SEC Season Wrap-Up

Posted by EMoyer on March 8th, 2012

Eric Moyer is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic Sun Conference and Southern Conference and a contributor to the RTC SEC Microsite. You can find him on Twitter @EricDMoyer.

The Year that Was

  • Kentucky pulled off its 12th undefeated SEC season in history (and 16th overall by any school) with an incredible scoring margin of 16.4 points per game against SEC foes – the widest margin since at least 1996-97. 
  • For the first time in the three years that John Calipari has coached the Wildcats, one of his many talented freshmen did not lead EC freshmen in scoring. That honor went to Arkansas’ B.J. Young. The first-year Razorback averaged 15.3 points per game.
  • While no Wildcat freshman led the league’s rookies in scoring, no  one would argue that his freshest class of Blue Chippers lacked impact. Anthony Davis shattered Kentucky, SEC, and NCAA records in the paint and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist produced some of his best efforts against the nation’s best.

    John Calipari Has Had A Lot Of Reasons To Smile So Far This Season (AP)

  • The league’s two new coaches, Mike Anderson (Arkansas) and Cuonzo Martin (Tennessee) each came from the “Show Me State” and both showed glimpses of excellence during the course of the season. Anderson and the Razorbacks started 17-1 at home before some late faltering has them starring at the NIT. Martin’s tenure opened with a 3-6 start that included losses to Oakland, Austin Peay, and College of Charleston. The season turnaround began with a home upset of Florida on January 7 and the team received an influx of talent when Jarnell Stokes (9.1 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 54.7% FG ) joined the team one week later. The Volunteers closed with eight wins in their last nine games and into “bubble talk” conversation.
  • A year ago, Alabama was left out of the NCAA Tournament despite winning in the old SEC Western Division. This season, Anthony Grant scheduled up, playing and most importantly, beating Wichita State, Purdue, and VCU. The Crimson Tide improved their strength of schedule from 114 last season to 19 this year entering the SEC Tournament. The Tide should easily return to the Big Dance for the first time since 2006.
  • Vanderbilt’s John Jenkins led the league in scoring at an even 20.0 points per game. He became the first repeat scoring champ in the SEC since LSU’s Ronnie Henderson in 1995 and 1996. He firmly established himself as one of the nation’s top shooters, connecting on an NCAA-leading 118 3-point field goals. That total ranks second in Commodore history, and him tied for the second-best single season total in SEC history with Tennessee’s Chris Lofton.
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SEC Morning Five: 03.07.12 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on March 7th, 2012

  1. When you scroll down the star-studded roster of the top ranked Kentucky Wildcats, it is easy to locate a number of future NBA players. However, Darius Miller is not usually at the top of that list. The 6’7″ senior forward has been the glue guy for the Cats for four seasons, and nowA Sea of Blue makes the case that Miller is a legitimate NBA player. “Miller has above average hops, legit NBA 3-pt. range, and the ability to score in the post against smaller players,” said ASOB writer Alex Scutchfield. “He has lateral quickness and can score in traffic. His combination of size, athletic ability and shooting skill are hard to match in college basketball.” But will NBA scouts see it that way? One way to instantaneously grab their attention is to shine in the “One Shining Moment” that awaits Miller and his Kentucky Wildcats.
  2. The 2012 SEC Men’s Basketball Awards were announced, with no big surprises. Kentucky swept the major awards as Anthony Davis was named SEC Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, and Freshman of the Year. The super freshman averaged 14.4 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 4.7 blocks per game. Kentucky senior Darius Miller earned the Sixth Man of the Year award. Finally, Wildcats coach John Calipari grabbed his first SEC Coach of the Year honor. Reigning SEC Player of the Year, John Jenkins, was again a First Team-All SEC selection along with teammate Jeffrey Taylor. Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State, and Florida each had two selections on the First Team.
  3. Kentucky’s Anthony Davis  is accumulating some national attention as well with The Sporting News annual postseason awards. Davis was named the National Player of the Year,  National Freshman of the Year and National Defensive Player of the Year honors. The 6’11” center was a defensive force all season long, but his development on the offensive end throughout the season was the biggest surprise. “I was always comfortable; I was just kind of nervous to shoot the ball, afraid I’d make mistakes,” Davis said. “There was no actual point in the season where I was like, OK, I’ll shoot it now. My teammates are giving me the ball in great opportunities, great spots on the floor. Not that they weren’t doing it at first, but I wasn’t making shots.” The only question now is just how many additional awards Davis will accumulate this postseason. And the guess here is there are many more to come.
  4. How will Mississippi State handle the possibility of having to play several days in a row at the SEC Tournament considering the endurance issues the Bulldogs have dealt with regarding forward Renardo Sidney? “I think we’ll prepare like normal,” said Mississippi State assistant coach Phil Cunningham. “I think we’re just going to prepare for the Georgia game and not worry about after that because, obviously, it is an issue with Renardo but he has done OK. You look at it, we had a situation in new York in November and I know that was a long time ago, but we played on back-to-back nights and played pretty well up there.” The Bulldogs need to win to build their confidence going into the NCAA Tournament, and in reality, they need more than one victory to erase the negativity surrounding a recent five game losing streak. As he has all season, Sidney remains one of the keys to whether or not Mississippi State can be a good team or a great team, and his mental state over the next several weeks could be the difference between the Bulldogs making an early round exit or advancing into the second weekend of the Big Dance.
  5. How safe should the Ole Miss Rebels feel on Selection Sunday? Right now, the Rebels still have work to be done according to the experts. “I think that Mississippi ought to take the attitude that they probably need to just win the whole thing,” said Jerry Palm of CBSSports.com. “Maybe pick up a couple of quality wins without winning the whole thing, you might be able to get in anyways. … I think it’s going to be hard for them to be at-larges.” First, Ole Miss has to get past Auburn, but one of the more interesting second round matchups could be the Rebels against another team on the outside of the proverbial bubble — the Tennessee Volunteers. The Rebels currently sit at number 51 in the RPI rankings with two top 50 RPI wins.
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SEC Set Your TiVo: 03.03 – 03.04.12

Posted by EMoyer on March 3rd, 2012

Eric Moyer is the RTC correspondent for the Southern Conference and Atlantic Sun Conference and a contributor to the RTC SEC Microsite. You can find him on Twitter @EricDMoyer. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

#1 Kentucky @ # Florida- Noon EST Sunday on CBS (****)

  • Kentucky will look to complete its first perfect SEC regular season since 2003. The Wildcats have posted 11 of the 15 undefeated league records in SEC history.
  • At 15-0, Kentucky is one of three schools (Long Beach State – Big West; Texas-Arlington – Southland) in NCAA D-I with an unblemished record in conference play.
  • Florida holds a 2-8 record all-time vs. the No. 1 team in the country, including 0-8 vs. Kentucky. The Gators’ two wins over the No. 1 team came in the NCAA Tournament, defeating Duke in 2000 and Ohio State in 2007.
  • In those eight games, Kentucky has beaten Florida by an average of 29.1 points per game.
  • The Gators have already sealed a first-round bye in the SEC Tournament and can reach the No. 2 seed with a win. If Vanderbilt defeats Tennessee on Saturday, Florida would be guaranteed at least the No. 3 seed,

Vanderbilt @ Tennessee  – 4:00 PM EST Saturday on ESPN2 (***)

  • Vanderbilt’s John Jenkins leads the SEC in scoring at 20.1 points per game. If he finishes atop the league, he will be the first player to lead the SEC in scoring in consecutive seasons since LSU’s Ronnie Henderson in 1995 and 1996. His 115 made three-point field goals leads the nation.
  • Vanderbilt is the only team in the SEC that sports three 1,000-point scorers in Jenkins (1,837), Jeffery Taylor (1,547), and Brad Tinsley (1,192).
  • Tennessee’s 110 wins over the Commodores are the most by the Vols over any opponent,
  • The Volunteers can score the final first-round bye in next week’s SEC Tournament with a win and an Alabama loss.

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SEC Morning Five: 03.1.12 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on March 1st, 2012

  1. After losing two games in a row and four of its last seven, it is time to start wondering what is happening to Florida. In the case of Tuesday’s loss to Vanderbilt, it was simply a matter of not being aware of where the Commodores’ top player and ridiculously good shooter, John Jenkins, was on the floor. “I thought we had a couple of breakdowns where in the zone a couple of times we let Jenkins get loose which is really uncalled for because it’s not hard to locate where he’s at,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “And then there was a couple of plays where there were offensive rebounds thrown back out to him. I thought our rebounding to start the second half really, really hurt us.” Jenkins was the catalyst for Vanderbilt, torching the Gators on six of nine shooting from beyond the arc for 22 points on the night. Defensive pressure remains the key for the Gators as they have lost every game in which they allowed their opponent to shoot over 50% from the field.
  2. The guys at Alligator Army have succumbed to the thought that this is who the Florida Gators are this season, for better or for worse. They zeroed in on the aforementioned defensive troubles, but also discussed a couple of offensive struggles. The lack of a post presence has affected other areas of the offense, severely diminishing Florida’s three-point accuracy. The Gators were eight of 24 from three point land, and got very little production from center Patric Young. Young scored just four points in 25 minutes on Tuesday night. In order for Florida to regain its offensive firepower, it will have to figure out how to replace Will Yeguete‘s intensity and toughness and find a way to get Young more involved in the game plan offensively.
  3. Florida’s loss is Vanderbilt’s gain. The Commodores have been in hot pursuit of another marquee win to add to their resume, and their victory over the Gators prove they are peaking at just the right time. Vanderbilt blog, Anchor of Gold, found solace in the fact that the Commodores won this one with grit and determination. “It’s only one game, but it’s the kind of game that this team has found ways to lose in the past.” With the NCAA Tournament on the horizon, and Vanderbilt’s biggest question mark being its confidence, this win couldn’t have come at a better time.
  4. A Sea of Blue took a fantastic look at what Kentucky did to limit John Jenkins’ looks in the Cats victory over Vanderbilt on Saturday. Kentucky guard Doron Lamb was active in chasing Jenkins off screens and curls making it difficult for Jenkins to get an open look at the basket. Stats are not everything as the guys at A Sea of Blue point out. “It would be tempting to say that Lamb had a bad defensive game – Jenkins did score 18 points and shoot 44.4% (4 of 9) on his threes. But a lot of what Lamb did so well was in preventing shots – an aspect of defense that is more difficult to account for systematically.” In light of Jenkins’ performance on Tuesday against Florida, it’s an interesting read and great analysis as always.
  5. John Clay of the Lexington Herald Leader makes the case that Kentucky coach John Calipari should win the conference Coach of the Year honors. As Clay points out before mentioning others in the league worthy of consideration, “John Calipari should win SEC Coach of the Year honors — his team is unbeaten in the league, for heaven’s sake.” Of course, Cal’s Cats haven’t run the table yet. On Thursday, Kentucky faces Georgia, fresh off a win over Florida, and then the Cats travel to Gainesville for an always difficult matchup with Florida. If the Wildcats finish a perfect 16-0, it will be interesting to see if Calipari makes a strong run at the NCAA Coach of the Year award. This could serve as somewhat of a test of how the rest of the country views this accomplishment in terms of the perception of the strength of the SEC.
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SEC Morning Five: 2.22.12 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on February 22nd, 2012

  1. Billy Donovan’s Florida Gators are trying to take things one game at a time, but it is proving difficult as Florida fights for a higher seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament. “I don’t really talk to them about the seeding and those kind of things,” Donovan said. “I’ve always been a big believer you kind of take care what’s in front of you right then, and now and talking about something that’s going to be two or three weeks down the road, that will come.” Florida insists it is focusing on Auburn, but even point guard Erving Walker admits he “sometimes” checks mock tournament websites like brackets produced by ESPN’s Joe Lunardi. And what is his opinion of Florida’s current placement on those websites? “Joe Lunardi is wrong sometimes,” Walker said.
  2. One team that needs to begin peeking at mock NCAA Tournament sites if it is not already doing so is the Mississippi State Bulldogs. The Bulldogs are currently on the bubble according to USA Today’s latest bracketology. “What’s going on with the Bulldogs,” asks USA Today writer Nicole Auerbach. “Three not-great losses in a row. Need to turn things around quick, but for now, MSU stays in the field because of those three Top 50 wins.” After a tough home loss to Kentucky on Tuesday night, Mississippi State has another chance for a big win against Alabama that could propel the Bulldogs onto solid ground.
  3. Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury prepared for his team’s matchup with Kentucky on Tuesday by taking a shot at former player Twany Beckham who transferred to Kentucky. “I saw his stats the other day in SEC play. Did he make one or attempt one shot,” asked Stansbury. “He’s seeing some pretty good basketball. He’s getting a front-row ticket every night. Yes, sir.” But Beckham fired right back via his Twitter account saying, “that dude wanna coach where I’m playin at…not worried at all”. Although Beckham didn’t play against the Bulldogs on Tuesday night, it certainly added fuel to an already heated rivalry.
  4. Kentucky coach John Calipari played a game of his own, as he praised Stansbury’s Bulldogs relentlessly prior to Tuesday’s showdown.Dee Bost is good. You’ve got guys that could go for 30 (points),” Calipari said. “You’ve got five of them that could go for 30. All the sudden, you’re not just, ‘Stop this guy.’ You can’t do it that way. You’ve got to play basketball and try to make it difficult for them.” While Calipari’s point about the strength of the Bulldogs roster was not lost, not a single player on the Bulldogs roster has scored 30 points all season. But Calipari zeroed in on the most likely player to do so, and the one who has come the closest, Arnett Moultrie. “Arnett could go for 35 or 40 (points),” Calipari said. “It could happen, just like (Jeffery) Taylor went for whatever he went for (23 first-half points) against Mississippi.” Calipari’s motivation tactics worked yet again for the Wildcats as they rallied in the second half on Tuesday night, while not allowing a single Mississippi State player to get to 30 points during the game.
  5. Georgia coach Mark Fox had high praise for Vanderbilt shooting guard John Jenkins after the Commodores defeated the Dogs 61-52 on Sunday. Jenkins buried six of eight three point shots on his way to 28 points.“He’s the best shooter I’ve ever coached against,” Fox said about the reigning SEC Player of the Week. “I mean he’s phenomenal. He really is.” On the season, the Bulldogs have been a fairly strong team in guarding the perimeter shot. The 10 made threes by the Commodores were tied for the most Georgia has given up all season. Then again, it is difficult to defend Jenkins, who is a special player with an incredible outside shot. “We didn’t defend him well today all around,” Georgia guard Gerald Robinson said. “Everybody got a piece, got a taste in zone. The guy can shoot, flat-out shoot it. No ands, ifs or buts about it.”
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SEC Morning Five: 02.21.12 Edition

Posted by EMoyer on February 21st, 2012

  1. The final two Alabama players enduring suspensions, senior JaMychal Green and junior Tony Mitchell, reached some level of closure as Green, who has missed the past three games, was reinstated to return to practice. Mitchell, who has missed the past four games after being suspended for conduct detrimental to the team, will remain suspended for the rest of the season, head coach Anthony Grant said on Monday.
  2. Kentucky hosted the newly reclassified star recruit Nerlens Noel during Saturday’s 77-62 victory against Ole Miss. On Twitter (@NerlensNoel3) he said “Kentucky trip went well. Them fans are suttin else, showed alot of love.” Noel took an unofficial visit to Syracuse last weekend for the Orange’s 85-67 win over Connecticut. He’s also slated to make upcoming trips to Florida , Georgetown and North Carolina.
  3. In his weekly teleconference, Mississippi State head coach Rick Stansbury said Renardo Sidney might sit out his second consecutive game with back spasms when Mississippi State hosts No. 1 Kentucky on Tuesday.“I’ll probably know at game time, if you want to know the truth,” Stansbury said. “It’s very obvious we need his big body out there, especially with our lack of depth. That’s the thing. We missed him over there Saturday with just giving us another guy you can throw in the block who can score. We need that depth defensively in there, body-wise. It’s very obvious — against a Kentucky team, as talented as they are — you need everybody you can possibly get. We don’t just need his body, we need his body to play well for us to have any chance at all.”
  4. Florida head coach Billy Donovan said he’s hopeful Mike Rosario will return for Tuesday’s game with Auburn. “I would say that he can sometimes be a little bit over-cautious, whether it be his lower back dealing with a disk problem or a sprained ankle,” Donovan said. “He gets worried a lot of times mentally, himself, that he’s going to re-injure himself or hurt himself where he doesn’t feel right.” Rosario, who has missed six games this season, returned to practice last week but pulled himself out when the hip pointer started to bother him.
  5. The SEC announced its weekly awards with Vanderbilt junior John Jenkins earning his third career Player of the Week award (his first of 2011-12) and Florida’s Bradley Beal claiming his sixth Freshman of the Week honor. Jenkins, who won twice during his sophomore campaign, averaged 27.0 points per game in wins at Ole Miss and Georgia. He shot 81.3% from the floor (13-16), 83.3% from three (10-12), and 85.7% from the free throw line (18-21).  Beal averaged 17.5 points per game in helping the Gators score a pair of road wins at Alabama and Arkansas. He also averaged 8.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 2.0 blocks and 2.0 steals per game.
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Deconstructing Vanderbilt Heading Into the Stretch Run

Posted by rtmsf on February 9th, 2012

David Changas is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from the Vanderbilt-LSU game in Nashville last night.

The Vanderbilt Commodores continue to be one of college basketball’s biggest enigmas.  It is hard to understand how such an experienced team with so much talent has managed to lose seven games this season. Senior center Festus Ezeli, who has missed practice time over the past week nursing a knee injury, was dominant inside, scoring 21 points in just 27 minutes of action against talented LSU center Justin Hamilton.  Meanwhile, Jeffery Taylor and John Jenkins combined to go 8-of-12 from behind the arc, and showed why the Commodores could be dangerous come March.  The three-headed monster combined for 60 of Vanderbilt’s 76 points in the Commodores’ 15-point victory in Nashville.

Festus Ezeli Has a Huge Test Against Anthony Davis Upcoming (AP/Mark Humphrey)

As impressive as Vanderbilt was in the second half, its first half performance was equally perplexing.  The Commodores were suffering from a hangover from last week’s losses at Arkansas and Florida, or were looking ahead to Saturday’s ESPN prime time tilt with top-ranked Kentucky.  Whatever Kevin Stallings said to his team at the break got it going, as the Commodores outscored the Tigers 49-34 after intermission. Stallings was pleased with his team’s effort and saw this game as a challenge. “I expected a hard-fought game, and got one.  I was proud of my team.  I thought we showed our experience there at the end of the game,” he said. Stallings was also pleased with what he got from his bench.  The reserves’ contributions may not have been noticeable on the stat sheet (four points), but Stallings thought they gave his team a lift. “I thought our bench played very well tonight. I thought [it] was very, very solid, and that’s what we need from them.”

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Honoring 25 Years of the Three-Point Shot in the SEC

Posted by EMoyer on January 26th, 2012

Over the past few days, ESPN has taken to looking back at the 25-year history of three-point shot, so it seemed only appropriate to give our own rankings of some of the best shooters from distance the SEC has seen since the introduction of the shot in 1986. So in alphabetical order, here is one man’s list.

You Know the SEC's All-Time Three-Point Marksman Would Be On This List

  • Barry Booker, Vanderbilt, 1986-89 (246 3FG, 46.0%). Booker arrived in Nashville the same year the three-point shot arrived in college basketball. All he did was establish the conference record for three-point proficiency (minimum 300 attempts) and helped start the Commodores’ streak of three-point field goals. Vandy has made a trey in all 816 games they’ve played since 1986-87, joining UNLV and Princeton as the only three schools to make at least one in every game the arc has existed.
  • Pat Bradley, Arkansas, 1996-99 (366 3FG, 40.0%): Bradley arrived on the scene the year after Scotty Thurman departed. Bradley shattered Thurman’s records for makes and attempts and set the SEC record for consecutive games with one three with 60 straight, 13 better than the previous record.
  • Travis Ford, Kentucky, 1991-94 (190 3FG, 44.5%): Paired with Jamal Mashburn, the Missouri transfer helped the Wildcats return to the Final Four in 1993. He established the SEC’s single-season three-point percentage mark that season shooting an incredible 52.9% from the arc (101-for-191).
  • Shan Foster, Vanderbilt, 2005-08 (367 3FG, 42.1%): While Chris Lofton shined as the league’s pre-eminent three-point marksman, within the same state, Foster more than held his own. Entering his senior year as a 39.7% shooter, Foster made an SEC single-season record 134 threes in 2008 en route to earning SEC Player of the Year.
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Set Your TiVo: 01.20 – 01.22

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 21st, 2012

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

Cincinnati and Vanderbilt will look to keep rolling but a Big 12 clash highlights Saturday’s slate.

#5 Missouri @ #3 Baylor – 2:00 PM EST Saturday on ESPN (*****)

This Clash Between Big 12 Powers Offers a Contrast in Strengths

  • This game could really come down to which team imposes its will. For Missouri, it would love nothing more than to speed the game up, force turnovers and not let Baylor get set in its half court defense. Missouri’s strength is its guard play. Frank Haith employs a four-guard lineup and it has worked wonders this season. The Tigers have shot the ball very well this season and that’s going to have to continue on the road in Waco. Missouri has struggled against teams with bigger front lines so its guards must shoot well if penetration is cut off and Ricardo Ratliffe is limited inside by Baylor’s trees. Kim English, Michael Dixon and Marcus Denmon can flat out shoot the basketball and Haith will need all three contributing in order to beat Baylor. It will be a bonus if Ratliffe can get anything going inside but Mizzou’s guards must continue to make shots in a tough environment.
  • Baylor is the stronger team inside and Scott Drew knows it. Getting Perry Jones III to assert himself in the paint along with Quincy Acy could be the key for the Bears in this game. Baylor will have the home crowd and energy behind itself and capitalizing on that is going to be very important against a team that loves to speed you up and force turnovers. In order for Jones and Acy to get the ball, Baylor’s guard play must be up to the task. Missouri will pressure Pierre Jackson and A.J. Walton all game because the Tigers need to run up the turnovers and transition points in order to offset what should be a significant Baylor edge on the glass. If Baylor can slow the game down a bit, limit turnovers and get the ball inside, it should be on its way to a win. If Jones III and Acy are hot in the paint, that will open up Brady Heslip and Jackson from deep. Jackson does so much for this team with penetration, passing and shooting ability but Heslip is great spotting up or coming off a screen. Baylor has multiple weapons of varying height, something Missouri may have a very hard time dealing with.
  • As we said, Missouri must speed the game up and create turnovers against the turnover-prone Bears. Ratliffe is a very good post player but we’re not sure if he’s going to be able to score consistently as the only Mizzou big man against Baylor’s immense height in the paint. If Missouri can’t get anything inside it must knock down deep shots and get to the free throw line. The Tigers shoot 77.6% from the charity stripe and that could end up being their most efficient way of scoring against Baylor aside from the three ball. Baylor didn’t defend well against Kansas but Missouri was exposed in a tough environment at Kansas State. If Baylor is physical and sticks to the game plan of good half court offense, the Bears should win. Missouri should play better in its second time on the road against a very good team but you have to favor Baylor at home given the size mismatch.

Cincinnati @ West Virginia – 3:00 PM EST Saturday on ESPNU (****)

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Night Line: Is Vanderbilt Back? Commodores Are Getting Stronger Every Game

Posted by EJacoby on January 20th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is an RTC contributor and correspondent. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. Night Line will run on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s slate of games.

The popularity of Alabama’s basketball team might pale in comparison to that of its National Championship football squad, but the boys on the hardwood win its games in a similar fashion: defense, defense, and more defense. So the fact that Vanderbilt showed up in Tuscaloosa on Thursday night with the more physical defensive effort was impressive, especially considering how poor the Commodores struggled on the defensive end just a few weeks ago. Kevin Stallings’ team allowed just 59 points in the road win, and Vanderbilt (14-4, 4-0 SEC) is a much tougher team now with physical force Festus Ezeli back in the lineup. This group is a changed bunch from the team that lost to Indiana State at home in December, and the Commodores must be taken seriously now as a team with the formula to make a run in March.

With Ezeli Back, Vanderbilt is a Much Tougher Team Defensively (Getty Images/G. Halverson)

Vanderbilt entered this season a preseason Top 10 team, bringing back all five starters and three NBA prospects in Jeffery Taylor, John Jenkins, and Ezeli. Jenkins has held up his end of the bargain, leading the conference in scoring at 19.8 points per game. He’s arguably the best shooter in college basketball, currently leading the nation in three-point field goals (67) at a 45.3% rate (third in the SEC). Taylor has done his part, too, displaying his all-around game to the tune of 16.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.0 assists, and 1.4 steals per game on 53.6% field goal shooting and the ability to hit from deep (45.3% on 3.5 attempts per game). But Ezeli missed six games due to an NCAA violation-related suspension, and another three recovering from knee surgery, and the Commodores struggled without him. While he doesn’t provide the statistical production of his fellow team leaders, Ezeli is their only true interior threat and most impactful defender. Take away those two aspects, and Vanderbilt barely looked like an above-average team for the first 10 games of this season.

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Vanderbilt Moving Into SEC Play Full Speed Ahead

Posted by nvr1983 on December 30th, 2011

Bill Hupp is a correspondent for RTC who filed this report after Thursday night’s Vanderbilt-Marquette game. Follow him on Twitter (@Bill_Hupp) for his thoughts on hoops, food, Russian nesting dolls, and life.

It’s not necessarily a chip on his shoulder, but Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings is keenly aware of the perception that his team isn’t tough enough to contend for an SEC or National Championship. So when his preseason #7 Commodores started this season 6-4 after two gut-wrenching OT losses to ranked opponents (Xavier and Louisville), sandwiched between home upsets by Cleveland State and Indiana State, the whispers must have sounded deafening.

The Commodores Have Responded To Stallings' Challenge

Gone and temporarily forgotten from the national rankings, Vanderbilt has rolled off three straight blowout wins since that Indiana State defeat and seems to be rounding into expected form with SEC play straight ahead. On Thursday in front of a electric crowd at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, the Commodores bolted to a 31-6 first-half lead and never looked back, rolling to an impressive 74-57 non-conference road win over #14 Marquette. “Our goal coming into this game was to establish that there is some toughness to this team,” Stallings said afterwards. “We’re a little bit maligned for not being tough, but I thought we showed some pretty good toughness tonight.”

Vanderbilt (9-4) is known for its offensive firepower, but it was its defense against Marquette that was most impressive. Keying in on Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder, the Commodores held Marquette’s offensive leaders to 3-19 shooting in the first-half. They alternated between tough man-to-man and a 2-3-matchup zone in the second half, using their length to bother the smaller Golden Eagles. They will need that defensive intensity in the SEC where teams like Mississippi State and Alabama would prefer to grind it out on a nightly basis.

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SEC Full Court Press: Week of 12.18.11 – 12.25.11

Posted by Brian Joyce on December 27th, 2011

The SEC Full Court Press is a quick hitting review of my thoughts and observations from the last week, as well as a look ahead.

The Week That Was:

  • LSU is quietly on a six-game winning streak after beating #10 ranked Marquette and North Texas this past week. Could the Tigers (9-3, RPI of 53) give the SEC an unexpected sixth team in the NCAA Tournament? A January 2 match-up with Virginia is shaping up to be a much bigger game than anticipated as this could be a huge resume building win for the Tigers.
  • Speaking of LSU, center Justin Hamilton has stepped up his play as of late. Hamilton is averaging 13.8 points and eight rebounds per game over his last four contests.
  • Freshman Johnny O’Bryant recorded his first double-double of his career in the Tigers’ win over North Texas on Thursday. O’Bryant scored 11 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.
  • The 48.3% field goal percentage Florida shot in its win over Florida State was the highest shooting percentage the Seminoles have given up all year, showcasing why this Florida team is one of the best in the country. In this classic battle of offense versus defense, offense won.
  • Kentucky‘s win over Loyola on Thursday has given the Wildcats the longest home win streak in the country at 42 games dating back to March of 2009. The Cats have not lost a game at Rupp Arena in the John Calipari era.
  • It isn’t all about the freshmen in Lexington. With Terrence Jones out of the lineup with a dislocated finger, senior Darius Miller has risen to the occasion. This week, Miller averaged 15 points, 3.5 rebounds, and four assists per game.
  • We noted Tennessee‘s putrid three-point defense in the latest edition of Freeze Frame. The Volunteers are allowing opponents to shoot 40.3% from beyond the arc, which is 327th in the nation. Tennessee did slightly better this week, holding both opponents under 40%.
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