SEC M5: 02.18.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on February 18th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. Kentucky coach John Calipari simply wants his players to play hard, and that certainly didn’t happen for the majority of Wildcats in their 30-point loss to Tennessee on Saturday. When asked about junior guard Jarrod Polson, “He fought,” Calipari said. “He and Julius (Mays) fought. Two guys. Battled. Two guys.” Calipari pointed to experience as being a factor in his team’s response to the pleas for effort. ”Julius is a veteran. (He and Polson) understand you can’t put your head down. You have to compete.” The Cats will have enough trouble winning games without superstar freshman Nerlens Noel in the lineup without having to battle a lack of effort too.
  2. Unfortunately for Kentucky, that was the nicest thing its coach had to say on Saturday. Calipari had more critical comments after his team effectively quit in Thompson-Boling Arena in its first game since Noel’s injury. ”We’ve got a couple of guys that are basically not real coachable,” said Calipari. “You tell them over and over what we want to do, what we have to do, and they do their own thing. That’s where we are.” Frustration may have boiled over after the Wildcats’ worst loss in the Calipari era, but if the showing on Saturday was any indication, life after Noel will not be easy. And Calipari will probably have a lot to say about it.
  3. The St. Louis Post Dispatch officially put the SEC on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament. With the exception of Florida, no SEC team has done what it takes to feel safe on Selection Sunday. As the author hypothesizes, “Will the SEC get just three NCAA bids? Will it get four? Could disaster strike and limit the league to just two berths? The SEC is a bubble conference. It lacks the depth and non-conference victory list of the other major conferences.” Two bids? At this point the SEC would be lucky to find itself with anything more than one. Kentucky is on a downward spiral, Ole Miss doesn’t have a single quality win, and Missouri can’t win a road game, of which it has three remaining. And beating up on each other doesn’t mean much for the league’s overall resume at this point.
  4. Disappointing loss after disappointing loss, the SEC could become the first power conference to send just one team to the Big Dance since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985. Though SEC teams like Kentucky and Missouri don’t currently pass the eye test, other teams don’t either. ”The issue is not so much ‘Is Missouri great?’ because they are flawed with their résumé,” said the Tournament bracketologist for USA Today Sports. “But who else are you going to put in ahead of them? Can you find me 37 (at-large) teams you can put in ahead of them?” Teams like the Wildcats and Tigers simply can’t afford a bad loss, and there are lots of ill-timed traps lurking in late February. However, Saturday’s showdown in Lexington between the two bubble teams could end up as something of a play-in game for the SEC’s second bid.
  5. The legend of Marshall Henderson never ceases to amaze. Though Henderson has captivated the nation with his last second shots and difficult three-pointers, it’s been his gestures, antics, off-the-wall comments, and obscenities that have made him an Internet sensation. And his latest headline-grabbing quote just adds to his repertoire. After putting in 25 points in an overtime win against Georgia, Henderson brought the postgame press conference to a halt with this gem. “If it’s all the same, it’s Saturday night. I’m out,” Henderson said. The man. The myth. The legend.
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SEC M5: 11.21.12 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on November 21st, 2012

  1. Kentucky point guard Ryan Harrow might be ready to return to practice after a mysterious illness kept him sidelined for UK’s first three games of the year. According to Kentucky Sports Radio, “On his radio show earlier tonight, John Calipari said Ryan Harrow was on the treadmill today and he could return to practice on Tuesday.” Calipari also indicated that Harrow lost seven pounds during this time. Archie Goodwin and his 23.1 percent turnover rate would appreciate the return of a starting point guard in Kentucky’s lineup. In all fairness, Goodwin has performed well playing out of position, but Harrow’s insertion in the lineup enables Goodwin to use his speed and driving ability more appropriately in the dribble-drive offense. Surely all of us will miss the quality time we had with Jarrod Polson.
  2. Billy Donovan is looking for more consistency from center Patric Young, who is averaging 10.5 points and 8.0 rebounds per game. “Pat has been maybe up and down in those areas,” Donovan said. “I would like to have seen him rebound the basketball better (against Middle Tennessee State). Two rebounds in 24 minutes. He did get taken out of the game flow wise picking up his second foul.” In Florida’s four games so far, Young has put up performances of 12 points and 12 rebounds, eight points and seven rebounds, nine points and two rebounds, and 13 points and 11 rebounds last night against Savannah State. Young’s rebounding numbers are slightly better than last year, but his offensive rating has taken a significant dip in the early going partially due to poor free throw shooting. In the game against Middle Tennessee State, Young got to the line 11 times but converted on just five of those attempts. Perhaps Donovan will add that to Young’s list of areas to work on.
  3. Mississippi State unveiled new charcoal black uniforms in its Maui Invitational opener against North Carolina. Though “the Adidas Adizero uniforms are 32 percent lighter than previous Bulldog uniforms and are designed to reduce weight and add breathability to keep players lighter and faster on the court,” it certainly did not appear to enhance performance. The Bulldogs were blown off the court by the faster and stronger Tar Heels to the tune of  95-49. At least they looked good while getting destroyed. Maybe there is something to the claim that Mississippi State never plays well in black, or maybe it just doesn’t matter what the Bulldogs wear this year. Mississippi State dropped another game in the Maui Invitational on Tuesday, this time to Marquette.
  4. Andrew Del Piero’s teammates say he is earning his new scholarship with quality play. The former tuba player turned LSU walk-on recently earned a scholarship for his hard work, and now he is going to start earning more playing time for the same reason. “We’ve seen it all summer, his progression from last year to this year in practice,” senior Eddie Ludwig said. “Every day I think he gets better, so it’s no surprise to me. It’s just a matter of him getting more comfortable out there.” The 7’3″ center filled up the stat sheet against McNeese State a couple of nights ago with seven points, four boards, one steal, and one block in a then career-high eight minutes. The Tigers are thin on the frontline, so a hard working and producing 7’3″ center is going to earn a second look, and he did last night with another career high with nine minutes against Northwestern State.
  5. Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy is happy with where his team is at after a 3-0 start to the season. “We’ve won the games that we should have won,” Kennedy said. “It’s been advantageous to us to get these young guys more minutes. Derrick (Millinghaus) was a little shaky, 19 points, four rebounds and five assists in his third college game which will allow him to exhale a little bit, and the other guys are starting to figure out their roles.” Newcomers Millinghaus and transfer Marshall Henderson have been pleasant surprises for the Rebels. Henderson was shooting 47 percent from beyond the arc (prior to last night’s 3-12 slump from the field), averaging 22 points a game (another number on the decline after just nine points). Mississippi won’t get its first real test until December when the Rebels play Rutgers and on the road against Middle Tennessee State. If the Rebels continue to win the games they are supposed to win, it is possible they could be a perfect 11-0 heading into conference play.
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SEC Power Rankings: Week One

Posted by DPerry on November 19th, 2012

Every week, the SEC microsite will post a composite power ranking list for the league’s performances coupled with a short commentary justifying each team’s specific ranking. We’ve been able to see each team in action, but with vastly different degrees of difficulty as far as scheduling, we’ll need to see more before the rankings truly take form.

A perfect night for Erik Murphy propels the Gators to the top spot.

  1. Florida- The Gators’ offense has shown the potential to be dominant. The lineup is bursting at the seams with skilled scorers, both in the frontcourt and backcourt. In going 10-10 from the field, we’ve probably seen senior Erik Murphy‘s best performance of the season, but he should have no problem improving on last year’s breakout campaign. Turnovers have been a concern, but with the reinstatement of point guard Scottie Wilbekin allowing Kenny Boynton to move to the two, Florida should be able to take better care of the ball.
  2. Kentucky- The loss to Duke isn’t a huge concern. The Blue Devils are a quality, veteran team. No, the real problem with the Wildcats so far is the lack of depth. Jarrod Polson, a star against Maryland, was completely ineffective against a more disciplined defense, and John Calipari only trusted Willie Cauley-Stein enough to give him six minutes. The continued absence of Ryan Harrow leaves Kentucky without a true point guard, a role not suited for Archie Goodwin or Julius Mays. Still, in watching the young Wildcats play, it’s tough to argue that they have the highest ceiling of any SEC team.
  3. Missouri- Frank Haith has used his first few games to assess all the new talent that arrived in Columbia this offseason. Auburn transfer Earnest Ross and freshman Negus Webster-Chan have been particularly impressive. We’ll know a lot more about the Tigers after the face three quality opponents in the Battle 4 Atlantis this week. Read the rest of this entry »
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Ten Tuesday Scribbles: On November Rituals, Head-Scratchers, and More…

Posted by Brian Otskey on November 13th, 2012

Brian Otskey is a regular contributor for RTC. Every Tuesday during the regular season he’ll be giving his 10 thoughts on the previous week’s action. You can find him on Twitter @botskey

  1. In what seems to have become an annual November ritual, fans and members of the media tend to overreact in making bold statements about teams and players after just one or two games have been played. While I recognize that is the nature of the “what have you done for me lately?” society we live in, fans and the media alike must take a step back. While some early season wins may appear to be huge and some losses head-scratching, we all must remember that the college basketball season is a long, evolving process. The NCAA Tournament doesn’t begin for another four months. Most teams will play 12 non-conference games before they begin 16 or 18-game conference schedules.  It’s OK to say something nice about a team that came up with a great early season win or to be skeptical of a school coming off a loss you might never have expected, but making statements such as “Florida State is a bust because it lost to South Alabama!” is just plain foolish. While a loss like that certainly gives you pause, we’ve seen this movie before time and time again in November, especially as the college season has started earlier and earlier over the years. A loss to South Alabama is hardly a definitive indicator of how Florida State will perform in 2012-13. It’s just one of 30+ games the Seminoles will play this season. With that said, I do have a couple of questions about FSU. One, does the team miss the steady point guard presence of Luke Loucks from a season ago (nine assists, 17 turnovers against USA)? Two, is Leonard Hamilton’s defense not as strong as we are accustomed to seeing? South Alabama shot 9-of-15 from deep and Buffalo shot 50% overall from the floor in FSU’s second game on Monday. Those are examples of legitimate concerns, but not affirmative statements about how Florida State’s season will turn out. The Seminoles have plenty of time to come together and fix their weaknesses. Just don’t bury Florida State, or any other team for that matter, before Thanksgiving for crying out loud.

    How Much is FSU Missing Luke Loucks Right Now? (Reuters)

  2. There were quite a few of those aforementioned head-scratchers over the first four days of the season. In addition to Florida State, teams such as Mississippi State, Virginia, Rutgers, South Florida, Purdue, Drexel and Georgia all started the season on the wrong foot. Other schools including Oklahoma State, Texas and Providence struggled with inferior opponents but managed to hang on and win. In some circumstances like those faced at Mississippi State, Virginia, Georgia and Purdue, these are teams rebuilding after critical personnel losses. While it’s unfair to blast their November performance, these losses could be a sign of things to come. On the other hand, you could say a team like Drexel just had a bad night. The Dragons are a talented bunch and the overwhelming favorites in the depleted Colonial Athletic Association. Above all, however, the worst loss of them all belongs to North Texas. The Sun Belt favorites, who boast the talented Tony Mitchell, lost to Division II Alabama-Huntsville on Monday night. What does this mean? Not a whole lot in the grand scheme of things but it underscores how important it is for teams to put forth maximum effort every time out. The instances in which a team can get away with an off night have shrunk over the years due to parity and better talent assembled on non-power six rosters. When trying to analyze a team at this early stage of the season, don’t dismiss a disappointing loss but don’t throw the team under the bus at the same time. There is a very long way to go. Read the rest of this entry »
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Polson Gave Cats a Boost, But Calipari Gives Goodwin the Ball Against Duke

Posted by Brian Joyce on November 13th, 2012

Former walk-on Jarrod Polson made for a great story Friday night. He subbed in for starter Ryan Harrow, who was ill with the flu, and provided inspiring play and energetic defense in 22 minutes against Maryland. The junior guard added career highs with three assists and 10 points, including two game-saving free throws with 7.7 seconds remaining. He was the talk of, well, everyone making #Polson a trending topic on Twitter late Friday evening.

Polson came up big for UK against Maryland. (Photo via Kentucky.247sports)

He was, of course, the talk after the game as well with Maryland coach Mark Turgeon. When asked how much his Terrapins prepared for the junior guard to play, he responded, “zero.” Turgeon then said, “We weren’t thinking about him. Then he was the whole key to the game.” So it is only natural to think that when Kentucky fans heard that Harrow would not make the trip  to Atlanta as he still deals with the effects of the flu, the talk turned again to Polson. The unlikely hero was every bit deserving of the publicity he received, but don’t expect him to be the major storyline again.

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SEC M5: 11.12.12 Edition

Posted by DPerry on November 12th, 2012

  1. Point guard is widely considered the biggest question mark in Kentucky’s title defense, and Wildcat fans were hoping to see new floor general Ryan Harrow satisfy the skeptics with a strong debut against Maryland. However, with the NC State transfer battling flu-like symptoms, it wasn’t to be. Instead, Jarrod Polson provided fans with a performance that won’t soon be forgotten. The former walk-on played 22 minutes (by far a career-high), scored 10 points on 4-5 shooting, and coolly sank two clinching free throws in the dying seconds. Why was a complete unknown able to have such an impact? Practice. “One of the overlooked benefits to all those No. 1 recruiting classes Calipari reels in year after year is the daily competition,” writes John Clay, “where terrific players and accomplished athletes go head to head as a matter of routine.” In Brandon Knight, Marquis Teague, and Harrow, Polson has faced a murderer’s row of opposing ball handlers in his three years of practice in Lexington. With competition like that, Maryland’s Pe’shon Howard couldn’t possibly be a problem.
  2. When Rick Ray was hired to replace coach Rick Stansbury at Mississippi State, he wasn’t only responsible for retooling a basketball team. He was charged with rebuilding a program’s reputation. They’ve had plenty of talent over the last few seasons, but the Bulldogs couldn’t shake the dreaded “underachiever” label. Off the court issues plagued the team as well, with Renardo Sidney’s countless shenanigans the most notable. Fortunately, Ray isn’t seeing any lingering signs of questionable character in his players. “The biggest thing I’m happy about with the team so far is they are giving the effort,” Ray told Starkville Daily News, “That is one thing I have not had to coach here so far.” That effort may be all Ray can count on from a team that returns very little talent and boasts very little depth. These deficiencies were exposed in a 56-53 defeat to Sun Belt also-ran Troy (the SEC’s only opening weekend loss). Ray is optimistic about what he sees from his squad, but consider it a surprise if the Bulldogs aren’t sitting in the SEC cellar by the end of the season.
  3. Tennessee wins the award for most misleading score of the weekend. The nine-point margin doesn’t inspire much confidence when the opponent is Kennesaw State (3-28 last season), but the Volunteers were predictably dominant in their season opener. “You have to take pride in dominating teams when you have the opportunity,” coach Cuonzo Martin said after the game. Tennessee held a 25-point lead midway through the second half, before mental slippage (Martin’s term, not mine) allowed the Owls to chip away at the lead. The Volunteers put on a clinic for their Atlantic Sun opponent, shooting over 60% from the field and hitting 58% from long range. Usual high scoring and rebounding forward Jarnell Stokes displayed his versatility by tallying five assists and five steals, both career highs. Tennessee heads to Puerto Rico next, and with possible matchups against Oklahoma State and NC State in the Caribbean, mental slippage will have to be avoided.
  4. Which SEC team utilized the most guard-heavy lineup on opening night? Has to be Missouri right? Wrong. In Alabama’s buzzer-beating win over South Dakota State, coach Anthony Grant relied greatly on his backcourt options, with guards accounting for 66 of the Crimson Tide’s 70 points. Trevor Releford led the way with 18, while Trevor Lacey’s buzzer-beating three gave Alabama the win over a quality Jackrabbits team. The Trevors lead a deep unit, but Grant will need Devonta Pollard to provide some balance in the form of low-post production. The highly touted recruit hasn’t delivered thus far, but his coach isn’t worried. “He’s going to be terrific,” said Grant, “This is a heck of a game for a freshman to come into.”
  5. Missouri will need Michael Dixon to compete with the elite in the SEC, but his indefinite suspension for the Tigers’ 83-69 win over SIU-Edwardsville gave coach Frank Haith quite a bit of freedom to see his backcourt newcomers in action. Dixon and point guard Phil Pressey have unquestioned starting positions, but with no other returnees, developing chemistry and finding the right rotation is paramount for Missouri. Transfers Earnest Ross and Keion Bell joined the starting five, but in going 2-for-10 and 3-for-8 from the field, respectively, neither impressed. Canadian freshman Negus Webster-Chan made a case for more playing time, however, displaying a nice shooting stroke and active hands on the defensive end.
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After the Buzzer: On Aircraft Carrier Games, Kevin Ollie’s Debut, Top Five Dunks of the Weekend…

Posted by Chris Johnson on November 12th, 2012

This Weekend’s Lede. It’s time to put all that preseason chatter on the backburner, and start drawing first impressions, because the 2012-13 season officially got underway Friday night. Unlike the murmuring fizz of an opening that usually christens a new college hoops campaign, we were treated to several high-profile clashes over the weekend. College basketball set out to establish a definitive starting point, and this year (more than any other in recent memory), it succeeded. There are inherent risks to overanalyzing single-game sample sizes, but even after just one weekend’s action, we were able to learn quite a bit about some of the teams headlining the opening weekend. 

Your Watercooler Moment. Stick to Dry Environments (or, Why Naval Ship Games Need to Only Take Place in San Diego).

Things Started Off Well, But Quickly Deteriorated With These Games

When inclement weather forecasts pushed the Syracuse-San Diego State game from Friday to Sunday, you knew this year’s slate of naval ship games were off to a bad start. That game, which concluded Sunday evening with Syracuse pretty much dominating the hometown Aztecs (62-49) in one of the Orange’s rare non-conference games outside the state of New York, was played under gorgeous 60-degree San Diego skies. The two other scheduled match-ups – Ohio State-Marquette in South Carolina and Georgetown-Florida in Jacksonville – did not proceed as planned, as both games were called off when officials noticed condensation developing on both playing surfaces. The Florida-Georgetown game tipped off and ran into the half with minimal fuss. Up the coastline, though, the slick playing surface aboard the USS Yorktown prompted coaches and players from Ohio State and Marquette to mop the court in the hope that some good old-fashioned clean-up work could diffuse mother nature’s influence on their much-hyped shipside season-opener. As both teams quickly learned, the condensation kept coming back, and officials then made the logical move of calling the game off. Spiritually, emotionally and patriotically, the outdoor aircraft carrier games are an excellent idea. Last season’s Carrier Classic, played before gorgeous vistas and naval troops, and featuring two of the nation’s most respected programs in North Carolina and Michigan State, was a definite win. And there have been few times when a college basketball non-conference game to begin the season has drawn so much national attention. It was a special night. Logistically, though, playing basketball games outdoors in November on the East Coast is fraught with risk, and event organizers learned as much Friday. If the aircraft carrier trend is to continue, the games must be played on the West Coast, where a more favorable late fall climate will increase the chances of staging contests without conflict.

Also Worth Chatting About. Give That Man a Contract (Or, Kevin Ollie Has His Squad Playing Hard).

Kevin Ollie Cannot Escape His Former Coach’s Shadow, But With Wins Like These, He May Not Have To (AP Photo/Michael Probst)

The long-term status of UConn’s head coaching job remains unresolved for the moment, but we gained some clarity on the issue Friday night. Its leading candidate, former assistant Kevin Ollie, made a resounding statement to open his one-season job trial by knocking off Big Ten contender Michigan State 66-62 at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. The Huskies lost the core of last season’s underachieving yet talented team, including two first round draft picks (Jeremy Lamb and Andre Drummond) and two transfers (Alex Oriakhi and Roscoe Smith). Backcourt mainstays Ryan Boatwright and Shabazz Napier carried the torch Friday night against the Spartans, with Napier pouring in 25 points on 8-for-16 shooting and Boatwright adding 13. Highly-touted freshman Omar Calhoun logged 25 minutes but finished with just one point, two rebounds and two assists. The season could not have begun in a better way for Ollie, who faces the massive burden of proving athletic director Warde Manuel he’s the right man for the job, the right personality to succeed the legend that preceded him in Storrs. There were concerns as to whether UConn would lack motivation this season, given their ineligibility for the postseason, but that was hardly the case Friday night. The Huskies played inspired basketball against a top-tier Big Ten foe known for its toughness and grit. If I were to grade Ollie’s job candidacy one game into the season, nothing less than an A+ would suffice.

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Alex Len’s Coming Out Party Nearly Spoils Kentucky’s Title Defense Debut

Posted by EJacoby on November 9th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. He filed this report from the Kentucky-Maryland game tonight in Brooklyn. You can find him @EJacobyRTC on Twitter. 

We assumed it was nearly impossible for Kentucky to repeat the kind of immediate, dominant success it had last season with a brand new crop of young players this year. For the first half of their season-opening game against Maryland on Friday night, though, the Wildcats came out on fire and efficient on both ends en route to opening a 15-point lead just minutes into the second half in the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. But it didn’t take long for the inconsistency, poor decision-making, and defensive mistakes that are typical of freshmen players to crop up for John Calipari’s team, which opened the door for Maryland to make a run in front of a very pro-Terrapin crowd. Led by emerging sophomore center Alex Len, the Terps went on a 15-0 second half run and eventually took the lead before seesawing to a tough, 72-69 loss. Len was the catalyst on both ends for Maryland’s near-upset, as the sophomore seven-footer finished with 23 points, 12 rebounds, and four blocks — all game-highs. He shot 10-18 from the field and committed zero turnovers. Despite failing to capitalize with a monster non-conference victory, Maryland and its fans must feel confident about this season’s outlook on the heels of Len’s dominant opening performance.

Alex Len nearly led his Maryland team to a big-time upset win over Kentucky on Friday night (Maryland 247 Sports photo)

The big sophomore showed flashes of greatness last season for Maryland, but he did not put together any dominant performances that could propel Mark Turgeon’s team to big wins. The center from the Ukraine recorded six total games in double-figure scoring last year, and none after February 4. He averaged 4.1 points per game in his final 10 games and amassed just one double-double all season. Tonight was a completely different story, as Len looked much more polished in the paint with offensive moves, finishes at the rim, rebounding prowess, and strong defensive positioning. Len turned national consensus #1 recruit Nerlens Noel of Kentucky into an afterthought, dominating the freshman in the paint as well as beating him down the floor in transition on multiple occasions. Noel had just four points on 2-6 shooting to match his nine rebounds and three blocks. If not for the unlikely late-game heroics of former Kentucky walk-on Jarrod Polson, who scored 10 points tonight after recording a total of seven previous points in his career, the Terps could have left Barclays Center with a defining victory.

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