the college basketball landscape changed since the last time Kentucky wasn’t in the AP poll? At the end of the 2008-09 season, LSU was the SEC’s lone representative in the Top 25, while current ACC doormat Wake Forest was ranked #8.
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Big East M5: 11.30.12 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on November 30th, 2012

  1. The SEC/Big East Challenge got off to a competitive start last night with the conferences splitting four matchups and each conference scoring a decisive and impressive victory. St. John’s and Notre Dame each scored easy victories for the Big East while Marquette was blown out by Florida and Seton Hall lost a competitive tilt with LSU. The game of the evening was Notre Dame’s thorough dismantling of No. 8 Kentucky, 64-50. It was billed as a battle between youth and experience, athleticism and discipline, and after the Wildcats got off to a quick start, it quickly became apparent which traits would prevail. The young Wildcats struggled to find a rhythm in their first true road test and really look nothing like last season’s juggernaut, at least in the early part of the season. Meanwhile, the Fighting Irish rebounded from a slow start and finished the game shooting 48 percent from the field and 53 percent from behind the arc. The low point for the Fighting Irish may have been when their fans RTC’d as the final buzzer sounded. The Fighting Irish are an experienced and talented team, so beating a bunch of freshmen still figuring out how to play together doesn’t count as a true upset, especially when they won so handily. Even guard Jerian Grant lamented the post-game celebrations telling reporters that the team expected to win the game. The fans should have expected that too.
  2. On the flip side, after Notre Dame handled Kentucky easily, Marquette had a chance to really put the Big East in the driver’s seat as they squared off against No. 7 Florida, and unfortunately, they ended up falling flat on their face. Coach Buzz Williams, ever the candid quote, called the 82-49 drubbing the worst loss of his career and said his team was “really bad in every way.” Williams knows his team better than anyone else, but some credit should go to the Gators, who look like one of the best teams in the country in the early part of the season. Yes, the Golden Eagles, with the exception of junior guard Vander Blue (20 points and four rebounds), were dreadful on both ends of the floor. But Billy Donovan’s club has experienced talent and depth up-and-down the roster, and Marquette is still trying to adjust to life without stars Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom. It is clear Marquette is not as good as it was last year, and I think if the two teams played again in February the Gators would still win, but I would also bet that if that were to happen, we would see a different MU team than the uninspired club we saw last night.
  3. The other statement win for the conference came when the Red Storm stomped coach Frank Martin and South Carolina, 89-65 in New York. The Gamecocks’ lackluster defense allowed D’Angelo Harrison (26 points on 8-of-13 shooting) and his teammates to shoot nearly 57 percent from the floor for the game as the Johnnies controlled the game from the opening tip and overwhelmed the undermanned South Carolina squad. Steve Lavin‘s club is making noise like it could be a really good team as the season progresses, especially if Jakarr Sampson continues to blossom into a star and talented forward Orlando Sanchez gains his eligibility. The team’s two losses (to Murray State and Baylor) are respectable ones, especially for a team full of underclassmen just starting to play together, and the talent and upside of the roster is tremendous. They are deep and athletic across the board, even more so if Sanchez comes back, and they will only get better as the season goes on. Maybe the Lavin rebuilding project is further along than some think.
  4. The national contender that no one is talking about amidst this conference realignment hullabaloo is Georgetown. It makes sense since the Hoyas fields an FCS football program, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that while the Big East is crumbling, one of the most storied programs in all of college basketball remains. Coach John Thompson III didn’t seem too worried when he was asked about the changes, saying that change was inevitable in this day and age and that he didn’t want to get too caught up especially with Tennessee coming to town tonight. He also deflected questions about whether Georgetown would consider breaking off from the conference with other basketball-first programs like Marquette and Villanova to form their own conference built around basketball supremacy. It’s perfectly fine for Thompson III to focus on basketball since he will have very little influence on the direction the school takes, but school administrators and decision-makers should be very concerned about what the next step for their program is. They have a compelling product on the basketball court and multiple excellent athletic programs — albeit ones that don’t make as much money — and riding out the storm in a show of loyalty to the Big East sounds nice and all, but it could leave Georgetown in an unenviable situation should other programs like Connecticut and Cincinnati defect as they so desperately want to.
  5. DePaul appears to be on its way to another NCAA Tournament-less season, something that has become all too common in the last two decades for the Blue Demons, and to make matters worse, they still play in an outdated Allstate Arena that apparently is a real hassle for students and city-dwelling fans to get to. This piece is an excellent look at not only DePaul’s options when it comes to switching arenas when the lease with the Allstate Arena runs out after 2015, but also whether that will make any difference in the program’s long road back to respectability. One option being championed by the likes of Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf is a rent-free stay at the United Center, which seems nice until you start imagining what the United Center would look like for an early season thriller between DePaul and Austin Peay. The other, more tantalizing option is a new arena closer to campus that has the backing of none other than city mayor Rahm Emmanuel. The idea is the definition of preliminary and as the article pointed out, the new arena doesn’t solve the on-court woes, but it opens the door for improvement in student and fan turnout at the very least.
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