SEC M5: 03.26.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on March 26th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. Billy Donovan has a great chance to win his third national title at Florida. If that were to happen, the pull of the NBA (which temporarily swooped him up for a few days in 2007) would seem even stronger. But that nightmare scenario for Gators fans became less likely on Tuesday as Donovan signed a contract extension that runs through 2018-19 at $3.5 million a year. This is big news for Florida, but it’s also important for the SEC as a whole as it struggles to boost its overall basketball profile. As long as Donovan is at Florida and John Calipari is at Kentucky there’s a good bet the conference will have two strong contenders that demand national attention every season. That’s not a bad base from which to build.
  2. The storm that had been brewing around Cuonzo Martin might have reached a fever pitch had Tennessee lost its First Four game to Iowa. Auburn had just snatched up Bruce Pearl, and the thousands of people that signed an online petition to return Pearl to his perch in Knoxville would’ve had quite a bit of ammunition. Getting to the Sweet Sixteen, however, can cure a lot of ills. A few hundred fans greeted the Vols as they flew in from Raleigh at 2:30 in the morning, and the Tennessee allotment for an ultra-tough ticket in Indianapolis sold out quickly. It turns out that winning at this time of year gets people’s attention in a positive way. An interesting subplot to the Vols’s upcoming game against Michigan is Martin coaching against Glenn Robinson III, since he played with Robinson’s father, the Big Dog, at Purdue.
  3. Not surprisingly, Gary Parrish has the Kentucky-Louisville game as one of the games he can’t wait to watch in the Sweet Sixteen. The magnitude of this game doesn’t top the one two years ago in the Final Four, but it comes close since it’ll be played less than 200 miles from each school’s campus. And of course there is the ever-present intrigue of two highly-quotable coaches, and Rick Pitino’s history at Kentucky. The current state of this rivalry has so many sideshows and subplots that we as a college basketball audience need to be thankful for getting two NCAA Tournament games between the two powerhouse schools in the last three years.
  4. Arkansas’ season finally came to an end late Sunday night with a 75-64 loss at Cal. It was the Razorbacks’ first game in the state of California since 1973, which seems like an especially long time. Fittingly the season ended with a road loss, but there were plenty of positives in Arkansas’ 2013-14 campaign. The late collapse that washed away a likely NCAA bid can’t be sugarcoated, but this was the Razorbacks first 20-win season since 2007-08 and Mike Anderson picked up a postseason win in the NIT. Rashad Madden and Bobby Portis (if he returns) will form a solid duo next year, with Portis a legitimate contender for preseason SEC Player of the Year. Anderson’s recruiting class isn’t as highly-ranked as it was this year (two three-stars, a two-star and an unranked player on Rivals.com), but Anderson had great success with less-heralded recruits at Missouri.
  5. LSU was also shown the door in the NIT on Sunday, courtesy of a blistering shooting performance from SMU (57.9% FG, 9-of-14 from three). It was good to see Andre Stringer (15 points) and Shavon Coleman (eight points, seven rebounds, four steals) go out with nice games. Like Arkansas, we’ll look at the bright side of things for the Tigers. Johnny Jones got himself a postseason win and finished with an RPI almost 20 spots higher than last year. The Tigers may also have some of the best long-term prospects in the SEC outside of Kentucky and Florida. Jones has proven he can bring in talent (Jordan Mickey, Jarell Martin, incoming five-star freshman Ben Simmons), and that’s the fastest way to ascend in the standings. If Mickey, Martin and Johnny O’Bryant stick around (a big if), LSU has to be in the discussion as a favorite to win the league next year.
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SEC M5: 02.12.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 12th, 2014

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  1. Florida may have sealed its last two wins as much at the beginning of those two games than at the end of them. Against Tennessee, an early 10-0 run by the Gators allowed them to stabilize an otherwise lackluster first half (36.4% FG) and only trail a hot-shooting Vols team by one at halftime. To be sure, a couple of late threes from Michael Frazier and Scottie Wilbekin put the game out of reach, but the Gators might not have been in that position if not for that early turnover-fueled surge. The same can be said for their game last Saturday against Alabama. The Gators had an 8-0 lead before the Tide had even gotten the ball across midcourt. This early surge similarly allowed them to withstand some frustration with Alabama’s zone and 16 first half points from Trevor Releford. Sometimes it’s not only about how you finish, but also how you start. Where does Tennessee go from here? The Vols are out of chances for a sparkling Florida/Kentucky resume-enhancing win, but their NCAA Tournament situation is far from dire. They should be favored in all of their remaining SEC games other than next weekend’s contest at Missouri, and currently at 6-5, they could be in good position to rack up an impressive conference record. Pair this with their solid overall RPI and a win or two in the SEC Tournament, and Cuonzo Martin may get his first invitation to March Madness while living in Knoxville.
  2. Momentum was there for Ole Miss to grab. The Rebels had beaten a fellow bubble buddy in Missouri, and then faced manageable road games against Alabama and Georgia before massive back-to-back home dates with Kentucky and Florida. A three-game winning streak followed by a statement win would surely have been what the resume doctor ordered. But it wasn’t meant to be, as the Tide upended Ole Miss in Tuscaloosa last night. Trevor Releford (26 points on 8-of-16 shooting) refused to let another game slip away for the Tide when the Rebels regained the lead with just under 10 minutes left. The senior went on to score 14 of the Tide’s last 16 points, including a game-winning three with under a second left. He won’t be playing in the NCAA Tournament (or NIT, barring a minor miracle) in his final amateur season, but he can contribute to Anthony Grant’s program in a big way by playing hard and showing leadership despite the team’s struggles. There aren’t many young players on Alabama’s roster (just two freshmen and a sophomore), but he has set a great example nonetheless. The Rebels, for their part, essentially face a must-win game in Athens on Saturday. If they were to lose that one they could conceivably be stuck with a 7-7 record after the Kentucky/Florida gauntlet. That’s not a good look for a team that appears to be on the outside looking in right now. It’ll help if Jarvis Summers, who has had an excellent season, breaks out of his mini-road slump. In the Rebels’ last two losses at Kentucky and Alabama, he’s only 6-of-22 from the field and 1-of-6 from three despite shooting 50 percent (and that’s not a typo) from distance on the season. Marshall Henderson may be the Ole Miss wildcard, but Summers has been the steady hand that Andy Kennedy needs to return sooner than later.
  3. Johnny Jones has to plug a hole in his rotation after losing Malik Morgan for the rest of the season. The sophomore injured his knee during LSU’s weekend win over Auburn, and had surgery Monday evening. “It’s certainly a blow to us,” Jones said. “That’s an area we are certainly going to have to look at and find out exactly how we will dispatch those minutes. He was able to give us positive minutes.” Jones indicated that freshmen Tim Quarterman (12.5 MPG) and Shane Hammink (6.3 MPG) will be counted on to replace Morgan’s 15.5 minutes per game. This isn’t a crushing blow to LSU since Morgan wasn’t relied on heavily on either end of the floor. But it does limit Jones’ options, and takes away a high energy player and occasional starter. Morgan’s length (6’4’’) and energy was valuable when the Tigers went to a zone look. Quarterman and Hammink do both have length, which is good for Jones. The other angle to this injury is how it’ll affect Morgan’s development. Andre Stringer and Shavon Coleman are seniors so there will be an openings on the perimeter next season, and a full season of games would’ve been ideal for Morgan and LSU.
  4. Kentucky has won three straight games. Up next is an Auburn team against which the Wildcats own a 15-game winning streak. And after them? The third-ranked team in the country and the SEC’s biggest game to date. That game would lose a tiny bit of luster if the Wildcats are caught overlooking Auburn and suffer a letdown. “There’s no risk in overlooking Auburn. We all know that Auburn can beat us. We know that we’re going to get their best game. We know that they’re a very, very good team who has two guards who are really playing well,” said Kentucky assistant Kenny Payne. Count tonight as an unexpected measuring stick in the great experiment that is the 2013-14 Kentucky Wildcats. It’d be hard not to be excited for the upcoming game against Florida at home, and how hard the Wildcats play against Auburn will reveal a lot about their team maturity and development. It’s an easy game to look past, but Kentucky has already been burned on the road by a tandem of high-scoring guards. KT Harrell and Chris Denson average more combined points per game (39.6) than Jordan Clarkson and Jabari Brown, who went for 61 against the Wildcats. This also might be another good chance for John Calipari to work on the zone defense he’s flashed recently. Harrell has been effective from deep this season (39.1 3P%) but that’s been it for the Tigers. As a team they’ve shot 31.9% from three, and two of the three players that dominate the ball (Denson and Tahj Shamsid-Deen) shoot under 30.7%. A final interesting angle to a game that looks mundane on the surface is the relationship between Calipari and Tony Barbee, who got his coaching start as a graduate assistant under Calipari at UMass, and was on his Memphis staff for six years. Since Barbee is sitting on the hot seat, this could be the last time the two face off in the SEC.
  5. There were some upgrades for the SEC this season after Mike Slive mandated tougher scheduling outside conference play. For one, despite not actually winning any of its tough games, Alabama did jump from the 69th toughest nonconference schedule in 2012-13 to the ninth toughest this season. They weren’t the only teams to upgrade. According to the Associated Press, “Kentucky (59th to 14th), Mississippi (271st to 103rd) and LSU (234th to 137th) are also among the teams who made big leaps in strength of nonconference schedule.” This still wasn’t enough, as the SEC nonconferene RPI on the whole was bad, and only Kentucky and Florida have tournament spots seemingly locked up. Slive’s policy should start to see greater returns over the next few years when coaches have greater flexibility to add more name-brand opponents. It’s unlikely anyone schedules like the Tide this year: they played Wichita State, Duke, UCLA, Oklahoma and Xavier. But their fate shouldn’t be a cautionary tale that scares off other SEC coaches. Had the Tide won even one of those difficult games (and they were close) their season could’ve taken on a different feel RPI- and momentum-wise. The SEC doesn’t currently have the cache to get their teams in based on conference play alone. Risks like Anthony Grant’s aggressive nonconference schedule need to be taken to build national respect.
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A-10 Sends SEC Into Conference Play On Sour Note

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 6th, 2014

There was an unofficial, inadvertent Atlantic 10/SEC Challenge on Saturday, with three games matching up teams between the two conferences. Unlike the official Big 12/SEC challenge, this one didn’t take five weeks to finish. But the SEC again found itself on the short end of the inter-conference match-up as two league teams were sent into conference play with disheartening losses.

Johnny O'Bryant had to watch a good portion of LSU's frustrating home loss to Rhode Island from the bench (thetowntalk.com).

Johnny O’Bryant had to watch a good portion of LSU’s frustrating home loss to Rhode Island from the bench (thetowntalk.com).

  • Richmond @ Florida, the narrow escape. Richmond held a lead in the O-Dome with under seven minutes to go, and it seemed that the Spiders had the recipe to spring the big upset. But Florida outscored the Spiders 22-10 down the stretch and escaped with a win. The up-and-down start for the Gators was probably due to a couple of factors. Scottie Wilbekin had an off game (4-of-13 shooting, two assists) and Richmond often runs a funky, quick version of the Princeton offense. They’re also a solid enough team to take advantage of a better opponent that comes out flat, which describes the Gators on Saturday. The real positive for Florida was that Michael Frazier carried them offensively at times. The sophomore has been very efficient (20.1 PER) and deadly from three (49%), but understandably passive on a team with a number of upperclassmen ahead of him. It’s encouraging for Billy Donovan that Frazier has shown that he can step up when needed.

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My 2014 SEC New Year’s Resolutions

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 4th, 2014

As 2013 was coming to a close, my wife and I made the decision to allow our nine-year-old son to stay up and participate in the annual tradition of Ryan Seacrest counting down until midnight as Miley Cyrus stuck her tongue out. Well, we could have done without Ryan Seacrest, but we brought in 2014 with a toast of sparkling cider, a riveting game of Monopoly, and a conversation about New Year’s resolutions. I won the game of Monopoly in decidedly dominating fashion, as my wife eloquently explained the meaning and purpose of resolutions. After taking it all in, our son declared that he would like to save his weekly allowance and donate it each month to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, better known as the ASPCA. I was too busy ruthlessly and strategically acquiring properties and constructing monstrosities of hotels to truly appreciate the sacrifice my son had just made.

My son made a resolution to give his allowance to the ASPCA to save dogs like this one. (Photo courtesy of the ASPCA website)

My son made a resolution to give his allowance to the ASPCA to save dogs like this one (Credit: ASPCA)

Now that I have had a few days to reflect, I came to two conclusions. First, I’m amazed at the miracle that occurred. For those of you with kids you know that convincing your child to give you one lone and measly M&M from an entire wealth of stockpiled chocolates from their rich and bountiful Christmas stocking can be a chore, let alone having them complete a thoroughly selfless action like donating money that could be used for toys and video games to save animals from abuse. In all seriousness, I am genuinely thankful, proud, and inspired by the commitment he made. And second, I also realized I was too wrapped up in winning a completely meaningful and rewarding board game to make resolutions for myself, so I am going back a couple of days later to make some 2014 resolutions of my own. Here goes…

1. I resolve… to start believing in LSU as the SEC’s third best team. There’s Missouri. There’s Tennessee. Even Arkansas can make a case. But I think LSU will be the surprise team in the conference once the chips fall where they may. With a win over Rhode Island on Saturday, the Tigers can enter conference play at 10-2 with only road or neutral court losses to UMass and Memphis. Coach Johnny Jones currently lays claim to Ken Pomeroy’s second-ranked defense in the Southeastern Conference and I think that gives his team the identity it needs to succeed. If you need further proof, look at the Tigers’ interior defense trends over the last five years and you will see that Jones has this team looking very different from the past.

LSU's interior defense is significantly improved, and among the best in the country.

LSU’s interior defense is significantly improved, and among the best in the country.

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SEC M5: 12.18.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on December 18th, 2013

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  1. Hello there, Casey Prather. A week after this brilliant clueless writer suggested his big scoring nights might be few and far between against good competition, the senior went out and led Florida to a win over Memphis with a game-high 22 points. This was a good match-up for Prather, as he was defended by smaller players most of the night because of Memphis’ frequent four-guard lineup. For the second straight Tuesday, Florida had to execute late in a close game against a good opponent, and that should serve as valuable experience down the road. The Gators coughed it up a fair amount (18 turnovers), but this was expected against Memphis. They were able to offset this by outrebounding the Tigers by 11. Essentially, the game played out like it was projected, with two excellent teams doing what they do best. The Gators can now claim two of the better non-conference wins in the country, with Chris Walker still on the way. Holiday cheer is spreading in Gainesville.
  2. You can’t fault Alabama for losing to Wichita State, even at home. The loss is still excruciatingly disappointing for the Tide because they had numerous chances to pull off the upset and resuscitate their season. Trevor Releford (22 points, six assists) didn’t get much help from his supporting cast, and Retin Obasohan had scored a combined 42 points in Alabama’s last two games but sank to only eight points on 2-of-10 shooting against the Shockers. The Belgian sophomore has emerged as one of the best slashers in the SEC, but he only got to the line four times (two of which were from a stop-the-clock foul late). Alabama played hard all night, but missed an opportunity when Ron Baker, Fred Van Vleet and Cleanthony Early were all on the bench in the first half with two fouls. Creating some separation from that golden opportunity would have gone a long way towards a win.
  3. LSU has had a mostly positive start to the 2013-14 season, but Johnny Jones is looking for improved ball-handling as the Tigers head to Lubbock to take on Texas Tech this evening. “In other areas we’re not being as fundamentally sound as we’d like to with the travel calls or taking a pass and throwing it over the top in our offensive set because we’re taking a chance,” he said. “We’re better, and they will continue to go down. We’re hopeful that our turnovers will go down. If we can get to 11 or 12 [per game], I think it’ll be a good trade-off from how we play.” LSU is currently averaging the highest number of turnovers per game in the SEC (16.1 TOPG). NOLA.com‘s Randy Rosetta points out that some of that is due to Jones’ fast style of play, but that Johnny O’Bryant and Jordan Mickey need to do a better job of not coughing it up when they face double teams. Big men struggling with double teams has been somewhat of a theme in the SEC recently. Jarnell Stokes was stifled against Wichita State, and Gavin Ware has been lost the last few weeks. Rosetta thinks O’Bryant has shown improvement in passing out of the paint, but Anthony Hickey (38% FG) and Andre Stringer (41% FG) need to knock down jump shots at a better clip to really make the offense hum.
  4. A bumpy road was inevitable for Frank Martin and South Carolina due to transfers and a general lack of talent within the program when he took the job. But the Gamecocks got a rather jarring bump last night with an 18-point loss at home to Manhattan. This was only South Carolina’s sixth game, and the Gamecocks have had three understandable losses in that span (Clemson, Baylor, and Oklahoma State). Last night’s loss may end up being understandable in principle because the Jaspers are 8-2, but even if Manhattan ends up as one 2013-14′s better mid-majors, an SEC program shouldn’t lose at home by 18 to a team from the MAAC (with all due respect to the Siena and Iona teams of recent vintage). The one bright spot was freshman Sindarius Thornwell, who looks like he can become a reliable scorer (17 points, 10-of-13 FTs). He also only turned it over once despite playing 36 minutes. Martin knew he was in for a challenge in Columbia, and he indeed has a big one ahead of him.
  5. Scottie Wilbekin (Player of the Week) and Jordan Mickey (Freshman of the Week) picked up last week’s SEC weekly awards for what was a period light on games because of final exams. In Wilbekin’s lone contest, a home win against Kansas, the senior controlled the game on both ends of the floor. He ended up with 18 points and six assists, and created havoc at the bottom of the Gators’ 1-3-1 zone with four steals. This production came a week after Wilbekin had suffered an ankle injury against Connecticut which looked far worse than it ended up being. Mickey wasn’t as hyped as fellow LSU freshman Jarrell Martin, but he has been one of the best freshmen in the SEC thus far. He scored 25 points and grabbed nine rebounds against Louisiana-Monroe, and also blocked five shots. He’s averaging nearly four blocks per game this season, which is good for the top 10 in the country. His shot-blocking presence will let Anthony Hickey and Andrew Stringer take more chances on the perimeter as the season goes on.
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LSU Comes Out of Old Spice Eyeing an NCAA Year

Posted by Greg Mitchell on December 3rd, 2013

LSU got a trip to Disney World out of the Old Spice Classic, and no one can take away from them. As cool as that is, the Tigers also ended up leaving the happiest place on earth with a quality win over Butler, and that’s pretty cool too. LSU opened the tournament with a decisive win over Saint Joseph’s. That could end up being a resume-booster because the Hawks competed in a close game with Creighton, but not much is known about Phil Martelli’s group yet (KenPom #77). LSU then led Memphis at halftime of their next game but a sloppy, turnover-filled second half resulted in a seven-point loss.

LSU got a giant three from Anthony Hickey in the final seconds against Butler (photo courtesy sportsnola.com).

LSU got a giant three from Anthony Hickey in the final seconds against Butler (photo courtesy sportsnola.com).

Next up was Butler, a team that obviously still carries name value and had shown something by clawing back into its previous game with Oklahoma State to lose by two. The Tigers overcame a late six-point deficit and executed a must-have three by Anthony Hickey in the final seconds to force overtime. Leaving Orlando with a close loss to Butler would have been frustrating. They would have been saddled with three close losses to good teams, suggesting that the Tigers don’t yet have the ability to win against good competition in those situations. They also would’ve been beaten in a variety of ways. LSU couldn’t take care of the ball against Memphis, turning it over 24 times. Against Butler, LSU held the Bulldogs to just 33 percent shooting but got beat up on the offensive glass (18). You can challenge shots and force bad ones, but it won’t matter much if you keep giving up second chances.

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SEC M5: 11.21.13 Edition

Posted by Justin Bridgman on November 21st, 2013

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

Posted by Justin Bridgman on November 13th, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by Justin Bridgman on November 12th, 2013

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

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

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

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

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SEC M5: 11.06.13 Edition

Posted by Justin Bridgman on November 6th, 2013

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  1. It seems that narrowly escaping exhibition games is the thing to do in the SEC this year, as Alabama needed overtime to beat West Georgia Monday nightTrevor Releford was the star of the night, scoring 27 points including two key free throws to send the game into overtime. Releford is the type of player who could have a great scoring night and contribute heavily to an upset of one of the top SEC teams. He’s an offensive force, and his ability to draw fouls can change the game in an instant. He tallied 12 total free throw attempts on the night, and Alabama fans should expect that continue into the regular season. Releford was rightfully named to the preseason all-SEC team, and if there is one player in the conference who should scare Kentucky and Florida, it is him. Alabama is a great candidate to pull off at least one big home upset this year.
  2. Building on yesterday’s theme of weak non-conference schedules, LSU has high hopes for this season but could find itself paying the price in March for a weak slate. The SEC does not provide many opportunities for RPI-building wins, so ideally LSU would have some other strong wins to bolster its resume. Unfortunately, the Tigers’ schedule is not very strong and it could hurt them in the NCAA Tournament selection process. I mentioned yesterday that Florida can count on its strong non-conference schedule to cover up for a weak conference slate. The opposite might be the case for LSU because in January and February the Tigers are going to be desperate for resume-padding wins. In the future Johnny Jones needs to make sure he is challenging his team throughout the entirety of its schedule, and putting them in the best possible chance to be on the right side of the bubble in March.
  3. Georgia desperately needs someone to replace the void left by Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and two candidates emerged during the team’s first exhibition game. Kenny Gaines finished with 19 points and Charles Mann added 18 with four assists. Although the Bulldogs struggled overall with turnovers and offensive rhythm, having two players show the potential to be solid scorers is important. Without another NBA-level talent there to bail out the offense each trip down the floor, one or both of those guards needs to become a more consistent threat. Georgia won’t enjoy the size advantage they had Monday night in every game, which will make its perimeter scoring even more important throughout the season.
  4. Auburn was not very good last year, and might not be very good this year. Just don’t tell that to the Tigers, as they are ignoring the critics this season. With a fresh crop of new players on board, optimism is in full force right now and the pressure is on head coach Tony Barbee to win more games. His overall SEC record is a paltry 12-39, including 3-15 last season. Even at a school like Auburn, which quite frankly does not care much about basketball, that simply will not cut it. Barbee is a likely candidate to be fired after this season if he cannot bring this new crop of players together and finish the season with a better record. Nobody is expecting much from this team, but with the SEC carrying a number of bad teams, it is not unreasonable for fans to expect six or more conference victories this year. Kudos to the players and coaching staff for coming into the season with optimism, but they need to show they can start backing up that optimism up with some wins.
  5. In his massive season opening column Jay Bilas mentions Tennessee’s Jarnell Stokes as one of the top rebounders in the country. Stokes averaged 9.7 rebounds per game last season, and headed into his junior year it is likely that he is going to be an even better player this year. Tennessee has big plans for this season, and right now look like the third best team in the SEC. Stokes is a big part of that, and is one the challengers to Kentucky’s stable of freshmen for SEC Player of the Year honors. If the Volunteers are going to compete inside with Kentucky and Florida’s plethora of big men, Stokes will have to be at his best — when he is playing as well as he can, Tennessee is going to give even the best teams all they can handle down low.
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The RTC Interview Series: SEC Preview with Dave Baker, Barry Booker and Chris Dortch

Posted by WCarey on November 4th, 2013

Rush The Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you periodically throughout the offseason. If you have any specific interview requests or want us to interview you, shoot us an email at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

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 of the SEC, we recently had the pleasure of speaking with three SEC experts in television analysts Dave Baker and Barry Booker, as well as Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook editor, Chris Dortch. (Ed. note – we spoke to each individual separately, but for the sake of expediency, combining their answers into a round table format made the most sense.)

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Booker, Baker and Dortch Shared Their SEC Thoughts With Us This Preseason

Rush the Court: How good is Kentucky and what makes it that good? Do you expect the Wildcats to win both the SEC and the national titles?

Dave Baker: A lot of folks think that Cal can be a little blustery at times. I think he’s actually pretty frank in his assessments. Last year, he thought they were gonna be better than they were. He thought they were gonna be a good team; he didn’t they they could be a great team. But he’s really got that swagger back this year. And this team is an incredibly talented team. People can debate whether, coming into their college careers, this is the best recruiting class of all-time, but I can tell you, just in the couple of practices I’ve seen, there has been a marked difference in terms of talent level, attitude and the way these guys are working together. There are some natural leaders that have come in this class. Based on what I’ve seen, his confidence is well-placed. With what their expectations are, they certainly believe they should be in the mix at the end of the year.

Barry Booker: Kentucky has everything it takes to be extremely good. It has elite talent all over the court. I think Kentucky is the surefire favorite in the SEC and I believe it has to be considered one of the top contenders to win the national title. This 2013 recruiting class is just one of the best we have seen – by all reports. It seems like every year, Kentucky gets some of the best recruits. In a year like this, where Kentucky has an outstanding class and it has players like Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein returning, it would be hard to see the Wildcats not being a top-notch team. It is amazing what John Calipari is doing in bringing in that top flight talent to replace top flight talent every year.

Chris Dortch: This historically great recruiting class gives coach John Calipari his most talented team ever, with at least seven future NBA first-round draft picks. Kentucky is definitely favored in the SEC and will be a title threat come March, but there are a handful of teams with more experience that are capable of executing a game plan and sending the Cats home short of the championship game.

RTC: Florida lost its three leading scorers from last season’s Elite Eight team. Are this season’s Gators a legitimate challenger to Kentucky in the SEC?

Baker: I think Billy and Florida will have another really good team. He’s got a situation down there where he just finds people to replace the players who have moved on. They are just incredibly consistent year-in and year-out. I know that they would have liked to have made some deeper runs in the NCAA Tournaments since their championships, but other than that, they’re just really consistent.

Booker: Absolutely. The Gators have gone to the Elite Eight three straight seasons and they are at that level again this season. I am not sure if you can call them number two – maybe Kentucky is 1A and Florida is 1B. If Kentucky does stumble and does not get things figured out, Florida can come in and take over at the top of the league. Freshman Kasey Hill is a dynamic point guard. Even with the departures from last year, Florida is still very strong on the perimeter with Scottie Wilbekin and Michael Frazier. The Gators also return Patric Young inside – who is the best interior player in the league. This is a very solid team. It just has to stay healthy this season. The injury to Will Yeguete really hurt the team last season. It was never able to get back to the same level that it was at before the Yeguete injury.

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SEC M5: 10.25.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on October 25th, 2013

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  1. Last week, Ole Miss got the go-ahead to borrow $80 million to build a new basketball arena. Initial plans for the arena were approved last March, and it will be located to the west of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Tad Smith Coliseum has the smallest capacity (9,061) of any current SEC arena, just behind Auburn Arena (9,121). The new arena won’t add that much more seating (9,500) but it still a needed upgrade, especially given the Coliseum’s leaky ceiling incident in 2011. Andy Kennedy can also use the promise of new facilities to continue the momentum generated for the program by last season’s SEC Tournament championship and NCAA Tournament win.
  2. CBS’ Jon Rothstein put together a list of his top 20 freshmen under the radar. Three SEC freshmen made the cut: Ole Miss forward Sebastian Saiz, Tennessee guard Darius Thompson, and LSU guard Tim Quarterman. Saiz and Thompson make a lot of sense as both will be looked to to replace key departing players. At 6’9″, Saiz needs to help fill the frontcourt void left by the graduations of Murphy Holloway and Reginald Buckner. Thompson should get minutes at point guard that would have gone to Trae Golden had he not transferred to Georgia Tech. Quarterman is a 6’6″ point guard who will add a different dimension to the LSU offense when the smaller Anthony Hickey is not at the position. The Michael Carter-Williams comparisons are inevitable for the ESPN top 100-recruit. Johnny Jones will probably be pleased as a peach if Quarterman gives LSU a fraction of what Carter-Williams gave Syracuse the last two seasons.
  3. Mike Anderson is adding a slew of talented forwards to his third Arkansas team. The highest profile frontcourt newcomers are ESPN top 50 recruits Bobby Portis and Moses Kingsley. Houston transfer Alandise Harris is also in the mix after sitting out last season, and he brings experience, something the other two don’t yet have. Plodding up and down the court in Anderson’s pressure system is not easy on big men, making a deep rotation a necessity. Portis and Kingsley should be instant contributors, but Harris’ experience will be valuable if they initially struggle while transitioning to the college game.
  4. The least heralded Kentucky freshman, Derek Willis, is surprising John Calipari.”“Derek Willis is going to be a really good player,” Calipari said. “He’s learning (and) he’s creating good habits. This team is going to be a hard team to steal minutes (from), but I’ll tell you what, he’s playing as well as anybody.” Yesterday, I shared a quote from former Kentucky assistant Joe Dean about the risks of taking certain Kentucky high school stars like Willis. “When I was there, there was a train of thought with Kentucky high school players that if you were going to bring them to Kentucky, they had to be capable of starting at Kentucky at some point in their career. If they were not, then the fan base in Maysville, Paducah, Danville, Pikeville would be upset because they think those kids are the greatest thing in the world.” I’m not sure this approach applies as much these days. Recruiting gets such expansive coverage that fans have a good understanding of a player’s realistic outlook before he plays his first game. I find it hard to believe a fan of any team would be dismayed if someone as exceptionally talented as Julius Randle gets minutes so that someone like Derek Willis does not. In my opinion, taking a flyer on a local player is rarely a bad idea.
  5. Missouri will take the court in the Hearnes Center tonight for the first time since 2003-04. The Tigers have not played in the building since moving to Mizzou Arena for the 2004-05 season. The exhibition game against Oklahoma City University commemorates the 20th anniversary of Missouri’s 1993-94 Big Eight championship team, which included an undefeated conference mark. That season also included a 52-point loss against Nolan Richardson and Arkansas in the second game ever played at Bud Walton Arena. Talk about not letting one game define a season. Yesterday I wrote about Kentucky and UTEP planning to play a game in 2016 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1966 NCAA title game. It’s neat that schools are finding creative ways to keep history alive (though the UTEP-Kentucky game is far more significant). This a win-win situation, as it educates younger fans while providing older fans with nostalgia.
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