Impressions From the SEC’s Thursday Games

Posted by Greg Mitchell on November 21st, 2014

Yesterday was a busy day in the always-interesting world of SEC basketball. Kentucky and Florida were both idle, but the league still managed to go 5-1 with the only blemish being Texas A&M’s loss in an ugly game against Dayton. That’s a successful day considering Dayton sits respectably at #50 in KenPom’s latest ratings and the SEC has already taken its fair share of lumps this year. Small steps, people. Here are a handful of thoughts from yesterday’s action.

Anthony Grant may have the personnel to run an effective zone this season (Bamahoops.com).

Anthony Grant may have the personnel to run an effective zone this season (Bamahoops.com).

  • Alabama flashes defensive potential against Southern Miss. We can finally mention Southern Miss on this microsite without discussing Donnie Tyndall. The story of this game, won by Alabama 81-67, was the potential of its defense. The Crimson Tide are flush with long, versatile guys this season who can play both on the perimeter and in the post. Anthony Grant ran a lot of 1-3-1 zone against the Golden Eagles, and while it didn’t exactly flummox them as they scored a point per possession, the strategy could turn into a nice season-long weapon for Alabama. Consider the personnel in Grant’s rotation: Levi Randolph (6’5’’), Rodney Cooper (6’6’’), Shannon Hale (6’8’’), Jimme Taylor (6’10’’), Michael Kessens (6’9’’) and Riley Norris (6’7’’). All of these guys are either natural wings or can hold their own on the perimeter. Ricky Tarrant also looked at home in picking up three steals out of the zone. It worked last night largely because the Golden Eagles went 8-of-29 from three, but it’s something for opponents to think about going forward.

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SEC M5: Opening Day Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on November 14th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. The SEC, in its infinite wisdom, released a nine-person preseason coaches All-SEC first team and an eight-person second team on Thursday. Imagine the platoon possibilities. The only point of contention I can see here, though — besides the size of the list — is Karl-Anthony Towns landing on the second team. Towns may be the most talented player in the entire country, and it’s confusing to me he didn’t land on the first team considering how Julius Randle was received before last season began. That said, it’s nice to see some less-heralded SEC players like Jarvis Summers and Charles Mann get their recognition as well.
  2. Sports on Earth’s Alexander Goot calls John Calipari the “last honest NCAA coach,” writing a good piece on the way he’s built the Kentucky program along with his ever-present tension with the NCAA. Goot writes, “college basketball has become big business, and John Calipari is the ultimate tycoon. But at least he’s living in reality, and not the absurd amateurist fantasy that the NCAA so desperately clings to.” It’s true that Coach Cal seems to be as transparent as anybody in his position can be in college basketball, and we’d be well-served with more national appreciation for that approach. At the end of the day, every fan base that despises him would gladly watch his players in their school’s colors even if just for a year.
  3. The SI.com’s expert picks article is loaded with SEC thoughts, primarily about Kentucky. Luke Winn and Seth Davis select Kentucky as their national champion, and Davis even goes on record saying, gasp, that the Wildcats could go undefeated. Big Blue Nation is loaded, but haven’t we learned our lesson on that over the last two years? We heard the same chatter before last season, and the Nerlens Noel-led team in 2012-13 wasn’t lacking for hype either. It’s silly, sensationalist talk that creates unrealistic noise around the team. The Wildcats will not go undefeated, but they have as good a chance as any team to cut down the nets at the end of the year.
  4. Not all the SEC thoughts were positive in the SI.com preview piece. Davis, Pete Thamel and Brian Hamilton all chose Florida as the team on which they are not “buying the hype.” Each feels that the Gators are overrated at #7 due to their inexperience outside of Michael Frazier, and how unproven Chris Walker is. Billy Donovan has essentially been saying the same things, if anyone is listening, and it’s likely that the Gators will struggle against a non-conference lineup that features Kansas, Miami (FL), Florida State and Connecticut. But this team has more pure talent than last year’s undefeated SEC squad, and could have a higher upside in March.
  5. The injury problems that plagued Auburn’s Matthew Atewe throughout last season and into the offseason will unfortunately keep the sophomore forward off the floor for an indefinite amount of time. It’s a tough loss for a team with an already-thin frontcourt, but should mean that freshman Jack Purchase and junior Jordon Granger will see more minutes, a good thing in the long run. Auburn’s competitive window truly opens next season when Pearl’s star-studded recruiting class arrives in town. Giving players experience who will (in all likelihood) be a part of that team can’t be a bad thing.
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SEC Season Preview: Ole Miss Rebels

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

The SEC microsite will preview each of the league teams over the next week, continuing today with Ole Miss.

Andy Kennedy might have his deepest team yet at Ole Miss despite the fact he’s replacing the most prolific player of his tenure. Yes, Marshall Henderson is gone, but Jarvis Summers is not. And if you had to pick between the two, you’d be hard-pressed to pass over Summers since he was quite simply one the best players in the SEC last season (ninth in PER). LaDarius White is another senior starter in the backcourt and Kennedy also adds two guards with Division I experience in Stefan Moody and Terence Smith. The frontcourt has its offensive limitations but could go as far as five deep. The optimistic Ole Miss fan sees players like Aaron Jones and Dwight Coleby filling their roles protecting the rim, while Anthony Perez and Sebastian Saiz develop into consistent contributors on offense. Henderson will of course be missed, but Kennedy has some depth to work with in trying to return the Rebels to the NCAA Tournament.

Jarvis Summers will be one of the most heavily relied on players in the SEC this season (bigstory.ap.com).

Jarvis Summers will be one of the most heavily relied on players in the SEC this season (bigstory.ap.com).

Weaknesses. Ole Miss may be deep but the Rebels will need to prove that they can score. Summers is an excellent player but there’s no doubt that he benefited from the focus that opposing defense paid to Henderson manically running around screens. Other than Summers, there are few proven scoring options on the team. White has some experience but is a career 38.9 percent shooter. None of the returning Ole Miss big men scored more than 7.1 points per game last season, although Perez and Saiz showed glimpses of potential. It may be that Kennedy is counting on his newcomers with Division I experience to carry a big portion of the scoring load. Smith (14.6 points per game at Tennessee-Martin) and M.J. Rhett (10.9 points per game at Tennessee State) averaged double figure scoring last season, but those numbers came in the Ohio Valley Conference. Moody scored 15.7 points per game at Florida Atlantic en route to the 2012-13 Sun Belt Freshman of the Year award before off-court issues led him to junior college. There are several glimmers of potential on this roster for Kennedy, but it’s never comforting to rely on players who have yet to suit up for the program.

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SEC M5: 11.05.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on November 5th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. The preview train rolls on at CBSSports.com, and this time Matt Norlander gives his list of the top 20 transfers for the upcoming season, with Auburn’s Antoine Mason, Florida’s Jon Horford and Tennessee’s Dominic Woodson all making the cut. This is an interesting group because each player finds himself in a different position on his team. Mason will be heavily-relied on to score and help Bruce Pearl set a competitive tone for the Tigers in year one. Conversely, Billy Donovan isn’t looking for superstar numbers from Horford, but he’ll need him to be a complementary piece up front. Woodson, as Norlander points out, is a wildcard for Donnie Tyndall because it’s not hard to envision him either as a load on the block or a player glued to the bench for large chunks of time (more on him below). No matter the situation, each of these transfers should have an impact in the SEC this season.
  2. College Basketball Talk released its preseason All-America teams and only two SEC players popped up among the three teams and group of honorable mentions: Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns (third team) and Aaron Harrison (honorable mention). I don’t think this particular lack of an SEC presence deserves an outcry, though. The article points out that Towns is extremely talented but may not get the minutes to rack up All-American numbers. That numbers crunch may also hurt the individual statistics of someone like Dakari Johnson, who at most any other school would probably be getting more preseason hype. The closest non-Wildcats to this list are probably Arkansas’ Bobby Portis and LSU’ Jordan Mickey, but even with my SEC bent I can’t make an argument for their inclusion.
  3. The first Bob Cousy Award watch list, on the other hand, had plenty of SEC flavor. The annual award given to the best point guard in the country included Kentucky’s Andrew Harrison and Tyler Ulis, Texas A&M’s Alex Caruso, Florida’s Kasey Hill and Ole MissJarvis Summers on its initial list. Duke also had two entrants on the 50-man list, and I’d be interested to know if two teams have ever had multiple lead guards on the list before. All the choices make sense, though, and I can’t come up with any omissions. Caruso is a deserving selection since he led the SEC in assist rate last season (36.7 percent), even if he should get more time off-the-ball now with the addition of freshman Alex Robinson. Billy Kennedy needs to put a better offense on the floor and that means having his best players out there regardless of position.
  4. If SEC commissioner Mike Slive has a doghouse for basketball coaches compiling soft non-conference schedules, there is no way Anthony Grant is in it. For the second year in a row, Alabama has one of the more challenging pre-SEC slates. Last season the Tide’s games against Oklahoma, Wichita State, Duke and UCLA fueled the 11th best strength of schedule nationally, according to KenPom. This season the Tide gets return games against Wichita State and UCLA, as well as Xavier, Iowa State and either Maryland or Arizona State. The challenge of course will be winning one of those marquee games, which would be a big stepping stone in what needs to be a bounce-back year for Grant.
  5. You always have to pump the brakes before delving too far into exhibition games, but as Will Shelton at Rocky Top Talk writes, it’s hard to not pay attention at Tennessee given all the new faces vying for playing time. The Vols beat NAIA opponent Pikeville, 80-62, in their exhibition opener, and there were stats galore. One interesting tidbit is that Tyndall started the immediately-eligible Woodson (mentioned above) at center, suggesting his level of conditioning may not be as big an impediment as some thought. Another notable statistic is that Armani Moore, who is coming into his junior year with a 3.1 PPG career scoring average, led the Vols in scoring with 17 points.
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One on One: An SEC Preview With Chris Dortch

Posted by Walker Carey on November 4th, 2014

RTC interviews one on one

Rush the Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you throughout the preseason with previews of each of the major conferences.

With the college basketball season nearly upon us, we thought it would be a good idea to gather some expert opinions on the nation’s major college basketball conferences. As part of our national preview with the SEC, RTC correspondent Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) recently had the pleasure of speaking with an SEC expert in Blue Ribbon College Yearbook editor Chris Dortch (@cdortch).

Rush the Court: How good is Kentucky and what makes it that good? The Wildcats begin the season as the overwhelming favorite to win the SEC title. Do you expect them to win both the conference title and the national title?

Chris Dortch: It would not surprise me at all if Kentucky wins both the SEC title and the national title. I think the team is so good that you can rank both its first five and its second five in the Top 25. The team has nine McDonald’s All-Americans and more talent than I can remember any team in the SEC possibly ever having. Having said that, the Wildcats do have a weakness or two. They have to prove that, other than Aaron Harrison, they have someone who can make outside shots. If they cannot do that, teams are going to try to pack it in the lane and negate their size and dribble-drive. I have said this a few times on some radio shows: If Kentucky shoots 35 percent or better from the three-point line for the season, I think the Wildcats will be undefeated going into the Final Four.

It's Gators and Wildcats at the Top of the SEC, Again

It’s Gators and Wildcats at the Top of the SEC, Again

RTC: Florida’s personnel losses are notable with Scottie Wilbekin, Patric Young, Casey Prather and Will Yeguete all moving on from Gainesville. However, Billy Donovan’s squad seems primed to have another impressive season. What is it about this year’s Gators that will make them a force to be reckoned with in the conference?

Dortch: I think Florida has some experienced personnel and some young guys who I believe are ready to step. Someone like Kasey Hill, who understudied Wilbekin last season, seems poised to take over the point guard position. I think Michael Frazier is one of the best shooters in the country and he is ready to take the next step in his development. Dorian Finney-Smith, who was eligible last season after transferring from Virginia Tech, is so versatile that he was used at the point a few times. He is going to be a guy who is going to be asked to do a lot more than he was last year. There are also a couple transfers who will help. Jon Horford comes over as a fifth-year eligible from Michigan and Alex Murphy comes over from Duke. I think those two will help fortify the team’s front line.

RTC: Arkansas is still waiting on its breakthrough campaign in the Mike Anderson era. With a talented team featuring star big man Bobby Portis, will this finally be the season that the Razorbacks find a way back to the NCAA Tournament?

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Kentucky Dominates All-SEC Picks, Tops Preseason Poll

Posted by David Changas on October 23rd, 2014

The SEC held its annual media day on Wednesday, going to the home of the SEC Network in Charlotte for the first time. Along with the usual glass-half-full comments from each team’s coach, the media selected its all-conference teams and predicted the order of finish in the league. To the surprise of absolutely no one, Kentucky was not only picked to win the league, but it also dominated the 10-player preseason all-SEC team. While shooting guard Aaron Harrison was the only Wildcat selected on the first team, the second team included four more Wildcats: Willie Cauley-Stein, Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Harrison, and Alex Poythress. Aaron Harrison, whose late-game heroics sent the Wildcats past Michigan in the Elite Eight and Wisconsin in the Final Four, was chosen as the Player of the Year. Towns, the only freshman to make the first or second team, is a 6’11” center who most expect to be the best of Kentucky’s latest All-America-filled recruiting class. He was ranked fifth in that class by Rivals.com. Florida, which lost a lot of talent from last season’s Final Four squad, put guard Michael Frazier II on the team, and he was joined by Ole Miss’ Jarvis Summers, LSU’s Jordan Mickey, and Arkansas’ Bobby Portis. The only non-Wildcat on the second team was Georgia guard Charles Mann
Preseason SEC Rankings (first-place votes in parentheses)

  1. Kentucky (20) 280
  2. Florida 258
  3. Arkansas 226
  4. LSU 223
  5. Georgia 204
  6. Mississippi 168
  7. Missouri 123
  8. Auburn 113
  9. Texas A&M 111
  10. Alabama 109
  11. Vanderbilt 89
  12. South Carolina 86
  13. Tennessee 75
  14. Mississippi State 35

It goes without saying that preseason all-conference picks mean next to nothing, but, as always, there were a few surprises. Tennessee’s Josh Richardson, who came on strong during the NCAA Tournament, could have been selected, as he will clearly be the Vols’ best player. Likewise, enigmatic Florida forward Chris Walker, who has already been suspended for the first two regular season games, is primed for a breakout season now that he will be a bigger focus of the Gators’ offense. LSU’s Jarell Martin, who received at least one vote for SEC Player of the Year, was a surprising omission. Certainly coaches are glad to have high-quality players left off of the team, as their perceived snubs will serve to motivate them to prove the media wrong.

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SEC M5: Microsite Relaunch Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on October 15th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. For the second straight year, Andrew Harrison might be Kentucky’s most important player. And for the second straight year, there are many questions surrounding him. CBSSports.com‘s Gary Parrish writes about the opportunity Harrison has to bounce back from a largely disappointing freshman season. Granted, Harrison was the point guard for the national runner-up. He did have his moments in the NCAA Tournament (20 points against Wichita State; 14 points and seven assists against Louisville), but was still plagued with inconsistency throughout the event (24 turnovers in the six games). It’s been awhile since Calipari has had two seasons to work with a point guard, but developing Harrison may be the Wildcats’ surest ticket to another Final Four.
  2. Not much has gone right for Mississippi State‘s Rick Ray during his two-plus years in Starkville, as a seemingly constant stream of injuries and suspensions has been the theme. The latest injury might be the biggest blow of all, however, as news was released this week that junior guard Craig Sword will miss four to six weeks after back surgery to relieve a bulging disc. Backs are tricky injuries and who knows the effect it’ll have going forward, but as of now it is expected that Sword should be ready for conference play. The Bulldogs’ leading scorer became more efficient in his sophomore season, increasing his field goal percentage by eight points to 48 percent and cutting down on his turnovers from over 25 percent to 19 percent. Clearly there is still improvement to be had, so any missed time is crucial for a player that could develop into an excellent SEC scorer.
  3. Another coach who has dealt with personnel issues is Missouri‘s Kim Anderson. The first-year coach has already dismissed Torren Jones and watched Cameron Biedscheid leave the program before ever playing a minute in Columbia. On Tuesday it got worse, as freshmen Jakeenan Gant and D’Angelo Allen were charged with “peace disturbance” relating to a mid-September campus altercation. Theirs are misdemeanor charges, and it’s a relief for all involved that whatever was alleged to have happened didn’t amount to a felony charge. But eventually enough has to be enough for Missouri. This is the third legal incident for the basketball Tigers since last March (albeit two being under Frank Haith), and it has been a dark undertone to the good will Anderson has generated with the fan base and recruits.
  4. Luke Winn and Dan Hanner have a fascinating piece up at SI.com that predicts who the scoring, rebounding and assist leaders will be in 2014-15. What’s different about this piece is that the predictions are based on raw numbers generated by a system developed by Hanner that incorporates advanced statistics, a decade of player data, recruiting rankings and specific coach attributes (like playing distribution tendencies and quality), among other things. Their meticulous formula pegs Ole Miss senior guard Jarvis Summers as the nation’s sixth leading scorer, predicting that he’ll score 18.8 points per game. Summers has been overshadowed by Marshall Henderson over the last two years but should emerge as one of the better guards in the SEC this season.
  5. We’ve all seen high school kids put on hats, but Alabama signee Dazon Ingram brought a fresh take to his recent school announcement. “I told [Tide assistant Antoine Pettway] I wasn’t going to commit to Alabama and he got all sad,” Ingram told AL.com’s John Talty. “Then I told him I was just kidding. He started screaming and said ‘Oh my gosh. Can I call Coach Grant?’” No matter how it happened, the 6’5’’ point guard – the third ranked 2015 recruit in Alabama according to 247Sports – is a nice get for Anthony Grant as he had to fend off Gregg Marshall and Kelvin Sampson to sign him.
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Ole Miss and Kentucky Get Shots at Redemption

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on February 18th, 2014

It’s hard to say tonight’s game against Kentucky is Ole Miss’ last shot at NCAA Tournament redemption. After all, it was only one year ago that the Rebels took the drama out of their Selection Sunday by running the table in the SEC Tournament. But the odds this season are heavily against another automatic bid for Ole Miss. That makes tonight’s match-up with the Wildcats in Tad Smith Coliseum something of a last stand for Andy Kennedy’s team. The Rebels (7-5 SEC) sit alone in fourth place in the conference standings, but they are coming off close road losses to RPI #116 Alabama and RPI #85 Georgia. Those were damaging, no doubt, but the Rebels are not completely dead as they currently rank #67 in the latest RPI. That’s certainly not an enviable position for mid-February, but it isn’t so far out of the picture that a late season run can’t fix their prospects. If such a run is to happen, it needs to start tonight at home against a team that pounded the Rebels a mere 14 days ago.

Ole Miss needs everyone to pitch in on the glass to combat Dakari Johnson and Kentucky's talented front line (bigstory.ap.com).

Ole Miss needs everyone to pitch in on the glass to combat Dakari Johnson and Kentucky’s talented front line (bigstory.ap.com).

So what needs to change for Kennedy’s squad since its loss at Rupp Arena? For one, they can’t get hammered on the boards (-15) like they did in that game, and their last two losses (-23). In their lone win in the last four games, the Rebels edged out Missouri on the glass by one and did so largely by fighting for loose balls and starting the game with better energy. With freshman Dwight Coleby seeing the floor more often in recent weeks, Kennedy now has five bigs he trusts in his regular rotation. The Rebels need these numbers to translate into relentless effort to counter Kentucky’s talented and athletic front line. Ole Miss doesn’t need to win the rebounding battle, it just needs to make sure it doesn’t get out of hand. Of course, that’s easier said than done against the Wildcats. A return to normalcy for Sebastian Saiz would go a long way. If you remove the Missouri game from consideration, he’s grabbed only two rebounds in his last 44 minutes of game action. Saiz still has a healthy 15.7 percent defensive rebounding rate (the highest on the team) on the year, so he can be a big part of cutting into Kentucky’s advantage on the glass.

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SEC Weekday Primer: Chris Walker Is Free Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 4th, 2014

Thank goodness for Tuesday. The weekday portion of the SEC schedule features a bunch of games that don’t move the needle all that much. But Super Tuesday this week brings Chris Walker’s long-awaited release from NCAA limbo and Kentucky’s follow-up to its impressive weekend win over Missouri. There’s also Marshall Henderson on national TV. Yes, thank goodness for Tuesday.

Ole Miss will be in a tough spot if the Wildcats play with the energy they did against Missouri (msn.foxsports.com).

Ole Miss will be in a tough spot if the Wildcats play with the energy they did against Missouri. (Getty)

Don’t Miss This One, Part I

Ole Miss @ Kentucky (Tuesday, 7:00 PM ET). If you’re scratching your head, I get it. Kentucky is fresh off arguably its most complete team effort of the season against Missouri. The Wildcats played hard, played together and got big games from each of their three talented freshmen guards. Ole Miss, on the other hand, got rolled in Knoxville and needed a late rally to beat South Carolina at home. The Vols’ frontcourt overwhelmed the Rebels in the win, and Kentucky isn’t lacking for talented big men. But let me make a case for Ole Miss or, if nothing, at least an intriguing game. The Wildcats enter this game under much different conditions than in their game against Missouri. They are at home; they’re not coming off an embarrassing loss; and they have been patted on the back since Saturday. That could lead to a dip in their overall energy, especially from a young team. The Wildcats almost allowed Missouri to beat them with nothing more than two guards doing most of the scoring. The Rebels have two talented guards themselves in Jarvis Summers and Henderson, and Summers could feast on opportunities if Kentucky’s transition defense is as bad as it was in Columbia. Maybe Kentucky turned a developmental corner in Columbia over the weekend, and if so the Rebels are in trouble. But the chance at an upset is possible here if the Wildcats don’t come to play.

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SEC M5: 02.03.14 Edition

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

SEC_morning5

  1. Kentucky isn’t the only SEC team playing with greater energy these days. LSU‘s effort had been similarly questioned after being pasted at home by Tennessee in their conference opener, and more recently, they had fallen behind by 19 points in a loss to wishy-washy Alabama. But the Tigers followed up their big win against Kentucky last week by racing out to a 15-point halftime lead against Arkansas over the weekend. “We didn’t want to be the team that comes out and gets hit every game,” said Jordan Mickey. “We want to do the hitting ourselves. We want to come out with a lot of energy and hit teams first.” This aggressive play is also attracting more fans to the Maravich Center, as NOLA.com‘s Ron Higgins wrote that the biggest crowd of the season watched the win over Arkansas. Johnny Jones is trying to reinvigorate the Tigers’ fan base, and building on the attention-grabbing Kentucky win with another solid performance should help his cause. It also helped the Tigers’ NCAA cause because they avoided a letdown after an important resume-building win (LSU lost to Alabama after beating Missouri).
  2. Michael Frazier‘s emergence as a reliable scoring option for Florida has been largely overshadowed by Casey Prather’s SEC Player of the Year level season. The sophomore guard led the Gators in scoring (21 points) against hapless Texas A&M, and the way he got those points indicates significant growth in his offensive attack. “Frazier matched a career high with 21 points but only got nine of those points on three-pointers (3-of-11 from beyond the arc),” writes Kevin Brockway of the Gainesville Sun. “Frazier went to the free throw line eight times and if he can do that while making three-point shots, it will boost both his scoring and UF’s scoring.” Frazier has essentially been a three-point specialist this season (taking 75 percent of his shots from deep), and a very good one at that (43.3% 3FG). It’ll be interesting to see he continues to explore driving opportunities as the season winds on. A game against an overmatched opponent like the Aggies is certainly a good chance to try new things.
  3. Auburn is going streaking. The Tigers won their second straight game by beating Georgia on Saturday, and had five players score in double figures in a conference game for the first time since 2010. That’s a stark change from a team that has been in a dead heat with Missouri to see which can get the highest percentage of their offense from the fewest players. The Tigers now head to South Carolina, where a third-straight win is not inconceivable. Despite these recent wins, Tony Barbee‘s job is still probably in jeopardy. The folks at College and Magnolia offered up Toledo’s Tod Kowalczyk as a potential replacement. While they make a good point about his history building up moribund programs (Wisconsin-Green Bay and Toledo), he has no connection to the South. This isn’t a fatal strike against him, but his entire Division I coaching career has been spent on the East Coast (Rutgers, Rider, New Hampshire) or the Midwest (Marquette, Wisconsin-Green Bay, Toledo). He’d be at an immediate recruiting disadvantage because at the moment Auburn is probably best served by recruiting regionally. Some hard work and a couple smart assistant coaching hires could fix this, but Kowalczyk would still be coming from behind at the start.
  4. Don’t look now, but Vanderbilt is on a three-game winning streak and in the thick of the SEC race. Kevin Stallings dipped into his bag of tricks and used a zone more against Mississippi State for a number of reasons. The Tennesseans‘ Nick Cole wrote, “Although typically a man-to-man team, Vanderbilt utilized a zone defense for much of the game to shield against fatigue for its seven-man rotation, as well as to force the Bulldogs, who are last in the league in three-point shooting percentage, into being a jump-shooting team.” Using the zone to save the Commodores’ legs isn’t a bad idea, since Vanderbilt’s season has essentially become a prolonged tournament with their small rotation. Kyle Fuller has been one the hardest working men in the South, logging 40 minutes in five of Vanderbilt’s eight conference games. But maybe enough is enough when it comes to that storyline. The Commodores have played well in the SEC, regardless of how many players see the court every night.
  5. Last week nearly spelled the end of Ole Miss’ NCAA tournament bid. The Rebels were roughed up by Tennessee in Knoxville, and then trailed South Carolina by nine with under 6 minutes left… at home. But Jarvis Summers led an Ole Miss rally, and Red Cup Rebellion summed up its importance. “The importance of winning this game can’t be overstated. Well, let me rephrase: The importance of not losing this game can’t be overstated. The Gamecocks came in with an RPI of #127, and losing to them on the Rebels’ home court could have doomed any shot for the Tournament.” This was the second time the Rebels staved off a potentially resume-tanking loss to South Carolina, as they won earlier by only one point in Columbia. The Rebels play Missouri, Florida and Kentucky (twice) in February, so winning the games they are favored in is even more important. They did that on Saturday, but not without some tense moments in Oxford. LaDarius White (12 points) reached double figures for the third time in four games, and has been nice perimeter counterpart to Summers and Marshall Henderson.
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Ole Miss Emerging as a Dark Horse Candidate for an NCAA Bid

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 21st, 2014

Kentucky and Florida will hear their names called on Selection Sunday — all hell would have to break loose for those two bids to become undone. But is there a third bid, or (gasp) more, out there for the SEC this season? It’s not hard to envision the conference cannibalizing itself to the point that that a potential third bid disappears altogether. But if it does exist, it’s dangling out there for a number of teams to pursue. Tennessee (home loss to Texas A&M), LSU (2-3 in its last five games), Missouri (losses to Georgia and Vanderbilt), and Arkansas (loss to Georgia) are all still viable candidates to do so, but each has slipped lately in its pursuit of it. Ole Miss, however, has built some momentum and is a dark horse for that third bid — assuming, of course, that a third bid turns out to exist.

Jarvis Summers and Ole Miss are a few quality wins away from being a legitimate tournament contender (bigstory.ap.com).

Jarvis Summers and Ole Miss are a few quality wins away from being a legitimate tournament contender (bigstory.ap.com).

The Rebels are a road loss to Mississippi State away from being off to a 4-0 SEC start. That loss in Starkville isn’t a good one, but it came down to the wire and rivalry games are always tricky. Before that, Ole Miss can explain most of its other losses. The Rebels fell in overtime to Oregon (RPI #18) and Dayton (RPI #51), and lost in the final minutes at Kansas State (RPI #32). Not as easy to explain away is a home loss to Mercer, but their RPI (#70) isn’t as bad as it might have seemed (although that will certainly drop during their Atlantic Sun schedule). There are warts, of course, starting with a lack of other quality wins. Ole Miss’ best current win is against LSU (RPI #66), and after that it falls off to Georgia Tech, Penn State or Western Kentucky, each with RPIs north of #120.

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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)

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