Breaking Down the Top 10 SEC Likely Returnees

Posted by Greg Mitchell on April 10th, 2014

No player on the lengthy 2013-14 all-SEC first team will be back next season (barring a couple of unlikely reversals), leaving the conference leaderboards completely up for grabs. The top returnees feature a heavy number of sophomores, and could be shaken up depending on some of the announcements out of Lexington over the next few days. Here are the top 10 SEC players to watch for in 2014-15.

Bobby Portis will anchor Mike Anderson's 2014-15 Arkansas squad (wholehogsports.com).

Bobby Portis will anchor Mike Anderson’s 2014-15 Arkansas squad (wholehogsports.com).

  1. Bobby Portis, Arkansas. Portis’ offensive efficiency stood out most during his freshman year, but he also was in the SEC’s top 10 in rebounds and blocks per game. He also has experience as a marked man as he became the Razorbacks’ primary option as the season wore on. Portis should flourish in his sophomore campaign, especially if Mike Anderson relents and plays him more than 30 minutes per game.
  2. Jordan Mickey, LSU. Mickey had a better statistical season than Portis, but he did so with Johnny O’Bryant commanding the bulk of attention. O’Bryant is now gone, and Mickey will become the Tigers’ top option in the low post. If his jumper continues to improve (39.3% on two-point jump shots) he’ll be a load on offense. Mickey also had the sixth most blocks in the country as a freshman.
  3. Andrew Harrison, Kentucky. Harrison and his brother are expected to return to Lexington, but it wouldn’t surprise anyone if they both left school either. If they do stick around, they’ll look to turn solid play in the NCAA Tournament into breakout sophomore seasons. Andrew gets the nod here merely because his position is more important, but he’ll need to improve on the 1.4 assist-to-turnover ratio he posted as a freshman. He could become a Tyreke Evans-type lead guard who looks to score first and creates offensive rebounding opportunities for his frontcourt with penetration and shots at the rim. Read the rest of this entry »
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SEC M5: 02.10.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on February 10th, 2014

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  1. The book is written on Florida. All you have to do is throw a zone on the Gators, and it won’t matter how stifling their defense is. Well, maybe not. Florida’s offense largely struggled against Missouri’s zone during the week, and then scuffled early against Alabama’s zone on Saturday. But Casey Prather’s ability to find driving lanes (15 points) and effective interior passing (leading to a number of Will Yeguete layups) at the end of the first half forced the Tide to collapse the zone, which opened things up for Michael Frazier and Scottie Wilbekin (three three-pointers each). Florida doesn’t have an abundance of three-point shooting, as Frazier, Wilbekin, and (at times) Dorian Finney-Smith are the only players capable of scaring opponents. But against Alabama they showed they can poke holes on the interior of zone defenses, and make up for that lack of outside shooting.
  2. You don’t have to look far to find big offensive numbers for LSU in its win against previously-streaking Auburn. The Tigers scored 55 second half points. They had five players in double figures. Anthony Hickey had five three-pointers. Jarell Martin’s 11 point performance would be pretty far down the list, but it was an unsung contribution to the LSU win, and kept the Tigers in the game early. NOLA.com’s Randy Rosetta writes, “Martin lit a fire when he followed a Jordan Mickey miss with a slam-dunk and that began a torrid stretch of the 6-foot-9 freshman scoring 10 of LSU’s 15 points over 7 minutes, the last coming on a feathery jump shot from the circle that put the home Tigers in front 16-15 and finally forced Auburn to loosen up inside.” Like with his performance against the Tigers from the Plains, Martin has been quietly coming on lately. Saturday was his third straight game scoring in double figures, after he scored 15 apiece against Arkansas and Georgia. There are a lot of reasons LSU has the look of a team built for March, their recent letdown against Georgia aside. Martin is one of them. The 6’8’’ freshman can score from any point on the floor, and is becoming more consistent. He could be a match-up nightmare down the line, especially since Johnny O’Bryant and Jordan Mickey demand so much attention.
  3. Finally, Arkansas did it. At long last the Razorbacks beat a not-so-terrible opponent on the road by winning at Vanderbilt on Saturday. Doc Harper at Arkansas Fight estimates this was the Hogs first road win over a RPI top #100 team (Vanderbilt is currently #66) in four years, and writes that the win will only mean something if Arkansas builds off of it. They’ll get their chance on the road against Missouri on Thursday, in a game with a little extra juice for Mike Anderson. The third year Razorback coach must be pleased with how his team has regrouped over the last week. The situation in Fayetteville looked dim after a home loss to Missouri, followed by a loss to LSU in which Michael Qualls and Alandise Harris were suspended. But Arkansas responded with wins over Alabama and then shook the road monkey off their back in Nashville. Qualls especially must be feeling good after the Vanderbilt game. In his second game back from his suspension he scored 17 points and hit three-of-five three pointers, helping offset a down offensive night from Bobby Portis (8 points). Momentum has been fickle for the SEC’s bubble brethren, but as of right now Arkansas is headed in the right direction.
  4. South Carolina’s season has been as forgettable as they come. The Gamecocks dropped their 13th game in a row to Tennessee Saturday in Knoxville, and were out of it early. They managed only one field goal in the game’s first eight minutes en route to a 23-point halftime deficit. At 1-9 in conference, their stretch of solid play at the end of December, in which they knocked off previously-unbeaten Saint Mary’s and won five-of-six, seems like a decade away. No one should be piling on Frank Martin in his second year though: the Gamecocks are exceedingly young, have lost Bruce Ellington and Ty Johnson, and have actually been competitive in the majority of SEC games. But the 1-9 record is still unsightly, especially since “parity” has been a common theme in conference play. Every other team has at least three wins and there have been plenty of surprises (i.e., Georgia beating Missouri and LSU, Texas A&M beating Tennessee, Auburn beating Alabama). You would think South Carolina would have come up with at least one more win in such a rocky and underwhelming conference.
  5. SEC teams are littered across Jerry Palm’s latest bubble watch. He has Missouri and Tennessee “on the fence” and Ole Miss, Arkansas, and LSU with “work to do.” It’s hard for me to put see Missouri as being in better shape than two teams it recently lost to in Ole Miss and LSU, however. The Vols and (Missouri) Tigers, do however, own non-conference wins that look better now than they did in the past. Virginia’s ascent into the rankings (RPI #20) and second-spot in the ACC standings will certainly help Tennessee, which drilled the Cavaliers in Knoxville. To a much lesser extent, West Virginia’s (RPI #69) recent string of good play (until an understandable beating in Allen Fieldhouse) could help Missouri. The tournament picture is muddy for the SEC, but at the very least there are a handful of teams in the bubble mix. That’s about all you can ask for given where the conference stands right now.
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The Weekend That Was in the SEC: On Kentucky’s Interior Defense and Sindarius Thornwell…

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 14th, 2014

After one week of conference play, unbeaten Georgia and Texas A&M sit atop the SEC standings along with Florida and Kentucky. While the Bulldogs have to travel to Gainesville for a tough roadie tonight, the Aggies will take on South Carolina and Mississippi State next. It’s not crazy to think that Texas A&M could sit at 4-0 when it travels to Rupp Arena next week for a showdown with the mighty Wildcats. But will Kentucky remain undefeated after visiting Fayetteville this evening? There are a lot of reasons to look forward to this week as the conference race begins to take shape, but first we have to look back at how we got here.

Here are three observations from the past weekend of SEC play.

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  • While Kentucky’s perimeter defense has improved, the Wildcats have allowed offensively deficient Mississippi State and Vanderbilt to play alarmingly well in the post. The Bulldogs scored 36 of their points in the paint, while the Commodores put in 30 down low. Through two games of conference play, Kentucky is allowing opponents to shoot 51.3 percent on two-point jumpers (11th in the SEC), and blocking just 11.8 percent of their overall attempts (seventh). This is an area of major concern for a program that has dominated on the interior since John Calipari’s arrival in 2009.

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SEC M5: 12.23.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on December 23rd, 2013

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  1. It was not a good weekend for Texas A&M. First, the Aggies missed their chance to make a non-conference statement, losing to Oklahoma on Saturday night. News also broke that sophomore guard J-Mychal Reese had been dismissed from the team for a “violation of athletic department rules and regulations.” This isn’t entirely surprisingly because Reese was suspended for a handful of games to begin the season. He was only averaging seven points per game, but given the offensive struggles the Aggies have had at times this season, he’ll definitely be missed. Whether he’ll also be missed off the court is something an outsider like myself will never know. An interesting angle to this story is that Reese’s dad, John Reese, is a Texas A&M assistant coach.
  2. Kentucky’s Julius Randle began his college career with three consecutive games with 20 or more points, but he hadn’t reached that mark since before Thanksgiving until he broke out with a career-high 29 points in the Wildcats’ win against Belmont on Saturday. Randle hasn’t been scuffling, but he reminded the country why his physicality around the rim will make him one of the top overall picks in next year’s NBA Draft. He got to the free throw line 19 times, and while he missed six of those shots, that’s an easier pill for head coach John Calipari to swallow than not getting there at all.
  3. LSU had struggled to close out leads in it’s last two games against Texas Tech and Louisiana-Monroe, but the Tigers were able to put away a quality UAB team Saturday by staying aggressive instead of playing to the clock. ”We attacked them when we had a good lead instead of getting tentative, and that was a big key,” junior forward Johnny O’Bryant said. “We learned from those last two games and realized we have to play well from the start to the end.” The other story from this game was Tiger freshmen not named Jordan Mickey. Jarell Martin has had a frustrating, injury-plagued start to the year, but he scored 12 points after combining for five in his last two games. Tim Quarterman also contributed nine assists, and this went along with a solid shooting night from three for Anthony Hickey and Andre Stringer (5-of-8). If both of those statistics from key freshmen become trends, the Tigers will be in good shape in SEC play considering their frontcourt skill.
  4. Damontre Harris is officially done at Florida, without ever really getting started. The former South Carolina forward transferred to Florida and sat out last season but ended his Gators’ career without ever seeing the floor. Billy Donovan had been frank about Harris’ situation over the last month, saying that he didn’t have much confidence that the suspended big man would ever play for Florida. Harris was a solid role player in his two seasons at South Carolina but his loss shouldn’t affect the Gators all that much. While he would have added some additional depth, the Gators will add Chris Walker to a frontcourt that already includes Dorian Finney-Smith, Patric Young, and Will Yeguete, and there are only so many minutes to go around.
  5. Dare we say Mississippi State is surging? The Bulldogs won their fourth straight game yesterday by beating South Florida in the Las Vegas Classic. This is easily the Bulldogs’ best win of the year, and while USF isn’t a world-beater, they were on a four-game winning streak of their own that included wins over Alabama and George Mason. Mississippi State will likely enter conference play with 10 wins, which is a far cry from where Rick Ray’s team was a year ago. The Bulldogs showed a balanced offense against South Florida, with five players scoring in double figures. There are certainly signs that their 9-2 record is the product of a weak schedule (e.g., 62 percent free throw percentage, 30 percent three-point percentage), but Bulldogs fans’ should take what they can get and enjoy the early success.
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SEC M5: 11.21.13 Edition

Posted by Justin Bridgman on November 21st, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. Auburn will be without one of their key forwards for the time being. JUCO transfer Chris Griffin has to leave the team to attend to a family matter. While we all hope everything ends up being okay in his personal life, there is no doubt Auburn will miss Griffin. He was coming off a 17-point effort against Northwestern State, and presents an inside-outside presence that the Tigers really need. This is an Auburn team that already has shown they cannot defend and they will likely struggle to score a little as well. Griffin will be replaced for now by walk-on Alex Thompson. Thompson gives the Tigers a little size at 6’8″, but his scoring ability is limited. He will have to contribute on the boards and defense to make an impact. Anyone on Auburn willing to defend at this point is an automatic upgrade.
  2. Johnny Jones was not happy with his team’s effort on Tuesday night, despite the fact that they won 81-54. Jones felt the team wasn’t consistent in their shot selection and generally played poorly on offense, including going seven minutes without a field goal at one point. He has a point, LSU has already had a couple games this season where they went long stretches without a field goal. That is hard to watch and not wonder what happens when the level of competition is raised as the team makes a run at a NCAA bid. However, Jones should keep in mind he has a dominant rebounding team, and is currently missing one of his best players. Once Jarell Martin is back, the Tigers offense will have another weapon, and it is doubtful they go through many dry spells.
  3. Look up on the map to Kentucky and surprise surprise, you will find another coach not happy with his team. John Calipari is a master at finding even the smallest thing to criticize about his teams. Right now, he isn’t happy with the way his team is rebounding, and it all relates back to effort. Kentucky is far too big to lose rebounds to inferior competition, so its hard to blame Calipari. As with every minor detail he sets out to correct, Calipari understands that he has the most talented team. That is the case nearly every season. What trips his team’s up tends to be because they take stretches of the game off. The Anthony Davis team was so successful because they combined their immense talent with effort. Same thing with the DeMarcus Cousins team, and effort will be what sets this Kentucky team apart and allows their talent to dominate.
  4. Here is a name to keep an eye on as the season moves along: Mississippi State big man Gavin Ware. He dropped 23 points and 11 rebounds on Mississippi Valley State, and is averaging 15 points and 12 rebounds a game so far this season. The reason Ware took such a big step this year? He has dropped his late night visits to Waffle House and replaced them with early morning exercise. Now Ware is in shape and the Bulldogs can run their offense though him, which is exactly what Rick Ray wants. His ability to score in the post will draw double teams to open up the three point line for the Mississippi State guards, and also give slashing teammates easy layups at the basket. Don’t be surprised when he is giving your favorite team’s big man trouble in conference play.
  5. There really isn’t much basketball related to say about this story, but it is too cool to not pass along. Missouri will host a Make-a-Wish kid during their basketball game this Saturday. This young woman was a former basketball player who was diagnosed with cancer which was discovered after she broke her leg. Now she wants to study Radiology and Medical Imaging. Go read her whole story, it is really amazing, and puts the typical early season coaches complaints into their proper perspective.
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SEC M5: 11.20.13 Edition

Posted by Justin Bridgman on November 20th, 2013

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  1. For the first time in eight seasons, Alabama scored more than 100 points in a game. All it took was playing Division II Stillman to pull it off. Two things worth noting really stood out in the box score. First, the Crimson Tide attempted 31 free throws while Stillman took just nine. Clearly, Alabama was more aggressive offensively, and were able to take advantage of the new NCAA rules. Second, and perhaps more remarkable in the age of the three-pointer, but Alabama made just five threes for the game. They made 32 two-point field goals, yet another testament to their aggressive mentality on offense. That is the mentality Anthony Grant needs from his team when they play better opponents the rest of the season.
  2. Frank Martin is concerned that his team is suffering from a lack of leadership, and it is showing with the team’s bad start. Martin felt that a lack of preparation led directly to the Gamecock’s inability to run their offense against Clemson, in true coach’s fashion Martin hated the team’s defense too. With seven true freshman on the roster, this really shouldn’t come a surprise. While Martin can lean on sophomore Michael Carrera for leadership, that is a lot to ask of a player with just one year of NCAA experience under his belt. As the season goes on, South Carolina will work out their issues, and a leader will emerge. In the meantime, enjoy Frank Martin’s brilliant quotes throughout the article, which include complimenting his team’s defense by calling it “not pathetic”.
  3. When a team is as deep and talented as Kentucky is, someone suffers a loss of playing time. At the start of the season it looked like Marcus Lee and Dominique Hawkins would not be in the Wildcat rotation. Flash forward to five games into the season and the picture has already changed. Lee started his second straight game last night, scoring 10 points and three blocks. Hawkins only scored 3 points, but played 13 minutes in a blowout win. John Calipari likes the way Hawkins brings energy when he plays, something the Wildcats have struggled with at times this season. Lee adds a versatile defensive element that Calipari loves. Lee can lead a press and also protect the rim in half court situations. Exactly what the rest of the country wanted, for Kentucky to find even more depth.
  4. LSU has one of the most talented front courts in the country this season, and their rebounding numbers reflect that so far. Even without start freshman Jarell Martin, the Tigers averaged 53.5 rebounds in their first two games, and added 56 last night. Johnny O’Bryant and Jordan Mickey have been dominating the glass, and even 5-9 guard Andre Stringer has been contributing quite a few rebounds. This is an advantage that LSU should continue to exploit all season long. Not only will it keep them in contention against Kentucky and Florida, but it will cause major issues for teams like Missouri that don’t have much size inside.
  5. Speaking of Martin, his return is still up in the air right now. While there was speculation he might return last night, precaution won out and Martin sat out again. It’s hard to determine the impact of Martin’s injury since he has only played 33 seconds and the LSU big men haven’t missed a beat without him. Still Martin is a five-star recruit and expected to make a major impact whenever he does get back from his injury. The sooner he comes back and develop chemistry with his teammates the better. In the meantime, fellow freshman Jordan Mickey has been a revelation for LSU and added 16 points and 11 rebounds last night.
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Jarell Martin’s Injured Ankle Pressures LSU Backcourt to Produce

Posted by Justin Bridgman on November 13th, 2013

Jarell Martin’s college career got off to a disappointing start yesterday, as he sprained his ankle during the first minute of LSU’s 92-90 season-opening loss at Massachusetts. Martin missed his only field goal attempt of the game, and never returned after the injury. Head coach Johnny Jones has yet to give an estimate on how severe the injury is or how long it will keep Martin out, but he did stress that the team will be extremely cautious with its precocious freshman.

Jarell Martin hurt his ankle just one minute into his college career (Scout.com)

Jarell Martin hurt his ankle just one minute into his college career (Scout.com)

In the short term, Martin’s absence was noticeable in the way Jones worked his rotation. The Tigers missed his presence with the team’s early foul trouble, especially when Johnny O’Bryant was forced to stay in the game with two early fouls. He was the only player scoring for the Tigers at the time, but his presence on the floor led to a third first half foul, costing him playing time later. Had he not been injured, Martin would have been able to shoulder some of the scoring load and perhaps Jones would have been more comfortable keeping O’Bryant on the bench had he trusted someone else to score. Based on how close the game was at the end, and the way LSU struggled to score when O’Bryant was out, it seems safe to assume the Tigers could have won had Martin been healthy. At the very least, LSU would have avoided the scoring issues that plagued them for long stretches in both halves.

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Team Chemistry Over Playing Time Holds the Key to LSU’s Season

Posted by Justin Bridgman on November 12th, 2013

When a team finishes its season on a run and they return a group of core veterans, it is natural to expect them to be quite good the next season. When that same roster adds a top 10 recruiting class, expectations rise even further. For LSU and Johnny Jones, a unique dilemma is going to play out early this season. Jones claims he can play up to 11 guys this season, but with all that talent and only 200 minutes per game to divvy up, someone is bound to get upset.

Johnny Jones is all smiles now, but can he make all his players happy this season? (SportsNola.com)

Johnny Jones is all smiles now, but can he make all his players happy this season? (SportsNola.com)

Can Johnny O’Bryant, Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey learn to play together? They are three of the best players on the roster, and all of them are best suited to play power forward. Martin is going to play small forward even though he played at the four throughout high school. He has some perimeter skills including a great jump shot, but his frame is more suited to play down low. To use him exclusively as an outside shooter would be a disservice to his overall talent. Mickey at the five has rim-protecting skills that will make life easier for O’Bryant, but he will also be taking up space in the lane and forcing O’Bryant to operate around him. O’Bryant will need to adjust and take advantage of all the open shooters created with such a packed lane.

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SEC M5: 04.03.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on April 3rd, 2013

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  1. After three straight seasons of being ousted in the Elite Eight round of the NCAA Tournament, some are wondering if the Gators are capable of making the leap to the Final Four. Marketing of the Final Four has made that level of the Big Dance the standard of success as opposed to a previous round as the ultimate measure (the Sweet Sixteen or even making the Tournament for that matter). “People deem this NCAA Tournament journey of different pinnacles,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “Getting out of the first round, getting to the Sweet Sixteen, getting to the Final Four. At the end of the day for the people that are involved in it and coaching it, there’s no easy exit out of the NCAA Tournament.” The Gators will look completely different next season, losing at least three starters, but the talent level next season could take Donovan back to the Final Four that fans in Gainesville crave.
  2. Regardless of your emotions regarding the Gators failing to make another Final Four in 2013, the Gainesville Sun points out that there is a different way to look at this year. “Florida overachieved this season. This was hardly Billy Donovan’s most talented team, but the Gators found a way to win 29 games.” That they did. And they won another regular season SEC championship, just UF’s fourth in school history. Three straight Elite Eight appearances are nothing to scoff at considering there is no other SEC team that has even made three straight NCAA appearances in the same span. While Florida came very close to a Final Four this year, as previously mentioned, it could be right back in the mix next season. With as much talent as Florida will suit up in 2013-14, there will be no way the Gators can overachieve next season.
  3. Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin will coach the East squad in the 2013 Reese’s Division I College All-Star Game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta on Friday. The game doesn’t have any SEC players participating, but plenty of other talented players will be showcasing their skills. D.J. Cooper (Ohio), Larry Drew II (UCLA), and Rodney McGruder (Kansas State) headline the East team, while Pierre Jackson (Baylor), Mike Muscala (Bucknell) and Kwamain Mitchell (St. Louis) lead the West squad which will be coached by Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg.
  4. Incoming Kentucky center Dakari Johnson found inspiration from an SEC villain to deal with the hatred he might see on the road while playing away from Lexington. “I’m looking forward to it. I want to embrace it,” he said. “I know a lot of people hate Marshall Henderson, but he just embraces it. He lives in the moment and he just does what he does. And we’re going to do what we do.” UK’s next point guard, Andrew Harrison, is already accustomed to playing in difficult environments with his twin brother Aaron. “In Houston, they hate on us no matter who we play or where we are,” Andrew said. “We take that and we turn it around as motivation. It helps us play harder, actually.” Winning, of course, is the ultimate cure when it comes to quieting down a rowdy away crowd.
  5. The SEC will be on full display in the McDonald’s All American game, but LSU commitment Jarell Martin rested for the dunk contest, otherwise known as the Powerade Jam Fest. He is nursing a knee injury that has been bothering him. He will, however, play in the prime time game on Wednesday with several other future SEC foes including six Kentucky players, two Florida signees, and a future Arkansas Razorback. Martin is the 14th ranked prospect in the country according to Scout.com, a site that also has him as the fifth best power forward in the 2013 class.
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