SEC M5: 01.03.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on January 3rd, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. SI.com‘s Luke Winn always has interesting metrics nuggets in his weekly power rankings. This week he has Kentucky at #15, and writes that Willie Cauley-Stein is living up to the rim-protecting precedent set by Anthony Davis and Nerlens Noel. Cauley-Stein’s block percentage (13.8%) is identical to Davis’s and better than Noel’s (13.2%). He is also keeping a greater percentage of those blocked shots (64.2%) than Davis or Noel did. On the whole, the SEC has a handful of elite swatters, but not much after that. In addition to Cauley-Stein (who leads the league), only Asauhn Dixon-Tatum, Jordan Mickey, and Aaron Jones have block percentages greater than 10 percent.
  2. You have to go back a few days, but Tennessee picked up a momentum-building win on Monday night over Virginia. The margin they won by (35 points) was the largest in the Cuonzo Martin era, and all the more impressive because the Cavaliers are a good defensive team. Rocky Top Talk‘s Will Shelton writes that the Vols improved shooting percentage against Virginia could be a sign of good things to come. “Tennessee isn’t going to shoot 60+% from three and 85+% from the line every night.  But the fact that they did it [Monday] against such a great defensive team and got it from so many different contributors suggests the transformation we’ve all known this team needed is very possible.” The Vols have largely disappointed this season, but when their solid defensive and elite offensive rebounding is paired with shots falling, it’s not hard to see why they were given such lofty preseason expectations.
  3. Georgia‘s five game winning streak was snapped last Saturday in Boulder, but the Bulldogs can rebound in a big way with a road win tonight over George Washington. Colorado is a good team so Georgia’s 14-point road loss isn’t a head-scratcher. If you want to stretch optimism to its limits, you could say that the Bulldogs were nearly even with Colorado in the second half, losing just 38 to 35. Winning at George Washington would be no small feat, as the Colonials own an impressive win over Creighton this season. But they are coming off a loss to Kansas State on New Year’s Eve and have a weakness the Bulldogs could exploit. George Washington allows its opponents to grab 30 percent of their own misses. Georgia has also struggled giving up offensive rebounds this season, and must take advantage of extra opportunities that may come their way.
  4. It’s never good when a head coach starts apologizing. “I apologize to the fans that came to the game,” Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy said. “We are not that bad, but we sure looked like it at times,” Kennedy felt compelled to say that after the Aggies’ 20-point loss to North Texas at home on New Year’s Eve. The Aggies enter conference play without a quality win, and are now saddled with a demoralizing home loss. One issue Texas A&M has had this season is a lack of effectiveness from the three point line. The Aggies were just four of 18 against the Mean Green, and as a team have shot 30.2% on the season, good for just 286th in the country. That’s difficult for a team that lacks many impact athletes. Senior guard Fabyon Harris shot 45%last season but has followed it up at 33% thus far this season. The Aggies best three-point shooter, J-Mychal Reese (42%), is no longer with the team. Opposing coaches may be more willing to unleash a zone defense on Texas A&M if they continue to struggle from deep.
  5. It hasn’t been all bad news for the Aggies recently. Kennedylanded SMU transfer Jalen Jones, and if he’s granted a waiver to play immediately, will be a big help in avoiding a repeat of the offensive performance against North Texas. Jones was a respectable shooter last season (56% true shooting), and got to the line nearly 5 times a game. When paired together on the perimeter, the 6’7” Jones and 6’8” Jamal Jones should create challenge for play-by-play announcers and opposing defenses. It appears Jones left SMU because of playing time, so if there isn’t anything more to the move a waiver seems unlikely. If there is no waiver, it’ll be interesting to see if Kennedy even gets to coach his prized transfer in an actual game.
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SEC M5: 12.16.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on December 16th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. John Calipari has some coaching to do after Kentucky‘s deflating loss to North Carolina. “We’re not a good team because our emotion is all based on our individual play instead of our team play,” Calipari said. CBSSports‘ Gary Parrish also noticed some bad body language from the Wildcats. He writes, “I watched guys check-in and out without touching hands, which isn’t a big deal except for that it rarely happens with close teams. I saw Julius Randle roll his eyes at his guards — specifically Andrew and Aaron Harrison — whenever they failed to even think about getting him the ball on the block.” It could be that this edition of the Kentucky Wildcats is not a particularly close group. Calipari was on ESPN‘s college basketball podcast with Andy Katz and Seth Greenberg last week and said he needed to “teach” the team how to huddle during free throws and high-five teammates heading to the bench. Can camaraderie be built over the course of a season? Who knows? Does a team need to be buddy-buddy to win a national championship? That’s another intangible-based question that no one can honestly answer. But there’s no question that team bonding can’t hurt, and the Wildcats need to start working together better than they have been to reach their goals.
  2. Jarnell Stokes had been on a roll coming into Tennessee’s game against Wichita State — posting four straight double-doubles — and the Volunteers needed it to continue to beat an excellent Shockers team on the road Saturday. But Stokes was bothered by Wichita State’s length and never got going (eight points on 3-of-7 shooting). On the other hand, Jordan McRae kept Tennessee in the game with 26 points, impressively putting his name on the “Dunk of the Year” list, but it wasn’t enough as the Volunteers lost by nine points. Part of the blame for Stokes’ offensive struggles must fall on Tennessee’s guards: He rarely received the ball close enough to the basket to operate. And it doesn’t show in the box score (two assists), but Jeronne Maymon looked good facilitating the offense from the high post. Antonio Barton is not a true point guard and Darius Thompson is a freshman, so Maymon’s passing ability could come in handy in finding McRae off screens as well as Stokes in the low post.
  3. For a time on Saturday it looked like Middle Tennessee might knock off Ole Miss for the second straight year. The Blue Raiders took a 50-48 lead midway through the second half and the teams traded baskets for the next few minutes until the Rebels finally pulled away. This was a good day for Ole Miss because they didn’t let last week’s close loss to Oregon beat them twice by being discouraged. The Rebels also got the win without a Herculean performance from Marshall Henderson (15 points on only 11 shots). Jarvis Summers was the scoring star (25 points), and he showed a versatile offensive game by shooting well from the outside and getting to the free throw line 11 times. Ole Miss, however, was abused on the glass, getting outrebounded by 21 boards.
  4. Georgia took three tough losses in the Charleston Classic and it dropped them to an unsightly 1-4 to start the season. But a return home and a dip in competition has gotten the Bulldogs back to .500 after a win over Lipscomb on Saturday. The latter two wins came largely without Bulldogs’ leading scorer Charles Mann, who suffered a bone bruise against Appalachian State at the end of November. “Charles has an injury that just needs rest to heal. He hasn’t practiced in 12 days,” [Mark Fox] said. “I got no idea of a timetable [for his return], to be honest with you.” The sophomore played only nine minutes against Chattanooga and not at all against Lipscomb. The development of Mann and fellow sophomore guard Kenny Gaines as an offensive duo could be a positive out of another rebuilding season in Athens. Yet another sophomore, forward Brandon Morris, scored a season high 17 points against Lipscomb, and looks to emerge as another offensive weapon going forward.
  5. Chris Walker has enrolled at Florida, but is not yet eligible to play, and Billy Donovan has ruled him out for the Gators’ Tuesday night game against Memphis. This is still good news for Florida, as Walker began practicing last Saturday and is expected to ramp up quickly once he gets the go-ahead. According to the Gainesville Sun‘s Kevin Brockway, “Walker was rated as a consensus top-15 player in the nation by most recruiting websites because of his ability to play in the open floor, finish around the rim, rebound and block shots.” He should make for a very good fit sliding on the wings of the Gators’ 1-3-1 zone and running with Scottie Wilbekin and Kasey Hill in transition.
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SEC M5: 11.25.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on November 25th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. Mike DeCourcy defended John Calipari and refuted the never-ending “one and done” talking point that Calipari is doing things the wrong way by recruiting so many blue chip players destined for the NBA after a lone college season. DeCourcy writes: “What will all of them say, all of those who behaved as if this were John Calipari’s rule, his personal province? Because this morning, the university that has collected three apparent one-and-dones, three top-10 prospects in the 2014 recruiting class, is not Kentucky. It is Duke.
” It’s bothersome that Mike Krzyzewski and Tom Izzo have been portrayed by some as doing things the “right way” while Calipari has not. The simple fact is that Krzyzewski and Izzo should and absolutely would take most “one and done” players. It’d be bad for business and irresponsible if they didn’t. The “one and done” rule is riddled with problems, but it’s incorrect to think some coaches avoid those players at all costs.
  2. Alandise Harrisis off to great start at Arkansas, a start that the Houston transfer wishes had taken place three years ago. The Little Rock native took an interesting path back to his home-state school: “Harris said Arkansas was his top choice, and that [former coach John Pelphrey] offered him a scholarship as a sophomore — an offer he accepted. However, he said Pelphrey didn’t want him to go public with his commitment until after he earned the grades needed to be eligible.Those grades weren’t secured until the spring of Harris’ senior year, he said, at which time the promised scholarship from Arkansas was no longer an option.” What makes this story even more interesting is that Pelphrey remains in the conference as an assistant at Florida. The Gators play in Fayetteville on January 11. Harris just might a little extra motivation to play well that night.
  3. Ole Miss scored over 100 points for the first time since 2010 in their win over Mississippi Valley State last Friday. Despite the inferior competition, the Rebels still showcased their high offensive potential on the perimeter. Derrick Millinghaus, who had 21 points on 8 of 14 shooting, is a high volume shooter, but has proven he can be an effective option. The Rebels’ more notable high volume shooter, Marshall Henderson, certainly isn’t alone. Jarvis Summers is an effective slasher, and Ladarius White finally reached double figures with 13 on Friday. Guard play will be the strength of Andy Kennedy’s team this year, and that was on display against the Delta Devils.
  4. Missouri forward Stefan Jankovic announced over the weekend that he will transfer. The sophomore has only played 223 minutes in 28 games over the past two years, so the decision isn’t surprising, especially after Jankovic sent out a cryptic tweet a few weeks ago. He struggled with defense and avoiding fouls, and until he improves on that end of the floor he won’t be able to take advantage of his diverse offensive skill set. His stretch four skill set could, however, thrive in a smaller conference. Jankovic is the third member of Frank Haith’s first recruiting class at Missouri to transfer following Negus Webster-Chan and Dominique Bull.
  5. Georgia is already saddled with four losses and it’s not even Thanksgiving. The Bulldogs came up empty at the Charleston Classic, losing to Davidson, Temple, and Nebraska. The Temple loss is especially frustrating given that Georgia led in the final moments of the game, only to be undone by a late Owls three. Mark Fox now has five home games against lesser competition to level the season out. Things could get particularly ugly if the Bulldogs were to drop any of those games, however.
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The New Hand-Check Rule and Its Probable Effect on SEC Teams

Posted by Greg Mitchell on November 7th, 2013

Larry Brown calls it “scary.” Herb Sendek thinks it’ll be “revolutionary.” These longtime and venerable coaches are talking about the NCAA’s new hand-check rule, which will no doubt be a nagging storyline throughout the upcoming season. Many believe that an increased emphasis on hand checks will lead to more fouls. “Tons of fouls, a lot of free throws, long, ugly games. Hopefully fans can prepare for that. It is going to be frustrating.” That’s Lon Kruger’s take on the effect of the new rules. Given the concern that many coaches have about the change, it’s worth looking at which SEC teams and players could be affected most by the difference.

Craig Sword had the third-most fouls in the SEC last year and the new hand-check rule could be tough on him (photo courtesy bigstory.ap.com).

Craig Sword had the third-most fouls in the SEC last year and the new hand-check rule could be tough on him (photo courtesy bigstory.ap.com).

Fouls: The following players led the league in fouls last year, and could be in for even more foul trouble and time off the court if they don’t show more discipline to adapt to the new rules:

  • Dont’e Williams, Georgia, 98 total fouls
  • Alex Caruso, Texas A&M, 93 total fouls
  • Craig Sword, Mississippi State, 92 total fouls
  • Rodney Cooper, Alabama, 91 total fouls
  • Allen Payne, Auburn, 89 total fouls
  • Johnny O’Bryant, LSU, 89 total fouls
  • Alex Poythress, Kentucky, 88 total fouls
  • Jarvis Summers, Ole Miss, 87 total fouls
  • Michael Carrera, South Carolina, 85 total fouls
  • Patric Young, Florida, 85 total fouls

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SEC M5: 11.06.13 Edition

Posted by Justin Bridgman on November 6th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. It seems that narrowly escaping exhibition games is the thing to do in the SEC this year, as Alabama needed overtime to beat West Georgia Monday nightTrevor Releford was the star of the night, scoring 27 points including two key free throws to send the game into overtime. Releford is the type of player who could have a great scoring night and contribute heavily to an upset of one of the top SEC teams. He’s an offensive force, and his ability to draw fouls can change the game in an instant. He tallied 12 total free throw attempts on the night, and Alabama fans should expect that continue into the regular season. Releford was rightfully named to the preseason all-SEC team, and if there is one player in the conference who should scare Kentucky and Florida, it is him. Alabama is a great candidate to pull off at least one big home upset this year.
  2. Building on yesterday’s theme of weak non-conference schedules, LSU has high hopes for this season but could find itself paying the price in March for a weak slate. The SEC does not provide many opportunities for RPI-building wins, so ideally LSU would have some other strong wins to bolster its resume. Unfortunately, the Tigers’ schedule is not very strong and it could hurt them in the NCAA Tournament selection process. I mentioned yesterday that Florida can count on its strong non-conference schedule to cover up for a weak conference slate. The opposite might be the case for LSU because in January and February the Tigers are going to be desperate for resume-padding wins. In the future Johnny Jones needs to make sure he is challenging his team throughout the entirety of its schedule, and putting them in the best possible chance to be on the right side of the bubble in March.
  3. Georgia desperately needs someone to replace the void left by Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and two candidates emerged during the team’s first exhibition game. Kenny Gaines finished with 19 points and Charles Mann added 18 with four assists. Although the Bulldogs struggled overall with turnovers and offensive rhythm, having two players show the potential to be solid scorers is important. Without another NBA-level talent there to bail out the offense each trip down the floor, one or both of those guards needs to become a more consistent threat. Georgia won’t enjoy the size advantage they had Monday night in every game, which will make its perimeter scoring even more important throughout the season.
  4. Auburn was not very good last year, and might not be very good this year. Just don’t tell that to the Tigers, as they are ignoring the critics this season. With a fresh crop of new players on board, optimism is in full force right now and the pressure is on head coach Tony Barbee to win more games. His overall SEC record is a paltry 12-39, including 3-15 last season. Even at a school like Auburn, which quite frankly does not care much about basketball, that simply will not cut it. Barbee is a likely candidate to be fired after this season if he cannot bring this new crop of players together and finish the season with a better record. Nobody is expecting much from this team, but with the SEC carrying a number of bad teams, it is not unreasonable for fans to expect six or more conference victories this year. Kudos to the players and coaching staff for coming into the season with optimism, but they need to show they can start backing up that optimism up with some wins.
  5. In his massive season opening column Jay Bilas mentions Tennessee’s Jarnell Stokes as one of the top rebounders in the country. Stokes averaged 9.7 rebounds per game last season, and headed into his junior year it is likely that he is going to be an even better player this year. Tennessee has big plans for this season, and right now look like the third best team in the SEC. Stokes is a big part of that, and is one the challengers to Kentucky’s stable of freshmen for SEC Player of the Year honors. If the Volunteers are going to compete inside with Kentucky and Florida’s plethora of big men, Stokes will have to be at his best — when he is playing as well as he can, Tennessee is going to give even the best teams all they can handle down low.
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SEC M5: 11.05.13 Edition

Posted by Justin Bridgman on November 5th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. This season the SEC is a bottom-feeding league during the non-conference season. According to the article, eight SEC teams had a RPI of #80 or worse last season. Weak non-conference scheduling is a big part of this, and the conference needs to come together and stop the practice. The problem is that a school like Georgia or Mississippi State wants to pad its win total instead of playing tougher competition; otherwise, coaches of those schools know they will lose their job. Every school in the conference should look at what John Calipari does with his non-conference schedule and make an effort to imitate it. Athletic directors should agree to give coaches some leeway in regards to job security when a coach puts together a more aggressive non-conference schedule. This will raise the overall reputation of the conference and lead to more quality wins that matter come NCAA selections. In the long run, coaches will find that tougher non-conference games will result in better outcomes for the entire SEC.
  2. Speaking of non-conference schedules, this list of the top non-conference games includes a number of Kentucky games as well as a few involving Florida. While the rest of the SEC is likely to be ignored nationally for most of the non-conference season, these two teams have plenty of big games before January. Kentucky plays Michigan State, Louisville, and North Carolina before Christmas. It will be fascinating to see how Kentucky’s freshman play against those teams, especially since Kentucky usually needs some time to gel defensively. Calipari will need to have his team ready to go from day one, and since the expectation in Big Blue Nation is a 40-0 season, the pressure won’t let up all year long. Florida’s schedule will be crucial in its bid to earn a top seed in the NCAA Tournament. The fact is, the SEC schedule does not give Florida many chances to bolster their RPI, so winning these tough non-conference games is incredibly important. When it comes down to getting a #2 or #3 seed, a win over Kansas or Wisconsin can make all the difference on the resume.
  3. The AP Preseason All-America Team was announced yesterday, and it surprisingly did not include Kentucky freshman Julius Randle. While fellow freshman phenom Andrew Wiggins did make the list, Randle was left off in favor of Michigan sophomore Mitch McGary. Of course the list means nothing since there has not even been a game played yet, but it makes little sense for Randle to have been omitted. By all accounts he is one of the five best players in college basketball this season and it would be stunning if he isn’t on this list at the end of the season. All due respect to McGary, who had a great NCAA Tournament, but Randle is already a more polished player. The bottom line is this, the best player on the best team should be on the All-American team. AP voters might be rethinking this exclusion after watching Randle tear apart the competition all season long.
  4. Mississippi State coach Rick Ray is expecting a number of his players to take a big jump in their second season of college basketball. Ray claims that players improve the most during the summer after their first season. He doesn’t provide statistics to actually back up that claim, but for Ray’s sake I hope he is correct. It looks like Mississippi State will struggle to score again this season, a year after having the second worst offense in the league. Representative of that struggle is the fact that freshman point guard IJ Ready is acknowledged as the top addition to the team. However, as the author points out, Ready is not much of a scorer. This is going to be another long season for the Bulldogs unless a number of their players start making more shots; otherwise, look for another season of low-scoring games and a pile of losses. Good defensive teams will feast on this lineup, in all likelihood packing the paint and daring the Bulldog guards to shoot three-pointers. On top of their offensive struggles, advanced metrics rate the Bulldogs as the worst defensive team in the SEC — marginal improvement by three sophomores is just not going to be enough.
  5. Grantland posted its SEC preview, and the entire article is worth a read. What stood out was the placement of Missouri’s Frank Haith on the hot seat. By all accounts the administration and fans like Haith, and he has been fairly successful in his two years at the school. However, as the author points out, Haith’s teams have shown a disturbing tendency to fall apart at the end of games. That happened to him at Miami too, and in two NCAA Tournament games at Missouri, Haith’s team has yet to give a good effort. Some fans could protect Haith by pointing out that Phil Pressey was always mentally volatile during his Missouri career, but nonetheless this will be a pivotal season for the head coach. If Missouri does not have a successful season and win an NCAA tournament game, Haith will start to lose some of the legion of defenders that he has right now.
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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.)

faceprofile

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 Optimism: Best Case Scenarios in the “East”

Posted by Greg Mitchell on October 29th, 2013

Optimism. It’s what makes this an exciting time of year. You may have an idea what lies ahead for your team, but you don’t know for sure. Surprises happen. A freshman proves that the recruiting services were wrong, an underachieving group of seniors plays with new urgency, or the third-year coach’s offensive system finally clicks. In honor of this cliched “everyone has the same record” feeling, let’s take a glass half-full look at the 14 teams of the SEC. Here’s why each SEC East team will exceed their expectations in 2013-14.

Florida

The Expectation: Top two SEC + Elite Eight

Why They’ll Exceed It: The Gators’ frontcourt is one of the best defensive units in the country, making it difficult on opponents who focus on scoring around the rim (like Kentucky). Patric Young caps off an excellent career and a healthy Will Yeguete joins him in frustrating opposing bigs. Dorian Finney-Smith and Damontre Harris maintain this defensive presence when called upon. Scottie Wilbekin becomes eligible early and finds a chemistry with Kasey Hill in a creative, dual point guard offense. Casey Prather and Chester Frazier make the jump from productive role players to mainline contributors. Billy Donovan has the personnel to ride his pressure defense into the Final Four.

Patric Young's Offensive Rebounds Are One Way To Get Additional Touches (Getty)

Patric Young’s Offensive Rebounds Are One Way To Get Additional Touches (Getty)

Georgia

The Expectation: Lower tier SEC + no NCAA Tournament

Why They’ll Exceed It: Charles Mann learned from playing alongside Kentavius Caldwell-Pope and becomes a premier scorer with good range. Nemanja Djurisic emerges as a versatile scorer, and creates space and slashing opportunities by pulling opposing big men outside. Kenny Gaines benefits from this space and becomes a reliable scorer as well. Upperclassmen Donte’ Williams, John Cannon and Tim Dixon all take a step forward in their development, forming a solid rebounding and shot-blocking trio. Mark Fox also gets immediate contributions from freshmen guards J.J. Frazier and Juwan Parker. This gives him the ability to create mismatches with small lineups full of shooters. The Bulldogs use a progressive system to climb into the middle of the SEC and make the NIT.

Kentucky

The Expectation: First place SEC + Final Four

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Welcome to the Show: Identifying the Freshmen Primed to Make an Impact in the SEC “East”

Posted by Christian D'Andrea on October 23rd, 2013

Fall isn’t just for football in the Southeastern Conference – it also means the start of hardwood action for some of college basketball’s most powerful programs in the South. The SEC suffered through a rough patch in 2012-13. The league sent only three teams to the NCAA Tournament, and one of those – Ole Miss – happened to be a bubble team that blasted its way into the field thanks to a Marshall Henderson-led victory in the conference tournament. This year will be different. A talented group of recruits is ready to help guide the league back to national prominence. Eleven of the nation’s top 25 high school seniors chose conference schools last spring, and they’ll take the court looking to make an impact for their teams as non-conference play begins in November. Today, we’ll look at those difference-making newcomers, starting with the teams of the SEC “East.” We’ll run through each program, along with the one true freshman who is most likely to have a significant impact for his team in 2013-14.

John Calipari once again has plenty of talent to work with. (Getty)

John Calipari once again has plenty of talent to work with. (Getty)

  • KentuckyAndrew Harrison. With six five-star recruits to choose from, Harrison’s spot at the top of the list for Kentucky is a tenuous one. However, the return of players like Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein, along with John Calipari’s history of developing high-level guards, gives Harrison the edge for now. The Texan will step into Coach Cal’s long line of top-flight point guards with the Wildcats this season, joining luminaries such as Derrick Rose, John Wall, Brandon Knight, Marquis Teague, and Eric Bledsoe. The departure of guards Archie Goodwin, Ryan Harrow, and Julius Mays should open up plenty of room in the UK backcourt for the nation’s top point guard recruit. Harrison has the size and athleticism to defend both guard positions and the basketball IQ to command an offense at the next level. He was especially proficient at running the fast break in high school, and he’ll look to push the tempo for the Cats this winter. He’ll have to improve his shooting to become a complete player, but he should have a successful freshman year with Kentucky. Read the rest of this entry »
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SEC Grades: Recapping the SEC “East” Season That Was

Posted by Christian D'Andrea on April 22nd, 2013

Christian D’Andrea is a microsite contributor and an editor at Anchor of Gold. You can find him on Twitter @TrainIsland.

The 2012-13 NCAA basketball slate is firmly in our rear view, and with that comes some valuable perspective. The SEC struggled through one of its worst overall seasons in recent memory, but ultimately the year will be remembered more for Marshall Henderson’s theatrics and another Elite Eight appearance for Billy Donovan than it will be for Mississippi State’s rebuilding or Vanderbilt’s 50-33 loss to Marist. The league may have sputtered in its first season with Texas A&M and Missouri on board, but a slew of promising performances across the south suggests that 2013-14 will bring a return to high-major basketball for the conference.

The SEC Turned Out to be Open to Others This Year

The SEC Turned Out to be Open to Others This Year

With that in mind, let’s look back at how each team in the “East” finished out its season, and what hope may lie ahead for these seven programs. Several of the East’s programs have young cores that will return with valuable experience in 2013-14, and at least five of the division’s teams look like they’ll improve on lackluster seasons. For reference, our mid-season look at the East can be found here.

Vanderbilt

  • Season Summary: The Commodores got what they needed in 2013 – growth – even if it took a long and winding road to get there. Early in the season, Kevin Stallings’ team had been held to just 33 points on two separate occasions and was getting little from veterans Rod Odom and Kyle Fuller. Only Kedren Johnson displayed the proficiency to carry this team through stretches, and the bulk of his sophomore season was played under the stress of a nagging shoulder injury. In the season’s final weeks, things began to fall into place. Odom proved that he could be a key player on a winning team, while Fuller developed into a change-of-pace scorer off the bench. Freshmen Kevin Bright and Sheldon Jeter put together solid performances that showed that Stallings’ 2012 recruiting class may have been overlooked. In all, the ‘Dores finished light years from where they started, and that was the best fans in Nashville could have hoped for after losing their top six players from 2012.
  • Grade: C
  • Reason to be hopeful in 2013-14: Vanderbilt doesn’t lose anyone from its 16-17 squad, and will add four-star big man Damian Jones and former Tulsa guard Eric McClellan to the roster this fall. The Commodores are primed for a return to postseason play.

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SEC M5: 03.13.13 Edition

Posted by DPerry on March 13th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has been named the SEC Player of the Year. Coaches bucked the trend of only selecting candidates from the conference’s top teams, instead choosing to recognize how truly valuable the Georgia guard is to his team. Caldwell-Pope averaged 18 points per game (almost 10 more than the next closest Bulldog), and even led Georgia in rebounds despite standing at only 6’5″. The sophomore from Greenville, Georgia, appeared to be leading a bottom-conference team through the opening months of the season, but Mark Fox’s team turned it around in league play, finishing with a .500 record. Barring a miraculous run in the SEC Tournament, Georgia fans’ attention will turn to hoping their star resists the draw of the NBA and returns for another season.
  2. Billy Donovan has been named SEC Coach of the Year. He led Florida to its third outright SEC title in a season where his senior-led Gators have clearly been the class of the conference. His team enters postseason play on a bit of a sour note, having blown another late lead over the weekend to Kentucky. Donovan had developed a reputation of not putting great defensive teams on the floor, but that assertion should be put to rest after this season. Florida is the nation’s second most efficient defensive team, as only Louisville ranks ahead of the Gators in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive rankings.
  3. Despite not seeing the court for a month now, Nerlens Noel took home a lot of hardware. Kentucky’s freshman center was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Year, the SEC Freshman of the Year, and earned a spot on the all-SEC first team. He is the Wildcats’ only representative out of the 16 players named SEC first or second team this season. Noel might have been one of the last members of Big Blue Nation to learn of his accomplishments, however, as he spent Tuesday having his torn ACL operated on by the notorious Dr. James Andrews.
  4. One SEC bubble team may not have its full arsenal this week in Nashville. Ole Miss starting big men Murphy Holloway and Reginald Buckner have been playing in pain all season, and backup Anthony Perez has missed the last three games with a knee injury. “We really don’t have a (full) front line, so it makes it difficult to practice,” assistant coach Bill Armstrong said. “We’ll just continue to stay the course and prepare the way that we’ve prepared over the last month or so. And just get ready mentally, more than anything else, for Friday.” A likely match-up with Missouri, an SEC team with the personnel to attack a weakened front line, looms on Friday.
  5. Is the end near for Tony Barbee at Auburn? The Tigers underachieved this season, riding a nine-game losing streak to a last place SEC finish. Athletic Director Jay Jacobs, however, has been quiet on the issue. “We haven’t had conversations about that,” Barbee said. “(We talk) about where the team is right now, about how we’re going to play against Texas A&M.” In addition to the Tigers’ poor performance on the court, there seems to be some dissent within the ranks as well. Junior guard Chris Denson revealed that players haven’t responded well to Barbee’s “hard coaching” style. “People are just not buying into what Coach Barbee is talking about,” Denson said. “I mean, he’s a great coach, and people just aren’t buying into what he’s saying.”
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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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