SEC M5: 11.05.13 Edition

Posted by Justin Bridgman on November 5th, 2013

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  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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ATB: Kelly Ignites Duke, Bubble Teams Fall in Droves and a Breathtaking One-Man Show in the MVC…

Posted by Chris Johnson on March 4th, 2013

ATB

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

The Weekend’s Lede. March’s First Weekend. The regular season is whittling down to it climactic end. After this weekend’s bloated weekend of excitements, where many a conference race were won and lost, only one more weekend remains before conference tournaments begin. The regular season has been filled with excitement and unlikely drama, so in one sense it is devastating to face the end-of-regular-season music. The nearing of conference and NCAA Tournaments is what I like to call the ultimate silver lining to that dour sentiment. That’s right: check your calendars. The Tournament, and the mini tournaments leading up to it, are coming to a TV near you. And soon. What I’m really trying to get at here is that as grim as the prospect of a Saturday afternoon with zero college hoops on tap may be, the treat at the end of the calendar will arrive at a moment’s notice. One phase (the regular season) gives way to a better one (the postseason). That turning point isn’t here yet, so in the meantime we’ll stop by and examine some of the hardwood happenings in various leagues around the country. All systems go:

Your watercooler Moment. Ryan Kelly Helps, a Lot.

The return of Kelly was the deciding factor in Duke's ACC bout with Miami (USA Today Sports).

The return of Kelly was the deciding factor in Duke’s ACC bout with Miami (USA Today Sports).

Whenever someone would mention Duke’s chances of advancing into the deep rounds of the NCAA Tournament, or its seeding prospects, they talked about Duke in two forms. With Ryan Kelly, the Blue Devils are undefeated with wins over Kentucky, VCU, Louisville, Minnesota, Ohio State, Temple and Davidson. Without him they’re not the same team, both empirically and wins-wise, and a mixed run through the ACC underscored the impact of Kelly’s absence on Duke’s collective unit. The conversation loomed as Duke took road losses at NC State, Miami, Maryland, and most recently, Virginia. No one doubted whether Duke would improve with Kelly in the lineup, only whether they could improve enough to regain their nonconference form or, in the most skeptical corners of ACC message boards, whether Kelly would return at all this season. And even if he did return, how much could we reasonably expect from an unconventional 6’ll’’ stretch four with a history of nagging foot injuries? The answer to that question came Saturday. Kelly returned to the Blue Devils just in time for a titanic ACC clash with Miami, who embarrassed the Blue Devils in Coral Gables in their first matchup in January. To say Kelly returned would be like saying Willis Reed “returned” from a torn thigh muscle for game seven of the Knicks’ NBA Finals series with the Los Angeles Lakers. Kelly didn’t just return. He stole the show: 36 points on 10-of-14 shooting in a game that Miami kept close throughout, and was only sealed when Shane Larkin and Rion Brown missed game-tying threes as time expired. It’s unreasonable to bank Kelly for 30 points on any given night. I could even see him sitting out, or playing sparse minutes, in Duke’s two remaining regular season games. If his foot isn’t fully healed, he may need the extra rest to gear up for the NCAA Tournament. What matters is that Kelly is back, and Duke can start working on trending back towards the clear-cut No. 1 team that ruled the hoops landscape in November and December. 

Also Worth Chatting About. Big East Contenders Handle Business.

A midseason Big East panic is a distant memory after Louisville won at Syracuse Saturday (AP).

A midseason Big East panic is a distant memory after Louisville won at Syracuse Saturday (AP).

At the top of the Big East standings, a glut of variously capable teams has positioned itself within striking distance of the conference title at different stages this season. Syracuse and Louisville were the obvious favorites entering conference play, and teams such as Marquette, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame have looked threatening on occasion. The picture has remained muddy for a while now – as it should in a league as naturally competitive and unpredictable in the Big East. As the conference schedule wanes, time and gradual attrition has sliced the pool of realistic challengers into a formidable trio: Georgetown, Louisville and Marquette. The most surprising exclusion expedited its exit on Saturday afternoon at the Carrier Dome, where the Orange engaged in a low-scoring tussle, eventually falling on the wrong end of Louisville’s payback effort from the Orange win at the KFC Yum! Center earlier this season. You may or may not have realized, but the victory was Louisville’s fifth in a row since that devastating 5 OT loss at Notre Dame, the only one of which had any real consequence. The Cardinals are once again locking teams down with the nation’s No. 1 efficiency defense, getting just enough on the other end from Peyton Siva and Russ Smith and peaking just in time for the postseason. With Marquette holding serve against the Irish on Saturday just a week after knocking off the Orange at home, the Golden Eagles stand tied with Louisville in the Big East table, with Georgetown holding down first place after its win over Rutgers Saturday night. Syracuse’s three-game skid essentially dashes its league crown hopes, but more importantly it gives the Orange two straight defeats in their previously unassailable home gym and three straight losses overall. The Orange, strangely enough, are officially vulnerable at home, and officially on the outside of the conference title chase looking in as they round out their last hurrah in the Big East.

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SEC M5: 02.27.12 Edition

Posted by DPerry on February 27th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. The red-hot Tennessee Volunteers extended its winning streak to six games Tuesday night, handing Florida their second loss in three games. Jordan McRae provided most of the offense with 27 points, while Jarnell Stokes (14 rebounds) dominated the glass in a game that was almost a must-win for the Vols to make the NCAA Tournament field. Florida began SEC play with 11 straight victories, looking almost infallible in comparison to the rest of the weak conference. However, injuries have taken their toll (Will Yeguete and Michael Frazier II, most recently) and the Gators have lost some of that shine, maybe enough to completely excuse themselves from the #1-seed conversation. With the loss, Billy Donovan’s record against Cuonzo Martin fell to 0-3.
  2. Anthony Grant charged Trevor Releford with putting the offense on his back through the rest of the season, and he started out in style. Behind 21 points from the junior guard, Alabama avenged an ugly February 6 loss to intrastate rival Auburn with an easy win Tuesday night. Nick Jacobs chipped in with 10 points and 10 rebounds. “We talked about the importance of every game going forward, but obviously any time you get a chance to play your in-state rival that adds a different meaning,” Grant said after the game. Alabama travels to Gainesville this weekend with, unbelievably, a chance to tie the Gators atop the SEC standings.
  3. Believe it or not, Georgia still has a chance to grab a first-round bye in the SEC Tournament. Show of hands: Who thought the Bulldogs would be able to say that at the end of February? Really? Really? Coach Mark Fox will face a challenge tonight, as he brings his young backcourt into the uncomfortable environment that is Vanderbilt’s Memorial Gym, the only venue in the nation that features benches along the baseline. “I’m probably more worried about it this year with such a young perimeter group,” Fox said of the Commodores’ court configuration. “There’s a lot of the game they’ll have to manage on their own on the floor.” Freshman Charles Mann has been seeing more time at the point, while classmates Kenny Gaines and Brandon Morris have earned their share of minutes as well. The Bulldogs have lost three of four games after a previous five-game winning streak.
  4. Andrew Wiggins, the top recruit in the class of 2013 according to both Rivals and ESPN, will take an official visit to Kentucky, probably while you’re reading this. He’s visited the Lexington campus before, but expects to see more than he did on his previous unofficial trip. “He’ll have a chance to meet different people: the academic people, the athletic director,” said Rob Fulford, Wiggins’ coach at Huntington (WV) Prep. “It’s more official as far as what you’re looking for and getting a feel for the school.” The forward originally from Canada is also considering Florida State, Kansas, and North Carolina. Also, watch this.
  5. Frank Haith hasn’t been hesitant to criticize his team this season. His most recent target is his team’s subpar defense on the road against Kentucky. “We had nobody play on that end of the court,” Haith said. “And when you have nobody play on that end of the court, you don’t have a chance. We had so many breakdowns where we didn’t rotate, we didn’t shrink the gap and allowed them driving lanes and loose balls and poor closeouts.” Kentucky entered Saturday’s game with Missouri without any momentum, but the Tigers’ lax defense allowed the Wildcats to shoot over 50% from the field, as well as over 40% from long range. Haith believes that his team only plays quality defense when their offensive game is on, which may help to explain much of the Tigers’ road struggles this season.
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SEC M5: 02.20.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on February 20th, 2013

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  1. After commenting over the weekend that his players are uncoachable, John Calipari backed off those comments slightly this week. He was still upset about bad habits, but remained cautiously optimistic. “All that aside, we can make what we want of this season,” he said. “We could be the story of the year, of recovery and all that. We can do that if they choose to do that.” The Wildcats, however, are running out of time. Calipari and company may have to rely upon the SEC Tournament of which he hasn’t placed much value on the last several years. This year, it may be UK’s only realistic shot at an NCAA Tournament bid.
  2. After a somewhat frustrating and disappointing year last season, Mike Rosario has become a huge part of Florida’s dominance this season. Part of the turnaround is that the guard received a lot of guidance from his coach. “Part of the reason I challenged him so much was when he’s focused on and locked in, he seems to play his best basketball,” coach Billy Donovan said. “When he’s loose, relaxed and not on edge or really ready, he gets a little carefree.” Some balance in the offense has benefited Rosario. His offensive rating is more than 10 points higher while his percentage of possessions and shots are both the lowest they have been in his entire career.
  3. Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy insists that guard Marshall Henderson isn’t a distraction. “Marshall and I have constant dialogue about making good decisions,” Kennedy said. “That was all in fun. He just has fun with a lot of things. Sometimes, I’m envious of his nature. He seems to be enjoying it a lot more than I am.” Kennedy’s comments continue to confirm his unwavering support of Henderson, which has to be comforting for players in the Rebels’ program. And with six games left and the SEC Tournament to follow, what more of the legend of Marshall Henderson do we have yet to come?
  4. After just two points and 10 turnovers in the first match-up with Florida, Missouri’s Phil Pressey played better in the rematch last night (seven points, 10 assists, five turnovers). Frank Haith has faith in his junior point guard. “He’s our guy, love him, and we’re going to continue to help him through it and help ourselves,” he said, “We’ve got to show him confidence and our belief in him. That’s all we can do. I’m not going to shred his confidence by taking the ball out of his hands, for sure. He’s going to be out there at the end of games.” With the best win of Missouri’s season now on the resume, Pressey and the rest of the Tigers have to feel better about the remainder of the season.
  5. The Clarion Ledger makes the case for Georgia’s Kentavious Caldwell-Pope as the SEC Player of the Year. Arkansas coach Mike Anderson agrees. “He’s a big guard that can rebound the basketball,” he said. “He’s a guy that can take over the game. And (Georgia coach Mark Fox) said he has taken over this team. As a sophomore, that tells you what kind of player he is.” Caldwell-Pope is averaging 17.7 points and 6.6 rebounds per game, and has scored in double figures in every game this season. His play had led the Bulldogs to five straight wins in SEC play before a recent two-game skid.
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Seven Sweet Scoops: Trey Lyles Trims List, Andrew Wiggins Sets Visits, and More…

Posted by CLykins on February 13th, 2013

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Seven Sweet Scoops  is the newest and hottest column by Chad Lykins, the RTC recruiting analyst. He will discuss the seven top stories from the week in the wide world of recruiting, involving offers, which  prospect visited where, recent updates regarding school lists, and more chatter from the recruiting scene. You can also check out more of his work at RTC with his weekly column  “Who’s Got Next?”, as well as his work dedicated solely to Duke Basketball at  Duke Hoop Blog. You can also follow Chad at his Twitter account  @CLykinsBlog  for up-to-date breaking news from the high school and college hoops scene.

 Note:  ESPN Recruiting  used for all player rankings.

1. Trey Lyles Cuts List to Six

Arsenal Technical High School (Indiana) five-star power forward Trey Lyles has narrowed his list of schools down to six. Lyles, the No. 5 overall ranked prospect from the class of 2014, is down to Butler, Duke, Florida, Kentucky, Louisville and UCLA. “I’m just focused on those schools,” Lyles said in an interview with the Indianapolis Star“I like the style they play, they have rich legacies, have good coaches and I feel like I could be comfortable at any of them.” The 6’9″ Lyles, a former Indiana commitment, recently took a visit to Lexington this past weekend for the Wildcats’ SEC clash against Auburn. He was also on the Kentucky campus for their Big Blue Madness festivities in October. He has also taken trips to in-state Butler and Louisville and will plan to take official visits to Duke, Florida and UCLA at the conclusion of his junior season. He is currently averaging 22 points, 17 rebounds and seven assists for Arsenal Tech this season.

Top five junior Trey Lyles is down to Butler, Duke, Florida, Kenutcky, Louisville and UCLA

Top five junior Trey Lyles is down to Butler, Duke, Florida, Kentucky, Louisville and UCLA

2. Andrew Wiggins Sets Unconfirmed Visits

The nation’s No. 1 overall ranked player Andrew Wiggins is beginning to make progress with his recruitment. The 6’8″ small forward out of Huntington Prep (West Virginia) has only visited one school — Florida State — on his list of candidates. However, that will soon change. Also considering Kansas, Kentucky and North Carolina, Wiggins has now set tentative dates with each of those three schools. Kentucky will receive Wiggins’ second official visit on February 27 as the Wildcats will host Mississippi State. He was scheduled to be in attendance for Kentucky’s Big Blue Madness festivities in October but had to cancel. He will follow that up with a visit to the Kansas campus on March 4 for the Jayhawks’ final home game of the season against Texas Tech. To close it out, Wiggins will then travel to Chapel Hill on March 9 for the Tar Heels’ ACC showdown against Duke. North Carolina head coach Roy Williams has feverishly pursued Wiggins in the last few months and has really gained steam in this recruitment, however, Florida State and Kentucky are still considered the top two to land the potential No. 1 NBA draft pick in 2014. While those specific dates could change as they have yet to be confirmed, Wiggins timetable is seemingly geared towards the spring signing period which falls from April 17 to May 15. Read the rest of this entry »

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SEC M5: 02.12.13 Edition

Posted by DPerry on February 12th, 2013

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  1. Road wins have been hard to come by in the league this season, but after a win over South Carolina on Sunday, Tennessee is no longer in search of its first. “Finally got that road win, great feeling,” coach Cuonzo Martin said Monday. “Getting on the plane after a road win, that was always one of the things I took great pride in as a player.” Jarnell Stokes is presumably feeling pretty great as well. The sophomore posted his fifth straight double-double with 20 points and 10 rebounds, convincing the SEC to name him the conference’s Player of the Week. Stokes was a disappointment in non-conference play, appearing to be lost without his veteran frontcourt mate Jeronne Maymon; but maybe or maybe not coincidentally, Stokes has been a beast ever since a well-placed call from his coach.
  2. Nerlens Noel is unquestionably the best shot-blocker in the SEC, with Kansas’ Jeff Withey serving as his only real competition nationwide (my sincere apologies, Chris Obekpa). Who is better? ESPN Stats & Info took a look at that question. Noel is certainly flashier by taking advantage of his elite athleticism, but he’s “more of a ‘swatter’, liking to block the ball as hard as he can”, whereas Withey’s blocks more often find their way into a teammate’s hands. A weakness of Withey’s, however, is that he uses only his right hand to defend shots. Noel has blocked 61 with his right hand and 42 with his left, a benefit that can be utilized when caught out of position.
  3. Mississippi State head coach Rick Ray addressed the mystery surrounding Jalen Steele’s suspension, calling the junior’s transgression a “selfish act.” “Now you’re taking away a chance for guys to go out and compete and win because you’ve shortened the rotation,” he said Monday. “I think more than anything you’re screwing your team and you’re screwing your teammates when you get into trouble like that.” The loss of Steele for a few games won’t help the Bulldogs on the court, but the stance from his first-year coach is what’s really important. Let’s be honest, Mississippi State, with a roster short on talent as well as bodies, isn’t headed for a successful season. With a full team, they just might be able to sneak into 13th place in the SEC standings. For a program that had more than its fair share of off-the-court issues under previous coach Rick Stansbury, an emphasis on discipline from Ray is necessary for the culture change he desires.
  4. A road trip to Mississippi State doesn’t usually demand maximum attention from opposing coaches, but Frank Haith isn’t overlooking his upcoming trip to Starkville. His Missouri Tigers, who fell out of both the AP and ESPN polls this week, know that Wednesday is the perfect opportunity to finally grab that first true road win. “You look at the numbers, we haven’t defended well on the road, we haven’t shot the ball as well on the road,” Haith said at the SEC teleconference. “We’re still not defending like I would like us to do. That’s all a mental toughness type thing.” Mizzou’s defeat of Ole Miss was its most impressive win of the conference season and they’ll look to build on that momentum before hitting a tough three-game stretch: at Arkansas, vs. Florida in Columbia, and at Kentucky.
  5. Kentucky is looking like the league’s hottest team after winning five straight, but the Wildcats aren’t the only team on a roll. In case you missed it (and I’m guessing you did), the Georgia Bulldogs have a nice little five-game winning streak of their own. Three of those wins have come on the road, which is extra impressive in a season when home court is being defended so fiercely. Unsurprisingly, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has led the way. Since there is no real secondary scoring threat on the roster, defenses key completely on the sophomore guard every moment he’s on the court, but he’s still producing to the tune of 17.5 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. The Bulldogs will try to make it six in a row this week when Alabama comes to town.
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