Prather, Randle, Clarkson Emerge as Favorites for SEC POY

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on January 7th, 2014

Conference play finally gets underway tonight, so there’s no better time than now to look at which players have emerged as the top contenders for SEC Player of the Year. The following list definitely omits a number of worthy candidates, but as with any list, debate is encouraged through social media and in the comments section. Also, overall team success was definitely a factor, but not a definitive one. Here are the players who have set themselves up in the non-conference season for a run at SEC POY:

Casey Prather, Florida (17.3 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 28.5 PER, 61.4% eFG, 94.2 dRTG)

It's never too late: Casey Prather has broken out in his senior season (msn.foxsports.com).

It’s never too late: Casey Prather has broken out in his senior season (msn.foxsports.com).

If you’d have asked a Florida fan before the season which Gator would have the biggest impact this year, Prather might’ve been the fifth or sixth player mentioned. But he’s easily topped that list thus far for Florida, turning himself into one of the best players in the SEC. The senior is playing 12 more minutes per game this year, and has built on the solid peripherals that he posted in his junior season. Prather’s emergence has been key for a team that had many important players either suspended or injured to begin the season. The big pluses of his talent (getting to the rim and playing defense) are generally sustainable attributes that should help Florida win a lot of games in SEC play. Florida is the conference’s highest-ranked team right now and Prather has been their best player. For those reasons, he deserves to be at the front of the POY discussion.

Julius Randle, Kentucky (18.1 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 28 PER, 56.6% eFG, 94.7 dRTG)

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Freeze Frame: The Rise and Fall of Jarnell Stokes

Posted by Brian Joyce on December 27th, 2013

The Tennessee Volunteers were expected to compete near the top of the Southeastern Conference this season. Cuonzo Martin’s squad returned stars in Jarnell Stokes and Jordan McRae, regained forward Jeronne Maymon from injury, and added veteran guard and Memphis transfer Antonio Barton to run the point. On paper everything was in order for the Vols to become a real contender, but something hasn’t clicked as the team is currently 7-4 with losses to Xavier, UTEP, Wichita State and North Carolina State. Martin is struggling to find consistency at the point guard position; he occasionally has difficulty reining in McRae on a bad shooting night; and he hasn’t been able to get Stokes to the next level in his performance.

As Jarnell Stokes goes, so does Tennessee.

As Jarnell Stokes goes, so does Tennessee.

While Tennessee has several issues, none are more important for Martin to figure out then Stokes’ ongoing struggles. The junior forward was expected to take a huge leap forward this season, but that hasn’t yet happened. And as Stokes goes, so goes Tennessee. Stokes correlation with the team’s overall results aren’t unexpected, but the strength of the relationship is uncanny. In Tennessee’s four losses this season, the junior has struggled with a significant decline in his offensive rating, usage, points per game, rebounds per game, and effective field goal percentage.

The difference in Jarnell Stokes' performances by wins and losses.

The difference in Jarnell Stokes’ performances by wins and losses.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

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.
Share this story

Tennessee Blows Golden Opportunity For Resume Enhancers in Loss to UTEP

Posted by David Changas on November 29th, 2013

For Tennessee, the causes for concern following Thursday night’s loss to UTEP are numerous. The Vols showed no ability to run any semblance of an offense against Tim Floyd’s triangle-and-two and box-in-one defense, hitting only 34.9 percent of their shots, including 3-for-21 from three-point range. They allowed the Miners to shoot 58.0 percent on the other end, and played a wholly uninspired game against a Miners team that previously had given no indication it would be able to compete with the team many expect to finish behind Kentucky and Florida in the SEC race. And while Tennessee has a long way to go at this point to even be mentioned in the same breath as the NCAA Tournament, it’s still November, and what may be the most troubling aspect of losing in the first round of the Battle 4 Atlantis is that it created missed opportunities for two more games against teams certain to be part of the Big Dance.

Cuonzo Martin Missed a Good Opportunity This Weekend (AP/Adam Brimer)

Cuonzo Martin Missed a Good Opportunity This Weekend (AP/Adam Brimer)

With the loss, the Vols fall into the tournament’s losers’ bracket, and Friday will seek to exact revenge against a Xavier team that dealt them a 67-63 loss in the season opener. While Tennessee appeared to be the more talented team in that game, it got virtually no offensive production from forwards Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon (11 combined points), and shot a paltry 7-of-19 from the free throw line. The Vols also let Matt Stainbrook, who led the Musketeers with 15 points and nine rebounds, control the game. Xavier is expected to finish in bottom half of the revamped Big East, and it is coming off a performance in which it blew a 15-point second half lead and lost 77-74 to Iowa in overtime Thursday. The Musketeers could turn out to be a quality opponent Tennessee will now have on its resume twice, but a win against UTEP would have given the Vols games against the Hawkeyes and either Kansas or Villanova, each of which appears to be sure-fire NCAA Tournament teams. Now, after playing the Musketeers, Tennessee will draw either USC or Wake Forest, neither of which is expected to compete for a bid to the Big Dance.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

SEC M5: 11.14.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on November 14th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. While you were watching the action at the United Center, Jordan Clarkson had a giant game for Missouri against Southern Illinois, scoring an efficient 31 points on 12-of-18 shooting and handing out five assists. What must be refreshing for Missouri fans is that he didn’t commit a turnover despite playing all 40 minutes and initiating the offense most of the game. Phil Pressey did a lot of great things for Missouri last year, but he had the second most turnovers (120) in the SECand too many of these came in crucial late-game situations. Clarkson has had three turnovers in 63 minutes this season and Wes Clark has just one in 38 minutes. These numbers won’t hold up over the course of an entire season, but it’s an encouraging start for a team that had problems coughing the ball up at the point guard position a season ago.
  2. Florida’s loss to Wisconsin Tuesday isn’t one the Gators should hang their heads over, but given how the game began it feels like a missed opportunity. The Gators had a 16-4 lead with under 12 minutes to go in the first half, but as the linked article points out, Kasey Hill‘s second foul and removal from the game led to a stagnant Florida offense. After getting punched back by Wisconsin and falling behind 47-36, the Gators were able to recover and make the game come down to the final minute. But like Alabama against Oklahoma last Friday, Florida wasted a big lead against a quality non-conference opponent. Scottie Wilbekin’s suspension makes the loss all the more frustrating because with another point guard the Florida offense will be less prone to stagnation due to foul trouble.
  3. ESPN‘s Eamonn Brennan wrote about Julius Randle and Kentucky’s cold start against Michigan State saying, “the Spartans forced five steals in the first five minutes, and opened a 10-0 run on the easy (and sometimes spectacular) baskets that ensued. Kentucky’s offense stood stagnant. Randle, UK’s undisputed star, was frustrated by both Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson. Randle had 27 touches in the first 6:30, according to STATS LLC, and exactly zero points from them.” This statistic obviously has to be considered in light of Randle’s eventual 27 points in the game. His physical talent is undeniable and has been raved about ad nauseam on all corners of the internet over the last 36 hours, but the mindset he showed Tuesday night was also impressive. He was flustered to begin the game, continually receiving the ball far from the basket and turning it over multiple times. Despite all of this, Randle recovered to not only have a good game, but a great game. This sort of competitiveness and confidence paired with elite abilities is why he’ll be such a high pick in next year’s NBA draft. It should also carry Kentucky far into the NCAA Tournament next spring.
  4. Rocky Top Talk points out that Tennessee’s inability to get to line against Xavier, and the team’s inability to do anything productive when it got there, was an especially frustrating part of the Volunteers’ season opening loss. Tennessee took only 19 attempts, and shot a paltry 38 percent while there (7-of-19). Jarnell Stokes was particularly disappointing as he didn’t get to the foul line at all. Even though he struggled with foul trouble (eventually fouling out) the Preseason Wooden Award nominee still played 20 minutes and should have been able to get to the line more often. With offensive low post talent and power like Stokes and Jeronne Maymon inside, the Volunteers need to use other teams’ scrambling to leverage the new hand-checking rules to their advantage. Whether they have the ability to cash in on extra opportunities, however, remains to be seen.
  5. Arkansas announced Tuesday that it’ll break ground in December on a basketball-exclusive practice facility that is scheduled to open in 2015. Interestingly, the Razorbacks are the only team in the SEC without a dedicated basketball practice facility, despite one of the biggest college basketball arenas in the country and arguably the second-most enthusiastic SEC basketball fan base. Mike Anderson was promised the new facility during his negotiations with Arkansas in 2011. The new building could be a potent recruiting tool for him, but success on the court is the best recruiting tool. Given the middling results in his first two years on the job, it’ll be interesting to see if he’s still the coach when the first Razorback practice takes place in the new facility in 2015.
Share this story

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.
Share this story

SEC Advanced Metrics Superstars

Posted by Brian Joyce on October 30th, 2013

The concept of advanced metrics certainly has its critics across the college basketball landscape. Basketball players, especially of the young and unpaid variety, are far from robots that perform exactly as their percentages suggest. We know this because Ohio State did not win the 2011 National Championship, Florida was not in the Final Four last year, and I am not filthy rich from winning gambling bets. It is clear that utilizing advanced statistics such as offensive ratings, offensive rebounding percentages and percentage of possessions must be balanced with what we see on the court, but advanced statistics can give us an in-depth look at a player’s potential.

We know Marshall Henderson scores a lot, but how does he fare when analyzing temp free statistics?

We know Marshall Henderson scores a lot, but how does he fare when analyzing tempo-free statistics?

To preview the SEC season ahead, we are going to look at players who excelled in advanced and tempo-free metrics last year in an attempt to predict who will be a standout this season. If we know a player scored 14 points per game, we need to know how many times he shot the ball to know how efficient he was. And just because we know a player scored only four points per game doesn’t mean that he was inefficient, but maybe he didn’t see many minutes or play a large role in the offense. Advanced metrics allow us to take our analysis one step further and hopefully serve to make more accurate predictions. Allow us to present our 2013-14 SEC advanced metrics superstar awards (refer to Ken Pomeroy’s explanations page for help with definitions).

SEC Breakout Players

We are looking for players who were largely role players last year but could become major contributors this season. We are specifically examining players with fewer than 60 percent of minutes played last season. And the nominees are…

  • Michael Carrera, South Carolina – Carrera was just a freshman last season, but his advanced statistical profile was solid. He had a good offensive rating (102.8) despite being a high volume shooter (25.4% shots and 27.0% poss.). The really impressive part, though? He placed in the top 25 in the nation in both offensive (16.0%) and defensive (25.0%) rebounding percentages. At just 6’5”, Carrera finds a way to come up with the ball.  Look for the Gamecock sophomore to become a centerpiece of Frank Martin’s second year in Columbia.
  • Michael Frazier, Florida – A lot of points walked out the door in Gainesville, but Frazier remains. He saw limited action (43.7% minutes) and a limited role on offense (15.8% shots), but he had an offensive rating of 121.2 with incredible three point shooting (46.8%). Can he remain this efficient with an expanded role? His 63.3 percent effective field goal percentage gives us hope that he can.
  • Jabari Brown, Missouri – Brown had a 113.4 offensive rating, a 51.6% effective field goal rate, and was part of a very crowded backcourt last season with the Tigers. The crowd has thinned quite a bit, so look for Brown to take a big step forward this year.

SEC Outstanding Rebounders

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

SEC M5: 10.24.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on October 24th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. The hype is so great around Kentucky that it seems newsworthy when someone doesn’t pick the Wildcats to win the SEC. Five voters in the preseason SEC media poll picked Florida to win the league, and one of them was former Wildcats assistant coach Joe Dean Jr. Dean likes Florida’s veteran edge, and anticipates two great games between the teams this season. Kentucky cruised to the SEC regular season crown in 2011-12 with a six-game lead, and Florida won last season with a two-game margin that was never really in doubt. Having both programs at the level they are expected to be at this season should make for a tighter race. This isn’t to say Tennessee, LSU or another school won’t be in contention too. Dean also had an interesting take on the potential risk of John Calipari adding Kentucky high school stars Dominique Hawkins and Derek Willis to the class: “When I was there, there was a train of thought with Kentucky high school players that if you were going to bring them to Kentucky, they had to be capable of starting at Kentucky at some point in their career. If they were not, then the fan base in Maysville, Paducah, Danville, Pikeville would be upset because they think those kids are the greatest thing in the world.”
  2. Several national college basketball voices have highlighted the drastic difference in penalties handed out to Frank Haith and Bruce Pearl for what appears to be similar misconduct (lying to NCAA investigators). No one will likely ever know what happened in those respective meetings with the NCAA, and it’s possible Haith’s behavior wasn’t as comparatively bad as Pearl’s. Still, there’s no denying that Haith’s five-game suspension looks golden compared to Pearl’s multi-year show-cause penalty and subsequent absence from the sport. But Haith might not be totally free and clear of this scandal once he returns to the Tigers’ bench. His record at Missouri is excellent but he has yet to win an NCAA tournament game, and the lingering stigma of a #15 seed (Norfolk State) over a #2 seed is hard to escape. Haith is by no means on the hot seat, but if his teams continue to disappoint in postseason play, the Miami scandal could resurface as ammunition for boosters and fans that want him gone.
  3. Jarnell Stokes is taking to heart the feedback he received from the NBA Undergraduate Advisory Committee after last season. “It wasn’t anything like you’re too short to play in the NBA or you just don’t have skills,” Stokes said. “They were basically saying you have to be able to run the floor better and find different ways to score, be able to show you can shoot the ball and improve my overall skills.” DraftExpress has Stokes as a late first round pick in its current 2014 mock draft. Like all coaches who have pro prospects on their teams, Cuonzo Martin faces the difficult situation of allowing his players to showcase the skills and development NBA scouts want to see while keeping with the overall team scheme. This is a fine line coaches must deal with since the statement “I can help get you to the next level” is undoubtedly a common refrain on recruiting visits.
  4. Julian Terrell will return to Vanderbilt to serve as the director of video operations on Kevin Stallings’ staff. Terrell played at Vanderbilt from 2002-06 and was a member of the Commodores’ 2004 Sweet Sixteen team. Since then he’s made numerous stops playing abroad. Kentucky video coordinator Tim Asher said that five SEC schools still don’t have positions dedicated to video operations, instead relegating these duties to graduate assistants. Given its importance to scouting, it seems almost irresponsible to not have a full-time staff member doing this type of work nowadays. One would think teams would want every possible advantage, and video wouldn’t seem to be the philosophical jump advanced metrics is for some coaches. However, this could also represent a budget issue for some schools.
  5. Kentucky and UTEP are set to play at Maryland in 2016 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1966 NCAA championship game between the two schools (UTEP was Texas Western at the time). The 1966 game, also the focus of the 2006 movie Glory Road, was historically significant because Texas Western started five African-American players versus the Wildcats, representing the first all-black team to play in a championship game. If it all works out, the game may even take place on Martin Luther King Day three seasons from now. Kudos to both schools for putting this game together; it’s a well-deserved homage to a college basketball game that transcended the sport. Pat Riley (a Kentucky forward in 1966) is the most famous person to have played in that game, so it’ll be interesting to see if he gets involved.
Share this story

20 Questions: Can a Third SEC Team Emerge as a National Player?

Posted by Bennet Hayes on October 17th, 2013

seasonpreview (1)

Throughout the preseason, RTC national columnists will answer the 20 most compelling questions heading into the 2013-14 season. Previous columns in this year’s series are located here.   

Basketball in the Southeastern Conference has long been dominated by Kentucky and Florida. Since 1997, those two schools have combined for four times as many National Championships as the rest of the conference has Final Four appearances. LSU’s 2006 national semifinal appearance was a proud moment for the Tiger program, but outside of that showing and a more recent flourish from Tennessee (six straight NCAA Tournament appearances from 2006-11), it’s hard to find too many SEC teams not named Kentucky or Florida that have made waves nationally. The forecast for 2013-14 doesn’t look a whole lot different than usual, with the Gators and Wildcats climbing into most experts’ preseason Top 25s, the two powers again finding separation from their conference mates. But is there another team in the league capable of surprising the experts and making a push into the national consciousness? The track record of the rest of the conference makes it difficult to be overly optimistic about the prospects of any team making that leap, but a talented Tennessee team with some valuable newfound stability could prove capable of pulling up a third seat at a dinner table that has long sat only two.

Good Luck Finding A Tougher Inside Duo -- SEC Or Elsewhere -- Than Tennessee's Pair Of Bruisers: Jarnell Stokes And Jeronne Maymon

Good Luck Finding A Tougher Inside Duo — SEC Or Elsewhere — Than Tennessee’s Pair Of Bruisers: Jarnell Stokes And Jeronne Maymon

Given the recent success of the Bruce Pearl era (at least when he wasn’t doubling as a grill-master) and the expansive women’s basketball tradition in Knoxville, Tennessee would certainly seem like the most natural program to be poised for a step up in national notoriety. Cuonzo Martin’s first two seasons at the helm in Knoxville exhibited some of that promise, but the Vols would up just short of the NCAA Tournament in each campaign. This season, the talent is in place to not only make the field of 68, but also do some damage upon arrival.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Morning Five: 05.23.13 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on May 23rd, 2013

morning5

  1. The Cleveland Cavaliers won the NBA Draft lottery for the second time in three years on Tuesday night, which means that the team that selected rising superstar Kyrie Irving #1 overall in 2011 will get a chance to pair another potential star next to him. Will it be Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel, Kansas’ Ben McLemore, Georgetown’s Otto Porter, Indiana’s Victor Oladipo, or some other prospect who hasn’t yet risen up the draft boards? Whoever it is, and this is a solid mock with explanations from NBADraft.net, keep one thing very much in mind. If you redrafted the 2010 NBA Draft right now — just three years later — the top overall pick would probably be an overlooked athlete from Fresno State who never so much as sniffed a winning season in two years in the Central Valley, Paul George. So no matter what anyone says between now and June 27 (including ourselves), take it with a healthy dose of NaCl. 
  2. While on the subject of George and his Indiana Pacers, his head coach Paul Vogel took quite a bit of heat last night for removing center Roy Hibbert from the game in the closing seconds, allowing the freight train known as LeBron James to power his way into the lane for an easy layup to win the game (beating George badly to his left, incidentally). Still, Vogel appears to be a rising star himself with the way he has developed this Pacers group, but we’re betting that you didn’t know that his dream job was actually to become a college basketball coach. He got his first start by basically begging then-Kentucky coach Rick Pitino for a spot on his staff as a student manager in the mid-1990s, eventually becoming UK’s video coordinator and alighting to the NBA ranks when Pitino left Lexington for the Boston Celtics. It’s a rags-to-riches underdog sort of story, and one well worth familiarizing yourself with. If Vogel continues to play his cards right in the NBA, he may find that elusive major college head coaching job available to a guy like him after all.
  3. It was open secret for most of the week, but SI.com confirmed on Wednesday that Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski will in fact return as the captain of the Team USA men’s basketball ship for the next three years (which includes the 2014 World Championships and the 2016 Summer Olympics). We’ll have more on this decision later today in a separate post, but while on the topic of international basketball, USA Basketball invited 24 rising freshmen and sophomores to try out for its U-19 team that will compete later this summer in the World Championships in Prague. The most recognizable candidates who will battle for one of 12 roster spots next month are Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart, Duke’s Rasheed Sulaimon, Tennessee’s Jarnell Stokes, and Oregon’s Damyean Dotson. Notably missing from the two dozen players are any of Kentucky’s impressive haul from the Class of 2013, several of whom already have had international basketball experience. But John Calipari says that the group as a whole is itching to get to Lexington and would rather spend their summer months working out to prepare for what everyone believes could be a phenomenal year.
  4. Last week we mentioned that a Brown University player named Joseph Sharkey had been assaulted on the street and put in the hospital with critical head injuries as a result. As of yesterday he remained in a Providence hospital, but the better news is that local authorities have arrested a suspect for the brutal crime, a reserve Marine who served in Afghanistan named Tory Lussier. We’re in no way going to loft unfounded accusations at this “hero” without a full accounting of the details of the night in question, but it’s worth noting that Lussier was already under suspicion for assault of an elderly person from an incident in a Connecticut parking lot last fall. Whether this is the guy who committed such a senseless crime or it was someone else, we really hope that justice is served in one way or another.
  5. There were a couple of notable comings and goings yesterday. In some bad news, Florida’s Will Yuguete had his right knee scoped on Wednesday and is expected to miss the next four months of action. The French wing had suffered numerous injuries during his career in Gainesville, so the hope here is that this particular course of treatment and rehabilitation will allow him to have a strong, injury-free senior season in 2013-14. Up the coast a bit in Storrs, Connecticut announced on Wednesday that center Enosch Wolf‘s suspension for an on-campus domestic dispute has ended. He is cleared to return to the team if he likes, but here’s the catch — he no longer has a scholarship. With the school’s announcement this week of the transfer of GW’s Lasan Kromah, there simply isn’t an available spot left. Funny how things like this work themselves out. Wolf expects to make his decision in the coming weeks.
Share this story

Tennessee Inches Closer to NCAA Bid, Win Over Alabama Could Seal Deal

Posted by David Changas on March 14th, 2013

David Changas (@dchangas) is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from Thursday afternoon’s SEC Tournament game between Tennessee and Mississippi State.

While the SEC has endured a significant amount of well-deserved criticism for its share of mediocre (well, bad) basketball this season (the fact that Mississippi State not only didn’t finish last in the league and was even able to win a game in the conference tournament – albeit against equally woeful South Carolina – is Exhibit A of the league’s futility), perhaps no conference presents more bubble scenarios as we roll towards Selection Sunday. Thus, while the usual Kentucky-related buzz is absent from this weekend’s festivities in Nashville except to the extent the Wildcats are on the bubble themselves,  there is a lot of intrigue about which teams will emerge and land a spot in the field of 68. As of now, it is assumed that only Florida and Missouri are locks for the field, with Kentucky, Ole Miss, and Alabama, and Tennessee seeking bids.

Tennessee Bowled Its Way One Step Closer to the NCAAs

Tennessee Bowled Its Way One Step Closer to the NCAAs

Clearly,  no team is more squarely on the bubble than the Volunteers, who dispatched of the significantly undermanned Bulldogs 69-53 behind 17 points from Jordan McRae Thursday afternoon at Bridgestone Arena. The win arguably will do nothing to help the Vols’ standing in the RPI and with the committee, but a loss would have crippled Tennessee’s chances to receive a bid. Now, they must face a much tougher test on Friday, as they take on co-bubble dweller Alabama. While some view the contest as a “play-in” game of sorts, Tennessee comes in with a better resume than the Crimson Tide, which has no wins over the RPI top 50. And Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin doesn’t think the bid is in question any longer. “I said after we beat Mizzou that we’re in the NCAA Tournament, so I’ve moved past that,” Martin said, unconvincingly, after the game. Still, for Tennessee, Friday’s game is an opportunity to win another game against a quality opponent and solidify its standing with the selection committee.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

SEC M5: 03.12.13 Edition

Posted by DPerry on March 12th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. It’s been exactly one month since Nerlens Noel last suited up for Kentucky, but his time on the sidelines couldn’t keep him off ofthe Sporting News All-Freshman team. Despite playing 6-7 fewer games than most of his competitors, Noel still finished the regular season as the nation’s fifth-leading shot swatter with 106. He exhibited an unpolished (at best) offensive game, but he still scored 10.5 points per game to go along with his 9.5 boards. Marcus Smart (Freshman of the Year), Shabazz Muhammad, Ben McLemore, and Anthony Bennett join Noel on the All-Freshman team, a quintet that comprises 5 of the top 6 picks in NBADraft.net’s most recent mock draft.
  2. Just as the case may be when the real bracket is revealed, the SEC is struggling for representation in Grantland’s yearly alternate bracket. That may not be so bad though. In “The Most Hated College Basketball Players of the Last 30 Years” bracket, Florida‘s Joakim Noah is the only SEC player judged to have been loathsome enough to make the field, “earning” a 2 seed in the 2000’s region. The ponytailed, headstrong Noah didn’t endear himself to opposing fans as he led the Gators to consecutive championships in 2006 and 2007. Let’s break down his chances, based almost solely on personal biases: Noah is a heavy favorite over Aaron Craft, the bracket’s only active player, in the first round. Either Adam Morrison or Luke Walton await in the Sweet 16, but their current irrelevance will hand Noah a victory. Next, we’re in for a clash of titans as Tyler Hansbrough and Joakim Noah meet for the right to go to the Final Four. It’s too close to call for me, but if Noah advances, he’ll challenge Jalen Rose or Larry Johnson for the right to lose to the Duke representative in the final.
  3. Tennessee‘s Jarnell Stokes earned his second SEC Player of the Week honor of the season, tallying two double-doubles in must-win games. Stokes led the way for the Volunteers as they outrebounded Missouri (ranked 6th in rebound rate nationally) by a count of 40-27. He is the only SEC player to average at least 10 points and 10 rebounds in conference play. Elsewhere, Mississippi State’s Craig Sword was named SEC Freshman of the Week for his instrumental role in the Bulldogs’ regular season-ending OT win against Auburn. Sword tallied 19 points, 6 assists, and 5 rebounds and made two crucial free-throws in the extra period to keep Mississippi State out of the SEC basement.
  4. Florida looked like the SEC’s lone Final Four threat through much of the year, but Billy Donovan isn’t a fan of his team’s current trajectory. “I’m disappointed, to be honest with you, in our team’s fire,” he said Monday. “I don’t see it. I don’t see it. That’s concerning to me.” Donovan also noted that he had been far from impressed with his team’s effort in practice leading up to the trip to Lexington. The Gators limped to the regular season finish line, winning only three of their last six games. Although they remain atop Ken Pomeroy’s rankings, recent poor performances from perimeter scorers Kenny Boynton and Mike Rosario are contributing to Florida coming up short in regards to the so-called eye test.
  5. Alabama has struggled to get any production from their frontcourt for most of the season. Carl Engstrom was lost to an early injury, highly-touted frosh Devonta Pollard has failed to live up to expectations, and Moussa Gueye has zero offensive touch. Sophomore forward Nick Jacobs, however, has stepped up for the Tide when they needed it the most. “Nick has shown improvement,” says coach Anthony Grant. “His play is showing that. He’s more mentally and physically ready to handle what he needs to be able to handle.” Jacobs didn’t see many minutes at the start of the season, failing to reach double-digit points until the last game of 2012. He’s rounded into form over the past month, including a career-high 18 points against Ole Miss. Alabama will most likely face Tennessee in their first SEC Tournament game, and given Jarnell Stokes’ recent play, Jacobs will be counted on to match some of that offensive output.
Share this story