Rushed Reactions: #7 Michigan State 70, #10 Georgia 63

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 20th, 2015

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Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Travis Trice led Michigan State's decisive first half run. (Kirthman F. Dozier/Detroit Free Press)

Travis Trice led Michigan State’s decisive first half run.
(Kirthman F. Dozier/Detroit Free Press)

  1. Michigan State’s first half run was the key. After getting off to a slow start and trailing by six points early, the Spartans got it going at both ends of the floor and roared to a 12-point halftime lead. Georgia made a spirited effort to recover in the second half but could never quite catch up. During that first half, Georgia’s ball-handling deficiencies came to the forefront. The Bulldogs entered the game with five more total turnovers than assists on the season, and they played to form in that regard today by coughing it up 10 times in the first 20 minutes. That problem, combined with an inability to make shots (28 percent shooting in the first half), dug the Bulldogs a huge hole that it never climbed out of. Meanwhile, Michigan State got out in transition (eight fast break points) and heated up from deep with five threes before the intermission.
  2. Georgia’s bigs really struggled to finish at the rim. Georgia’s primary big men, Marcus Thornton and Nemanja Djurisic, each entered the contest shooting close to 50 percent from the field but neither came close to that mark today. The two combined to only make 4-of-17 shots against the Spartans, with most of the misses coming close to the basket. It could be attributed to non-explosive players failing to finish through the kind of contact that is allowed in NCAA games, because it wasn’t an effort problem (each player grabbed at least 10 rebounds). Credit goes to Michigan State for making those opportunities for Thornton and Djurisic tough ones, as the Bulldogs only converted 34.9 percent of their two-point shots for the game.
  3. Free throws are a problem for Michigan State. Michigan State was outscored by 10 points at the free throw line and that has been a recurring theme as the Spartans have made 106 fewer foul shots than their opponents this year. Part of the problem is that Michigan State just doesn’t shoot the ball very well from the stripe (63.3 percent on the year), but it also doesn’t get there very often either. Perhaps this is just a byproduct of these Spartans becoming more of a jump shooting team than we are used to from Tom Izzo, but it could hurt them as the competition improves open perimeter shots are tougher to find and knock down.

Stars of the Game.  Travis Trice & Branden Dawson, Michigan State. Tom Izzo’s veterans came through for him, one in each half. Trice was the catalyst behind the first half spurt, with 11 points and four assists before the break that included a pair of threes that gave the Spartans a nice working margin. Dawson spent most of the opening stanza on the bench because of foul trouble, finishing the half with no points or rebounds. However, when Georgia made its push early in the second half, it was Dawson who helped get the game back under control. He finished with 14 points and six boards to hold off the Bulldogs.

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NCAA Game Analysis: Second Round, Friday Afternoon

Posted by RTC Staff on March 20th, 2015

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In what was certainly one of the most competitive and jam-packed “opening” days in NCAA Tournament history, Friday’s slate of games will have a hard time following Thursday’s remarkable act. However, today offers a fair share of fascinating matchups as well. Here is a preview of Friday’s afternoon games:

#2 Kansas vs. #15 New Mexico State – Midwest Region (from Omaha, NE) — 12:15 PM EST on CBS.

New Mexico State has not lost since January 17 and will enter Friday’s action looking to pull a stunner against the second-seeded Jayhawks. The Aggies are led by their freshman big man Pascal Siakam, who caused problems for WAC big men throughout the season. Siakam carries averages of 13 points and 7.7 rebounds per game and he will look to mix it up against the Kansas frontline. New Mexico State, as a team, has been a very formidable defensive unit throughout the season, as it is 18th in the country in points per game allowed. Unfortunately for Kansas, its frontline depth took a bit of a hit earlier this week when it became known that freshman forward Cliff Alexander would definitely miss the NCAA Tournament due to a pending NCAA investigation. Sans Alexander, the Jayhawks still have some talent in the post with the strong play of junior forward Perry Ellis and the late season emergence of redshirt sophomore Landen Lucas. While Siakam’s play in the post could keep things close for a little while, expect Kansas’ perimeter play, led by point guard Frank Mason and swingman Kelly Oubre, to be the key as the Jayhawks will comfortably advance to the Round of 32.

The RTC Certified Pick: Kansas

#7 Michigan State vs. #10 Georgia — East Region First Round (at Charlotte, NC) — 12:20 pm ET on truTV.

Michigan State will battle Georgia in Charlotte. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Michigan State will battle Georgia in Charlotte. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Michigan State comes in hot after rolling to the Big Ten Tournament championship game and nearly edging Wisconsin. The Spartans are ranked 17th overall by KenPom and have become a substantially better offensive team over the course of the season, especially with a healthy Branden Dawson (12 PPG, 9.1 RPG) in the lineup. The senior forward looked like his old self in the Big Ten Tournament, averaging nearly 16 points, eight rebounds per game and locking down on the defensive end. The Spartans are at their best in transition and should push the tempo against the defensively stingy Bulldogs, a lengthy team which held opponents to the nation’s 15th-lowest effective field goal percentage this season. Although Tom Izzo’s bunch has become less-reliant on three-pointers as the year’s progressed, it wouldn’t hurt for Denzel Valentine (41.8% 3PT), Bryn Forbes (42.4% 3PT) and Travis Trice (36.6% 3PT) to knock down some perimeter shots, considering Georgia’s especially-stout interior defense (43% 2PT). On the other end, the Bulldogs do one thing especially well – attack the basket – which should keep them afloat against a Michigan State team that sent teams to the free throw line at the Big Ten’s third-highest rate. Junior guard Charles Mann (highest free-throw rate in the SEC) and his backcourt mates will get to the stripe. The Spartans are more well-rounded and should win this one, but count on a slimmer margin than some have suggested.

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What SEC Teams Seek This Weekend

Posted by Brian Joyce on March 18th, 2015

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The Southeastern Conference has been hit hard in the national media and on social media and everywhere else for its less than stellar basketball reputation. To be fair, it’s not completely unwarranted. Ole Miss opened the season with a loss to Charleston Southern. Mississippi State lost to Arkansas State and McNeese State. Missouri boasts a loss to UMKC. Those are bad losses to be sure, but the SEC is definitely not a one-team league, and the NCAA Tournament is a very good time to prove it.

Even folks in the south would agree that Kentucky carries the flag of SEC basketball. But, the other four in the Big Dance have a great opportunity to add to the party. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Even folks in the south would agree that Kentucky carries the flag of SEC basketball. But the other four in the Big Dance have a great opportunity to add to the party. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Five SEC teams made the NCAA Tournament this season, including undefeated Kentucky, which is a step in the right direction. You have to wonder, though, how much the Wildcats running through the conference without a loss has tarnished the perception of the rest of the league. Close followers of the SEC recognize its depth of talent from top to bottom this year but college basketball success is often defined by how the conference performs in March. Whether you subscribe to that opinion or think it’s bunk, it is important for the SEC to prove its worth on the national stage this weekend. Below we will examine what each team stands to gain during the NCAA Tournament in addition to bolstering the overall perception of the conference.

  • Kentucky: ESPN has made you acutely aware that Kentucky is chasing history, but even though the Wildcats are on the pursuit of perfection, there are still plenty of doubters. Everybody knows haters are gonna hate, but there is really only one way to silence those detractors, and that’s to win. For Kentucky, anything short of a National Championship will bring out a chorus of “I told you sos” from the numerous Twitter trolls who have persistently claimed that Kentucky has benefited from a weak SEC slate. John Calipari‘s club is on a mission to achieve something much more substantial than providing trash talk ammunition for the Big Blue Nation to take on Louisville fans. The 2012 version of the Wildcats may very well have been a better team than this season’s crew, but the Anthony Davis Wildcats can’t claim a 40-0 record. With six more wins the 2015 Kentucky Wildcats will forever be remembered as one of the great teams in college basketball history. Lose, however, and this team might be categorized in the same breath as the 2009-10 John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins Wildcats; a talented team that fell short when it counted the most.

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Why Each SEC Team Will Win in the Round of 64

Posted by Brian Joyce on March 17th, 2015

You printed out your bracket and you were sly enough to carry it in your portfolio into the Monday morning staff meeting. All you need now is for the office suck-up to bring in kolaches (ask the College Station folks if you’ve never had one!), a working pen (you really forgot to bring a pen to the staff meeting?), and a reason to advance every SEC team into the Round of 32 and beyond.

How about a good luck kiss for your bracket? (photo via @ukphotogs)

How about a good luck kiss for your bracket? (photo via @ukphotogs)

The SEC put five teams into the Big Dance but the casual college basketball fan who started paying attention in March doesn’t realize that the conference actually packs a bit more of a punch this season. At the same time, do you really trust teams that are coming off a loss to Auburn to advance deep into the tournament? Before you decide to be the SEC homer that has Georgia vs. LSU in the Elite Eight, lets focus first on how each SEC team can get to the Round of 32.

Kentucky. If you need to be convinced that Kentucky can win its first game then consider saving the $5 you were going to put into the office pool and buy five of those chocolate bars that Lois from accounting is selling for her grandson’s school fundraiser. For the sake of a good argument, lets assume Manhattan beats Hampton tonight. Former Kentucky player Steve Masiello would love an opportunity to end the Wildcats’ pursuit of perfection on his mentor Rick Pitino’s home court. Masiello has something that none of the current Wildcats yet have, a degree from the University of Kentucky. So there’s that. Is there any valid reason to think the Jaspers could pull off a victory though? Well, to get to this point, Manhattan will have beaten Iona. Iona beat Wake Forest. Wake beat North Carolina State. NC State beat Duke. But Duke didn’t beat Kentucky. Nobody has. And there’s not much reason to think that Manhattan will either. Moving on.

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Bracket Prep: East Region Analysis

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 17th, 2015

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Throughout Tuesday, we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: East (10:00 AM), South (11:00 AM), Midwest (1:00 PM), West (2:00 PM). Here, Tommy Lemoine (@hoopthink) breaks down the East Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC East Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCeastregion).

East Region

Favorite: #1 Villanova (32-2, 16-2 Big East). For as good as Virginia has been this season, Villanova enters the NCAA Tournament as hot and seemingly infallible as any team outside of Kentucky. The Big East champion Wildcats are currently riding a 15-game winning streak, including 11 victories by double-figures and two drubbings – an 89-61 win over Providence and 105-68 beat-down of St. John’s – against current Tournament participants. They boast the fourth-most efficient offense in the country thanks to a balanced lineup that sees six different players average between nine and 14 points per game, and have a true inside presence and rim protector in 6’11” big man Daniel Ochefu (9.2 PPG, 8.4 RPG). And even though Jay Wright’s team relies heavily on perimeter shooting, it happens to be one of the best three-point shooting teams in America at 38.9 percent. To boot, Villanova’s defense holds opponents to well under one point per possession.

Darrun Hilliard and the Wildcats are the team to beat in the East. (AP)

Darrun Hilliard and the Wildcats are the team to beat in the East. (AP)

Should They Falter: #2 Virginia (30-3, 16-2 ACC). Virginia could have been a #1 seed and very well might play like one if Justin Anderson (12.3 PPG) rounds into form over the coming days and weeks. Since the 6’6″ wing went down with a broken hand in February, the Cavaliers’ offense has sorely missed his outside shooting (46.9% 3FG) and ability to get to the rim. The junior returned (in a limited capacity) for the ACC Tournament, however, and could be in better basketball shape by this weekend. Either way, the regular season ACC champs should be fine in the early-going, since their defense is borderline impenetrable. No team in the country – not even Kentucky – touts better adjusted defensive efficiency numbers than Tony Bennett’s guys, a product of his pack-line system which thrives on eliminating access to the paint and forcing tough shots from perimeter. Outside of Villanova, it’s hard to envision many teams in the East mustering enough offensive production to topple the Wahoos – especially if Anderson again finds his footing. Read the rest of this entry »

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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: SEC Teams

Posted by Greg Mitchell on March 16th, 2015

All things considered, the Selection Committee ended up being kind to the SEC this year. Kentucky grabbed the number one overall seed with no suspense and five league teams heard their names called. That’s a very welcome result after consecutive years of only three conference teams making the field. LSU’s inclusion as a #9 seed was especially interesting. The prevailing wisdom held that the Tigers’ SEC Tournament loss to Auburn had planted them firmly on the bubble. The fact that Johnny Jones’ team safely made the field could reveal that the committee had a high opinion of the conference. Here is a quick look at what these five SEC teams face in the coming days.

34-0. (USA Today Images)

34-0. (USA Today Images)

Kentucky

  • Seed: #1, Midwest
  • Quick First Round Preview: The Wildcats will play the winner of MEAC champion Hampton and MAAC champion Manhattan. There’s a reason they always play the games but this is not the instance where a #1 seed finally falls to a #16 seed. That said, there are intriguing storylines with both potential matchups. Manhattan head coach Steve Masiello (who played at Kentucky) was headed to South Florida before a lie on his resume cost him the job before he’d even started. Kentucky assistant Orlando Antigua left John Calipari’s bench to take the job instead. The Jaspers should be able to handle sub-.500 Hampton, but the MEAC has a troubling history with the SEC. Two MEAC champions have taken down highly-seeded SEC (or soon to be SEC) schools: Coppin State over South Carolina in 1997 and Norfolk State over Missouri in 2012 (although both were #15 seeds)
  • Intriguing Potential Future Matchup: It would take a magical and seemingly improbable run, but a regional final matchup with Texas would be a fun one. The Longhorns have largely underachieved this season, but they are one of the few teams with the requisite size to match up with Kentucky. The two teams met in Lexington on December 5 and the Wildcats managed to pull out an 11-point win after a tie game at halftime. Texas, however, was without star point guard Isaiah Taylor at the time. Could he have made the difference? Maybe we’ll get to find out.
  • Final Word: The Wildcats have a few threats in this region but that’s a given for the NCAA Tournament. Kansas as a #2 seed is a much better fit than Wisconsin, Gonzaga or Virginia, since the Jayhawks have a banged-up frontcourt and were battered by Kentucky at the start of the year. It would be fun to watch Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton stretch the Wildcats’ defense in the regional final, but all things considered, the Wildcats are the clear favorite to get out of the Midwest.

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SEC Tournament Preview: What Teams Are Playing For

Posted by David Changas on March 11th, 2015

As Nashville awaits the inevitable Big Blue mist that will descend upon it Friday afternoon, let’s take a look at what each of the 14 SEC teams has to play for with the start of tonight’s SEC Tournament.

SEC tournament bracket 2015

The Outsiders

  • Missouri (9-22, 3-15). After winning its SEC opener against LSU, Missouri earned only two more conference victories all season — at home against Florida and Auburn. Kim Anderson’s first year at his alma mater has been a trying one, and there likely will not be much sadness when this campaign comes to a merciful end sometime soon.
  • Mississippi State (13-18, 6-12). Given that Rick Ray won seven league games in his first two seasons in Starkville, this year’s six-win campaign is a substantial improvement. This appeared to be a team that would struggle to win any conference games, so getting six has surely earned Ray the right to coach a fourth season at Mississippi State. While the Bulldogs have nothing to play for beyond Nashville, expect them to be motivated to move into Thursday’s round against Texas A&M.

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SEC M5: 03.11.15 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on March 11th, 2015

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  1. It’s awards season and that usually means there’s a snub to gripe about. But that’s hard to do with the SEC’s All-Conference teams since it seems half the league gets mentioned somewhere. Personally, I would have given the POY to Willie Cauley-Stein as a nod to his contributions outside the box score and general excellence of Kentucky. But you can’t argue with the conference’s choice of Bobby Portis, who was a truly irreplaceable part on a good Arkansas team. What’s most impressive is the consistency and efficiency Portis played with on offense all season. He reached double figure scoring in each SEC game (and all but one game overall) and notched the best effective field goal percentage (57.7%) in the league despite being the focal point of Mike Anderson’s offense.
  2. Mark Fox is quietly building an impressive streak with Georgia’s second-straight top three regular season finish. Don’t look now, but if the Bulldogs get a bid (which seems likely), the league may have found a year-in, year-out tournament contender. It might not sound like much, but there hasn’t been a consistent program like that outside of Kentucky and Florida in some time. The top three finish also gives the Bulldogs a double-bye and lets Kenny Gaines and Juwan Parker get some extra rest. Gaines in particular drew praise from Kevin Stallings and Anthony Grant, who both called him an elite defender, and Fox clearly needs him on the court to push Georgia as far as it can go. Parker missed 12 of the last 14 games, and could probably also use the extra rest after logging 15 minutes against Auburn on Saturday.
  3. Texas A&M is also fighting the injury bug, and could be in a much tighter spot. Danuel House injured his foot against Florida and didn’t play in the Aggies’ home loss to Alabama. According to Billy Kennedy, it’ll be a “stretch” for him to play in Nashville. It goes without saying that this puts the Aggies at a severe disadvantage without their leading scorer and guy that hit 37 percent of Texas A&M’s made three pointers this season. The Aggies should be able to survive their opener against either Auburn or Mississippi State, but will be hard-pressed to beat LSU for a third time without House stretching the Tigers’ quality defense.
  4.  The pre-SEC Tournament theme is unquestionably injuries to star players, with Jordan Mickey also dinged up with a shoulder injury. Johnny Jones said that Mickey should be able to go, and the Tigers don’t want to push their luck without him despite their win in Fayetteville. They also aren’t nearly safe “rest” him for the NCAA Tournament and risk taking a loss in their opener. If he can’t go, Jarell Martin has certainly done his part when his frontcourt running mate has been out this season. Against McNeese State in November he had 26 points and 10 rebounds, and Saturday at Arkansas he stepped up with 27 points and eight rebounds.
  5. Another team that could use a win in Nashville is Ole Miss. To be sure, the Rebels are not in as dire a spot as Texas A&M, but are in somewhat of a no-win situation in their opener. They can gain nothing of substance with a win over South Carolina or Missouri, and a loss to either, especially the Tigers, could do enough damage to push them off the bubble. A match-up with the Gamecocks could hold a sneaky degree of intrigue. Despite its faults, Frank Martin still brings a great defense to Nashville (27th in KenPom adjusted defensive efficiency), and USC’s ability to disrupt and pressure the perimeter could be a fun match with the Rebels backcourt trio of Stefan Moody, Jarvis Summers and Snoop White. You also probably can’t take much from the Rebels’ 65-49 win in the teams’ one game this season since it happened all the way back on January 10. All that being said, the Gamecocks still need to get by Missouri to make the matchup happen.
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The SEC Week That Was: Volume X

Posted by Greg Mitchell on March 10th, 2015

For the next two weeks, or however long it takes, we’ll run down a few weekly superlatives from league play, take a look at how conference teams look in the eyes of the NCAA Tournament selection committee, and anything else that merits discussion. Here is Volume X, including games from March 2 to March 8.

Player of the Week. Kentucky has no shortage of star power, but Karl-Anthony Towns is the most complete player on the roster and gets the nod as the final regular season Player of the Week. The 19 points he scored against Georgia included two layups in the final minutes while the Wildcats were squashing the Bulldogs’ upset bid. Against Florida he controlled the paint as he has all season with six blocks. Towns has been an impact player on both ends of the court, but might be John Calipari’s most reliable offensive threat heading into postseason play. Andrew Harrison has shown a willingness to attack the paint lately, Devin Booker has the ability get hot and Aaron Harrison has a postseason track record, but it’s Towns that has shown an ability to constantly find high percentage looks. He’s been lethal finishing at the rim (74.7 percent), effective as a mid-range shooter (51.3 percent) and more than solid at the free throw line (79.0 percent). There are some compelling cases for SEC Freshman of the Year, including Riley LaChance and Booker, but Towns would get my vote because of the well-rounded role he’s played on the country’s top-ranked team.

Karl-Anthony Towns is set up a great run in both the SEC and NCAA tournaments (Mark Zerof/USA Today Sports)

Karl-Anthony Towns is set up a great run in both the SEC and NCAA tournaments (Mark Zerof/USA Today Sports)

Team of the Week. The spotlight is yours, Kentucky. The Wildcats finished off their perfect regular season in beating Georgia and Florida, and it wasn’t without some drama in Athens. The Bulldogs held a 62-56 lead and the ball with under five minutes to go, and as Jay Bilas pointed out at the time, Kentucky looked to be in real danger. But Willie Cauley-Stein forced turnover that began a transition opportunity that ended in an Aaron Harrison and-one. Cauley-Stein rebounded the miss off the free throw and dunked it to complete a major swing in momentum. Just like that, Kentucky didn’t look back and didn’t allow the Bulldogs many good looks the rest of the way. Towns starred offensively in both games, and his back-to-the-basket game is peaking at the right time. Pairing that with Andrew Harrison’s recent aggressive play should make for a lot of easy opportunities in both upcoming tournaments. History has been increasingly nipping at the Wildcats heels, but they don’t seem to be feeling any pressure. Just nine more wins separate Kentucky from joining the 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers as the only teams to finish a season unbeaten.

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Championship Week Primer: Bid-Stealers and Teams to Watch

Posted by Henry Bushnell on March 10th, 2015

Championship Week is upon us. And while some mid-majors have already locked up their spots in the Big Dance, it’s time for the major conference tournaments to get under way. Here’s a brief look at each of those upcoming tournaments with a description of one team in each that is primed to use the postseason as the catalyst for a run and one potential bid-stealer.

AAC

SMU is Flying Under the Radar Somewhat (USA Today Images)

SMU is Somewhat Flying Under the Radar (USA Today Images)

  • Team to Watch: SMU – This one might seem obvious as SMU is the top seed and the best team in the conference. But such is the state of the AAC that the Mustangs are really the only team with a shot to make some noise in March. Temple is an NCAA Tournament team but isn’t anything special, and the same could be said for Cincinnati and Tulsa, if either cracks the field of 68.
  • Potential Bid-Stealer: UConn – Hey, we’ve certainly seen the Huskies get hot before. There haven’t been many indications that Kevin Ollie’s team can put together a run, but its draw is favorable — SMU is on the opposite side of the bracket — so a Sunday date with the Mustangs with an NCAA Tournament bid on the line is a distinct possibility.

ACC

  • Team to Watch: North Carolina – The Tar Heels have amazingly lost six of their last 10 games en route to a fifth-place finish in the ACC. But since an ugly loss to NC State a couple weeks ago, they’ve looked decent and are capable of exploding at any time. North Carolina has elite athleticism and a guard in Marcus Paige who is one of college basketball’s best when he’s locked in. The Heels — playing in front of the always-friendly Greensboro crowd — should be favored against Louisville in the quarterfinals before meeting a Virginia team that could still be at less than full strength.
  • Potential Bid-Stealer: Miami – Miami isn’t a bid-stealer, per se, because the Hurricanes don’t have to win the ACC Tournament to earn entry into the Dance. They probably only need two victories but they’ve been given an intriguing road as the #6 seed. Provided the Hurricanes win their Wednesday game against Wake Forest or Virginia Tech, Notre Dame and then potentially Duke await. Miami has already gone toe-to-toe with both this year in their buildings, and even beat Duke at Cameron. If Jim Larranaga’s team were to pull off those two upsets, anything could happen in the championship game.

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SEC Stock Watch: 03.06.15 Edition

Posted by David Changas on March 6th, 2015

We have reached the end of the regular season in the SEC, and this is our final look at who is trending up, down, and who is flat. This is SEC Stock Watch.

Trending Up

  • Upsets over Bubble Teams. First, it was Florida beating Texas A&M at home, handing the Aggies a crucial loss as they seek to secure an NCAA Tournament bid. Then, on Wednesday, Tennessee went into Baton Rouge and beat LSU by 15 points. This was the same group of Tigers that led the Vols by 27 points at the half in Knoxville 18 days earlier. Neither of these underdogs had as much to play for as their opponents, and they both deserve credit for not quitting. But for the Aggies and especially the Tigers, they will have to sweat these and other losses on Selection Sunday.
Kentucky will almost certainly enter the Big Dance 34-0 (cbssports.com)

John Calipari and Kentucky will almost certainly enter the Big Dance 34-0 (cbssports.com)

  • Undefeated Kentucky. It is a mere formality now that the Wildcats will finish the regular season a remarkable 31-0 when they dispatch Florida on Saturday in Lexington (the term “Senior Day” doesn’t mean much there, so we have forgone its use). Many would argue that it’s a formality that the Wildcats will finish the deal and run through the SEC Tournament next week in Nashville to finish 34-0 going into the NCAA Tournament. Given the way they have dominated league play, that is very likely.
  • Comebacks. Kentucky trailed Georgia by nine points with less than eight minutes to play on Tuesday in Athens. The Wildcats then turned the burners on and put away a game Bulldogs team. Last night, on senior night in Columbia, South Carolina overcame a 20-point first half deficit to take an 11-point lead of its own with less than six minutes to play. Arkansas then finished the game on an 18-3 run to steal the win. The Kentucky comeback was unsurprising, but the Razorbacks’ effort is further evidence that Mike Anderson’s team has turned a corner from its old disappointing ways.

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SEC M5: 02.25.15 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 25th, 2015

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  1. I’m not ashamed to admit it: There are few things in my hoops world that I enjoy more than watching Willie Cauley-Stein move his feet. Observing a seven-footer glide across the perimeter in a defensive stance is art. Hyperbole aside, Cauley-Stein’s versatility is why NBCSports.com‘s Rob Dauster has him in the top five of his most recent Player of the Year rankings. By his logic, the junior should be the front-runner for the SEC POY award, but is he? My gut tells me that Arkansas’ Bobby Portis or LSU’s Jordan Mickey will get the honor based on their gaudier stats, but it probably should go to Cauley-Stein. As a team, Kentucky is on the verge of accomplishing something quite historic. Even if the Wildcats don’t run the table, their dominance has been the story of this year’s SEC and no one player captures that better than Cauley-Stein.
  2. As a point guard, Andrew Harrison is playing his best basketball of the season. The sophomore has averaged 4.4 assists and just 1.6 turnovers per game in his last eight outings, punctuated with nine assists and a single turnover on Saturday against Auburn. This uptick in production has coincided with a visit from his father, who also spent time with his brother Aaron last year before he caught fire in the NCAA Tournament. As good as Tyler Ulis has played this season, it must be reassuring to John Calipari that Andrew is playing so well too as the calendar nears March. He led the Wildcats to the championship game last year, and that kind of postseason experience is invaluable for a point guard.
  3. Stories about Memorial Gymnasium’s quirkiness at Vanderbilt are inevitable every year. But next year, those yarns will have a fresh angle. Vanderbilt is extending the coaching box up the sideline for the 2015-16 season, meaning that coaches won’t just be confined to the baseline as they have been in the past. Only head coaches will be allowed in the expanded box, so the solitary figure strolling up and down the sidelines above the first few rows of fans will be another unique part of the games at Vanderbilt. There will probably be some changes on the court for the Commodores next year too, at least from a win-loss perspective. There is a drastic disparity between the team’s KenPom (#47) and RPI (#117) ratings this season –eight of the Commodores’ 12 losses have come by four points or fewer, and Kevin Stallings’ group should be a much bigger threat next season if Damian Jones returns.
  4. The Macon Telegraph’s Seth Emerson has some interesting tidbits on Georgia’s NCAA Tournament resume as we enter the stretch run. We’ve also officially reached the point in the season when it’s not too early to talk about SEC Tournament seeding. Georgia stands at 8-6, nipping on the heels of 10-5 Texas A&M and 10-4 Ole Miss. Making up that difference in the standings to earn a double-bye will be difficult, but the Bulldogs have one thing going for them. They’ve already beaten Texas A&M and could sweep the Rebels with a win this evening, which would give Georgia the tiebreaker over both if it comes to that. That makes tonight’s game at the Tad Pad all the more important for a team looking to get back on the right track.
  5. One phrase is noticeably absent in SEC conversations right now: hot seat. Unless something strange occurs down the stretch, it doesn’t look like there will be a new SEC coach coming on board in 2015-16. Reviewing the hot seat scenario David Changas painted back in October, the two most at-risk coaches were Alabama’s Anthony Grant and Mississippi State’s Rick Ray, and both appear to be safe. Alabama has been somewhat disappointing given how well the Tide’s non-conference schedule went, but at 17-11 overall and 7-8 in the SEC it isn’t likely that Grant will lose his job. The same can be said for Ray, as Mississippi State has clearly improved during the season and will have a senior-laden team (Craig Sword, Fred Thomas, Gavin Ware) ready to roll next year. The hottest seat right now might actually belong to Kim Anderson, with Missouri trudging through a miserable season and current athletic director Mike Alden set to depart in August. But it’s ridiculous to think that the new administration would part ways with a native son after a clear rebuilding year.
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