NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.17.15 Edition

Posted by Griffin Wong on March 17th, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

March Madness is finally upon us, and we here at RTC are here to make everything a little bit easier for you. From the First Four until One Shining Moment, we’ll be dropping daily tidbits of knowledge regarding the teams in each region.

Midwest Region

  • The obvious front-page story going into the 2015 NCAA Tournament is whether Kentucky can complete its pursuit of perfection. A perfect season would be the first since Bob Knight’s 1976 Indiana team. In a way, the two quests aren’t so different.
  • For a team that lost several leaders from 2014 and coach Mick Cronin to medical issues in late December, Cincinnati has shown incredible “perseverance” this season.
  • Purdue will end a two-year drought from the NCAA Tournament this week when it takes on Cincinnati. Here are 10 moments that brought the Boilermakers back to the Big Dance, courtesy of the Lafayette Journal & Courier.

    The quest perfection begins Thursday for the UK faithful. (Kentucky Athletics)

    The quest perfection begins Thursday for the UK faithful. (Kentucky Athletics)

  • There’s no better place for West Virginia senior Juwan Staten to end his career than in his home state of Ohio. The Mountaineers will take on Buffalo Friday in Columbus.
  • Apparently former Duke standout and current Buffalo coach Bobby Hurley has some moves off the court too. The Bulls appear to be a popular #5-#12 upset pick, and if they can pull it off, who knows what moves Hurley will bring out next?
  • Maryland felt like it was snubbed by the Selection Committee not only in that it was given a #4 seed rather than a #3 seed, but also in that it was placed into Kentucky’s region. However, according to the numbers guys, the Terps were actually overrated and seeded higher than their ability.
  • Texas has a tough road ahead, but considering it got into the NCAA Tournament and avoided the First Four, can the Longhorns really complain?
  • Texas barely squeaked into the tournament, but Butler has reason to be concerned about the Longhorns’ significant size advantage. Texas appears healthy, and has four guys over 6’8” in its front line rotation.
  • As two competitive programs that occupy the same state, why don’t Kansas and Wichita State have a heated rivalry?
  • Notre Dame hasn’t had recent Tourney success, but this year’s team is looking to change that. “We still want to rewrite history here at Notre Dame,” senior leader Jerian Grant remarked.

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SEC Stock Watch: 03.06.15 Edition

Posted by David Changas on March 6th, 2015

We have reached the end of the regular season in the SEC, and this is our final look at who is trending up, down, and who is flat. This is SEC Stock Watch.

Trending Up

  • Upsets over Bubble Teams. First, it was Florida beating Texas A&M at home, handing the Aggies a crucial loss as they seek to secure an NCAA Tournament bid. Then, on Wednesday, Tennessee went into Baton Rouge and beat LSU by 15 points. This was the same group of Tigers that led the Vols by 27 points at the half in Knoxville 18 days earlier. Neither of these underdogs had as much to play for as their opponents, and they both deserve credit for not quitting. But for the Aggies and especially the Tigers, they will have to sweat these and other losses on Selection Sunday.
Kentucky will almost certainly enter the Big Dance 34-0 (cbssports.com)

John Calipari and Kentucky will almost certainly enter the Big Dance 34-0 (cbssports.com)

  • Undefeated Kentucky. It is a mere formality now that the Wildcats will finish the regular season a remarkable 31-0 when they dispatch Florida on Saturday in Lexington (the term “Senior Day” doesn’t mean much there, so we have forgone its use). Many would argue that it’s a formality that the Wildcats will finish the deal and run through the SEC Tournament next week in Nashville to finish 34-0 going into the NCAA Tournament. Given the way they have dominated league play, that is very likely.
  • Comebacks. Kentucky trailed Georgia by nine points with less than eight minutes to play on Tuesday in Athens. The Wildcats then turned the burners on and put away a game Bulldogs team. Last night, on senior night in Columbia, South Carolina overcame a 20-point first half deficit to take an 11-point lead of its own with less than six minutes to play. Arkansas then finished the game on an 18-3 run to steal the win. The Kentucky comeback was unsurprising, but the Razorbacks’ effort is further evidence that Mike Anderson’s team has turned a corner from its old disappointing ways.

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The SEC Week That Was: Volume IX

Posted by Greg Mitchell on March 3rd, 2015

For the next three weeks or so, we’ll run down a few weekly superlatives from league play, take a look at how conference teams look in the eyes of the NCAA Tournament selection committee, and anything else that merits discussion. Here is Volume IX, including games from February 24 to March 1.

Team of the Week: With all due respect to undefeated Kentucky (which won its highest-profile SEC game by beating Arkansas), this week’s award goes to LSU. The Tigers avoided a black mark by picking up a road win at Auburn, and then added a top 50 RPI win by knocking off Ole Miss at home. The win over the Rebels also gave LSU the tie-breaker for conference tournament seeding purposes if the two teams are still knotted at the end of the week. The question for the Tigers, at least in terms of how high their ceiling is, was always going to be how well the roster developed around big men Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin. Depth hasn’t arrived and Josh Gray has struggled his way into Johnny Jones’ doghouse, as he hasn’t logged more than 21 minutes over the last five games. But Jones seems to have found a five-man lineup that he likes and is having success with. Tim Quarterman recorded only the seventh triple double in program history, and first since Shaq did the trick in 1992, against Ole Miss. This was an indicative of the all-purpose role he’s played all year. Jalyn Patterson has also stuffed the stat sheet all season (nine points, five assists, four rebounds against the Rebels) and has clearly improved throughout the year and earned Jones’ trust as a freshman. Along with Keith Hornsby, the Tigers have three solid parts to plug alongside their two stars and a team that is athletic, defends well and is deadly in transition. The concern is that Jones has still played fast (seventh highest adjusted temp according to KenPom) despite the thin rotation, and this could catch up to LSU, especially in a back-to-back game tournament setting. But the Tigers know what they are, and there’s something to be said for that at this time of year. Honorable mention goes to Missouri, which snapped its 13 game losing streak against Florida midweek. And let’s also say something for Vanderbilt, which picked up solid wins over Alabama and Tennessee and sits at a respectable 7-9 in SEC play.

Trey Lyles had a career week for Kentucky (collegebasketball.ap.org).

Trey Lyles had a career week for Kentucky (collegebasketball.ap.org).

Player of the Week. At this point in the season it doesn’t hurt to spread the love as much possible, so let’s split the award among three freshmen: Trey Lyles, Wade Baldwin IV and Namon Wright. Lyles had his finest week as a college player, at least in terms of scoring, with a career-high 18 points in back-to-back games. Often times this season defenses have been content with the Wildcat offense settling on two-point jump shots from Lyles, so it was encouraging that he scored those 36 points on an efficient 15-of-22 shooting. Baldwin has quietly had a strong freshman season, and this week put up 28 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists and just four turnovers while leading Vanderbilt to two wins. He’s a big, aggressive lead guard that should be fun to watch over the next few seasons, especially alongside Riley LaChance and the other young Commodores. Wright carried Missouri for much of its streak-busting win against Florida, dropping in a career-high 28 points and going six-for-eight from three. Besides a season-opening hot stretch from Teki Gill-Caesar, none of the Mizzou freshmen have shown the type of offensive explosion Wright did in that win over the Gators. Not to get greedy, but Quarterman deserves some more ink for his triple-double too.

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SEC M5: It’s Finally March Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on March 2nd, 2015

SEC_morning5

  1. College Basketball Talk’s Rob Dauster had mostly good news for SEC basketball fans in his most recent Bubble Banter post. LSU, Georgia and Texas A&M all emerged from the weekend as bubble winners, with Ole Miss acting as the conference’s only loser (and just slightly, with a forgivable loss to the Tigers in Baton Rouge). The theme of the weekend for the Aggies and Bulldogs was to avoid the bad loss, and they both did so in beating Auburn and Missouri, respectively. A loss at home to the northern Tigers would have been especially devastating for a Georgia team which has already absorbed losses to Auburn and South Carolina in Stegeman Coliseum this year. LSU comes out the really big winner with a resume-enhancing win over the Rebels, earning the tiebreaker over Ole Miss in SEC Tournament seeding in the process.
  2. LSU got its big win in large part because Tim Quarterman did something no Tiger has done since Shaq was a slim and trim junior back in 1992: record a triple-double. Johnny Jones’ do-it-all, Swiss Army knife wing has been flirting with the distinction all season, and he finally picked it up on Saturday with 18 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds. He also did this while having to guard Ole Miss star Stefan Moody for large portions of the game. Quarterman may be one of the more underappreciated players in the SEC and the league’s most improved player (though Tennesee’s Armani Moore may have something to say about that). Given his all-around skill set and excellent length, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him eventually get a crack at the NBA; but he should stick around for four years to be a great college player that ends up on multiple LSU all-time lists.
  3. This is a bit dated, but Team Speed Kills has an interesting post that argues that what happens to Texas A&M on Selection Sunday will reveal the Selection Committee’s overall opinion on the SEC. The Aggies’ entire resume is based on a good conference run (11-5) that is filled with expected wins and understandable losses — with the one exception a 21-point loss in Tuscaloosa. If Texas A&M finds itself in a First Four game (or the NIT), it’ll be clear the Committee didn’t buy into an improved SEC this season. We’ve maintained all season that the league is in fact better than last year, but the lack of ranked teams has probably dampened that opinion somewhat on a national level. We’ll find out if this is indeed the case in a few weeks.
  4. Kentucky’s abundance of athletic players has led to countless exciting, momentum-swinging moments this season, and Saturday’s win over Arkansas was no exception with a first half Trey Lyles alley-oop and Willie Cauley-Stein block on an Alandise Harris dunk attempt steering the momentum. It was a powerful Karl-Anthony Towns dunk last Wednesday against Mississippi State that punctuated the Wildcats’ second half run that put the game out of reach. There’s no way to measure how valuable these moments actually are, but you have to wonder the psychological effect they have on the Wildcats’ withering opponents. Kentucky’s elite defense makes the team frustrating enough to play against, but those jarring plays, especially at Rupp Arena, have to add to the difficulty of playing the nation’s top-ranked team.
  5. The third time was the charm for Florida head coach Billy Donovan as he picked up his 500th win against Tennessee on Saturday. In a practical sense, it might not be a bad thing that the Gators waited until coming home from consecutive road losses to record the historic win since they are already out of the NCAA Tournament picture. Still, I’m sure Donovan would have preferred to pick up his 500th victory as soon as possible. The question now becomes how high of a win total is realistic for him, since he’s the second-youngest coach (at 49 years old) to reach the milestone in college basketball history (only Bob Knight was younger). Perhaps Florida’s struggles this year will help keep his competitive flame burning; the big question, however, is whether Donovan will again feel the pull to the NBA, and start looking for options at the next level.
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SEC Stock Watch: 02.13.15 Edition

Posted by David Changas on February 13th, 2015

With just over three weeks to go in SEC play, things are starting to take shape. This is SEC Stock Watch, our weekly look at which teams, players, and coaches are moving in the right direction, which are holding steady, and which are trending down. 

Trending Up

  • Karl-Anthony Towns. Towns came to Kentucky as the most highly-acclaimed member of its latest heralded recruiting class, and while his numbers have been solid all year, he is now asserting himself as a dominant force in the post. Towns is averaging 14.5 points and 8.8 rebounds per game over his last four outings, an increase of more than five points and two rebounds per game over his season averages. As if the Wildcats weren’t already scary enough, the rest of college basketball must deal with this emerging beast.
Karl-Anthony Towns has been a beast of late (Mark Zerof/USA Today Sports)

Karl-Anthony Towns has been a beast of late (Mark Zerof/USA Today Sports)

  • Georgia as an NCAA Lock. The Bulldogs got a huge win in College Station on Wednesday night, which should secure their ticket to the Big Dance. They will be favored in all but two of their remaining SEC games — home against Kentucky and at Ole Miss — and are the best bet to take down the Wildcats in SEC play. With a strong RPI ranking of #20, it would take a major meltdown for Mark Fox’s team to not make the NCAA Tournament.
  • Arkansas’ Road Chops. Don’t look now, but the Razorbacks have now won three SEC road games — more than all of last season — and are taking care of business against teams they should beat. They still must go to Ole Miss on Saturday and to Kentucky in two weeks, but Mike Anderson seems to have turned a corner in his fourth year in Fayetteville.
  • Tennessee Against the Spread on the Road. The Volunteers have somehow managed to go 4-2 so far in SEC play on the road, and their two losses (against Arkansas and Georgia, arguably the second- and third-best teams in the SEC) were by a total of seven points. Donnie Tyndall’s squad is 6-0 against the spread away from Thompson-Boling Arena, so it’s too bad that things haven’t gone so smoothly at home where the Vols are 2-3 with LSU and Kentucky coming to town in the next week.

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SEC M5: 02.11.15 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 11th, 2015

SEC_morning5

  1. It’s hard not to really get the feeling that Kentucky is going to just keep riding out wins. How can you not feel that way after the Wildcats just survived a 21-2 run deep in the second half to hang on and beat LSU? Of all their close calls this season (Ole Miss, Texas A&M), this was perhaps the most impressive because the Wildcats were completely out of sync for a large chunk of the second half. But at the end of the game, there was Andrew Harrison calmly knocking down two free throws to tie the game, and there was Karl-Anthony Towns calmly tossing in a hook shot to take the lead for good. The Wildcats again made the winning plays when it counted (e.g., Tyler Ulis’ three in the second overtime against Texas A&M), and although they could still slip up, the only game that appears to be a real test is at Georgia on March 3. The road to regular season perfection is well within view.
  2. On the other side of last night’s game is an LSU team that missed out on a tremendous opportunity. Losses to Mississippi State, Missouri and Auburn have planted the Tigers firmly on the bubble, so holding on against Kentucky would have made up for several of those transgressions — finally knocking off the Wildcats cuts a marginal resume a lot of slack. It didn’t happen, of course, and like many times this season, Johnny Jones didn’t look good from an X’s and O’s standpoint. Why was Josh Gray — a player who has struggled taking care of the ball this year — driving the lane out of a timeout? Why didn’t Jordan Mickey or Jarell Martin get the ball out of the final timeout? I understand the notion of going for the jugular with a Keith Hornsby three, especially in a game this big. But with a two-point deficit at home, it’s hard to fully understand a play call that doesn’t go to one of your two best players. LSU definitely showed out well in this game, but the Tigers will need to shake the loss off quickly with road games at Tennessee and Texas A&M up next.
  3. It’s difficult to label Texas A&M a “sleeping giant,” but the Aggies were a perennial top-third of the Big 12 type of program under Billy Gillispie and Mark Turgeon and a return to that level would provide a big boost for the SEC’s overall profile. The Aggies’ upcoming and well-timed home stand against Georgia, Florida and LSU represents a key stretch for Billy Kennedy’s club that could add some bulk to its NCAA Tournament profile. Texas A&M’s last home game attracted the largest crowd in the Kennedy era (12,722), so the next week is also a great opportunity to fire up the fan base for this and coming seasons.
  4. Billy Donovan coaching the Orlando Magic? It kind of happened once, and the Orlando Sentinel’s Mike Bianchi thinks that the timing is right for it to happen again — but perhaps this time for more than a single day. On some levels the timing does seem good for everyone involved. Florida is having its most frustrating season in years, and the Magic have promising young talent like Victor Oladipo and Nikola Vucevic playing well. For comparison’s sake, the path to NBA championship contention for Orlando looks shorter and less challenging than Boston’s when Brad Stevens left Butler. But would Donovan walk away from his program after such a disappointing season? He certainly doesn’t have anything left to prove, having built three separate groups of title contenders during his tenure in Gainesville. These are some interesting questions for a guy who has had past and perhaps unfulfilled designs on the NBA.
  5. Missouri is mired in its worst losing streak since before Norm Stewart was in charge of the program (1966-67). The streak ran to 10 losses in a row after last night’s defeat at South Carolina. Things could be getting worse in a hurry too, as Wes Clark could be out for the season after seemingly dislocating his right wrist. It was an ugly injury that caused the arena to go silent and players on both sides were visibly shaken. This is a huge blow for the Tigers since Clark (11 points against USC, 15 points against Texas A&M) has been the most consistent source of offense and penetration for a team that often struggles to score. Right now it’s hard to find another win on the schedule for the Tigers.
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SEC Stock Watch: 02.06.15 Edition

Posted by David Changas on February 6th, 2015

We’re at the halfway point of conference play, and things are starting to take shape in the SEC. It’s time for our weekly look at who’s trending up, who’s staying flat, and who’s headed in the wrong direction. This is SEC Stock Watch.

Trending Up

  • Rick Ray’s Job Status. A few weeks ago, we wondered whether Mississippi State could win even a single game in the SEC. At the halfway point of conference play, the Bulldogs are just a game under .500, and are coming off of their first road win of the season. Ray’s club appears to have turned a bit of a corner, and things are looking good for him to earn a fourth year at the school.
Rick Ray is finally giving Mississippi State fans a glimmer of hope (Spruce Derden/USA Today)

Rick Ray is finally giving Mississippi State fans a glimmer of hope. (Spruce Derden/USA Today)

  • Ole Miss’ NCAA Tournament Hopes. The Rebels have quietly recovered from a couple of bad non-conference homecourt losses (to Charleston Southern and Western Kentucky), and have won four in a row in the SEC. They own blowout wins at Arkansas and Missouri, a near miss at Kentucky, and are 6-3 in conference play. Andy Kennedy’s team is squarely in the discussion for one of the league’s NCAA Tournament bids.
  • Andrew Harrison. Perhaps it’s a bit premature to put the Kentucky sophomore on this list, but Harrison had his best game of the season in the Wildcats’ win over Georgia Tuesday, as he scored 23 points, had seven assists, and went 3-of-6 from three-point range. Perhaps all of the talk about  Kentucky’s freshmen guards, Devin Booker and Tyler Ulis, has motivated Harrison, and his performance against the Bulldogs is a good sign for John Calipari.
  • Riley LaChance. The Vanderbilt freshman has been a find for Kevin Stallings, but he went through a rough patch recently and bottomed out when he went scoreless in the Commodores’ loss to Georgia on January 27. He has righted the ship, and led the team with 15 in Tuesday’s win over Florida, which broke Vanderbilt’s seven-game losing streak. For the Commodores to have success in the second half of league play, they’ll need superb play from LaChance.

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SEC M5: 01.23.15 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 23rd, 2015

SEC_morning5

  1. South Carolina’s win over Iowa State in early January did wonders for its profile and the perception of where the program was heading. But it might not have done a lot of good for the players, at least not in the eyes of their coach.“We haven’t shot the ball worth a you-know-what since league play started. You’d think guys would find time to come in the gym and shoot balls,” Frank Martin told GoGamecocks.com. “They did in November and December; they’re not doing that now. All of a sudden, we’re too good, so we don’t need to come in here and work on our games.” Carolina is staring down the barrel at a 1-5 SEC start with Kentucky coming to town on Saturday. To pull off a season-resuscitating win, the Gamecocks will need to shoot better than the 29.3 percent from three that they have in conference play.
  2. One team sitting ahead of the Gamecocks in the standings is Mississippi State, which seemed impossible a few weeks ago. Things had taken an alarming turn for Rick Ray after a home loss to McNeese State followed by lopsided losses to Tennessee and Florida to start conference play. But the picture is now looking better after back-to-back wins and the end of a 22-game road losing streak. One big reason has been improved play from sophomore point guard I.J. Ready. His numbers are up virtually across the board in conference play, including a solid PER of 21.8 in five SEC games. He’s still a work in progress and not an ideal distributor (seven turnovers in the win over Vanderbilt), but he’s a natural scorer on a team desperate for talent.
  3. Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin get all the press (and rightfully so), but where would LSU be without Keith Hornsby? Johnny Jones recently joked that Tigers fans should start heckling Hornsby at home given how well he’s played on the road, and he may be on to something. In LSU’s three conference road games (Missouri, Ole Miss, Florida), Hornsby has averaged 18.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and has shot 45.8 percent from three. If the folks at the PMAC want to start thinking of some late 80s pop jokes, now might be the time. The Tigers rely heavily on Hornsby and Josh Gray, and while Gray has been up-and-down, Hornsby has done a solid job in his role as a third option and floor spacer. If he maintains that level, LSU will be one step closer to reaching its considerable ceiling.
  4. Texas A&M is riding a three-game winning streak after its Wednesday night win over Missouri, and the Aggies are suddenly one of the hottest teams in the SEC. They are looking for their first record above .500 under Billy Kennedy and have a manageable schedule the rest of the way (in other words: no Kentucky). A step forward this year would be huge for the program as it awaits a mammoth recruiting class to arrive next season. That step may be happening mainly because of two players in their first year in College Station: Jalen Jones and Danuel House. The two transfers are Kennedy’s top two scorers and were responsible for keying the 22-2 run that dropped Missouri. Jones nailed a three during that run and if he keeps adding that threat to his game (7-of-19 on the year), he’ll be a load to handle. Next year’s star-studded group cuts Kennedy a lot of slack for his lackluster tenure at A&M to this point, but his two transfers are doing their part too.
  5. Georgia is another SEC team riding a three-game winning streak. The Bulldogs’ rise, however, is due in part to a player who was on the roster last year but didn’t play much: J.J. Frazier. He has been the best ball-handler on a team stocked with good guards, and over the winning streak he’s dished out 14 assists while turning the ball over just three times. On the season, he has a 2.5-to-1 assist to turnover ratio and has provided Georgia with the three-point shooting (39.4%) that it sorely needed. Charles Mann is having a solid junior year but hasn’t logged the step-forward season many thought he would, although part of the reason for that is probably because he’s still adjusting to playing off the ball more with Frazier in the fold (five percent decrease in usage rate). If Mark Fox can develop more chemistry between the two, Georgia should seriously threaten for an NCAA Tournament spot.
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SEC M5: 01.14.15 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 14th, 2015

SEC_morning5

  1. One of the league’s hottest players since entering SEC play has to be Kentucky’s Devin Booker, who scored 13 points against Ole Miss, 18 points against Texas A&M and seven last night against Missouri. During the three-game run he was 8-of-11 from distance, and it is his outside shooting that makes Booker such a dangerous weapon for the Wildcats — perhaps the best long-range threat since Doron Lamb rained triples for the 2012 championship team. He won’t shoot at such a blistering rate all season long (currently 50.8%), but if he continues to produce it’ll be hard for John Calipari to keep him off the court in close games. Despite their exceptional defensive talent, the Wildcats don’t have all that many players who can create their own shot; therefore, the offensive threat that Booker poses will make it easier for guys like Karl-Anthony Towns and Dakari Johnson to find room inside to operate.
  2. It appears Ole Miss did indeed take something away from its near-win at Rupp Arena last Tuesday. “If we can do that against Kentucky, we can do that against anybody else,” forward Sebastian Saiz told the Jackson Clarion-Ledger. The Rebels followed it up with a solid win over the weekend against South Carolina, and have two big opportunities ahead against LSU and Arkansas. If Ole Miss can win both games — no easy task considering that the Razorbacks game is in Fayetteville — the NCAA Tournament bubble could start to come into view. What could set the Rebels apart is that they can actually put the ball in the basket (24th in adjusted offensive efficiency) in a league where many teams struggle to score. Jarvis Summers and Stefan Moody were both a bit inconsistent to begin the year, but when the two guards are both hitting shots at the same time, the Rebels can be a handful.
  3. Florida’s ultimate potential is tied in large part to Kasey Hill’s development. The sophomore has struggled shooting the ball this year, making just 20 percent of his two point jump shots and 25 percent of his three point shots. Billy Donovan thinks that while Hill will likely never be a lights out shooter, there is room for growth. Hill is one of the quicker guards in the SEC, but his inability to keep defenses honest has likely had an effect on Florida’s ability to take advantage of Chris Walker’s athleticism at the rim. Walker has not shown he can create offense on his own and would be benefitted greatly from Hill breaking down the defense and creating seams. But the more defenses can sag off Hill, the less he’ll be able to create opportunities for others. Nonetheless, Hill is an ultra-talented player and a slight improvement would go a long way for Florida.
  4. A rash of injuries has followed a tough opening week for Georgia, which could now be down three rotation players. The scariest situation happened to freshman Yante Maten (18.2 MPG), who suffered a concussion after being hit by a car outside of Stegeman Coliseum. Kenny Paul Geno (9.8 MPG) broke his wrist against Arkansas, and an Achilles injury could keep Juwan Parker (23.9 MPG) out of tonight’s game against Vanderbilt. Mark Fox has been essentially using a seven-man rotation with Parker and Maten getting the most minutes of all the reserves. Even if Parker can suit up, the Bulldogs may need Marcus Thornton and Nemanja Djurisic to play close to 40 minutes in a critical game. Fox has to hope Cameron Forte can provide some cover. The junior forward was pressed into 24 minutes of action against LSU after never seeing more than six minutes in a game prior to that, and held up well with 10 points and six rebounds.
  5. Another reserve big man that saw his minutes explode in the LSU-Georgia game was Darcy Malone, who played 16 minutes after having only seen 20 minutes total before the game. This was the latest in Johnny Jones’ season-long quest to find depth, especially in the front court. The big man group of Malone, Brian Bridgewater, Elbert Robinson, Aaron Epps and John Odo has combined for just 6.3 rebounds per game. With that kind of production, or lack of production, you can’t blame Jones for rolling the dice. Luckily for the Tigers it appears that freshman guard Jalyn Patterson has emerged as a solid backcourt contributor. In fact, Jones trusts Patterson so much that he had him in over Josh Gray, who was having an erratic game taking care of the ball, late in the Tigers’ loss to Missouri last week.
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SEC M5: 01.05.15 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 5th, 2015

SEC_morning5

  1. South Carolina’s win over Iowa State in Brooklyn on Saturday was significant for several reasons. First, it was easily the biggest victory of Frank Martin’s tenure in Columbia, and, second, it was a boost for the conference’s reputation as a whole. Remember the last time time the SEC put a league representative in front of the Cyclones? Needless to say that it didn’t end well. But as Garnet and Black Attack writes, it was also an important victory because the Gamecocks have so few chances left on the schedule for another marquee win. Two cracks at Kentucky could be the extent of it, but now South Carolina doesn’t necessarily need to win one of those two games to get some national attention. A good conference record (e.g., 11-7) even without a Kentucky win could be enough to garner some late season NCAA Tournament chatter — since the Gamecocks’ resume is now buoyed by the victory over Iowa State.
  2. With the Carolina win on our minds, is the SEC quietly improving? While only one team is currently ranked, the Lexington Herald-Leader’s Jerry Tipton writes that, “10 SEC teams are in the top 104, six in the top 53 and four (UK, Georgia, LSU and Arkansas) in the top 28 of the RPI.” RPI, especially at this time of year, isn’t necessarily the best barometer, but if nothing else this suggests that the depth of the league is better than it was last year. Take Georgia and Alabama, for example. Neither might be viable NCAA Tournament teams, but both have shown enough fight against other major conference opponents that they won’t be pushovers either. This quiet league-wide improvement is also taking place as Florida undergoes an understandable rebuilding period, which should be encouraging to conference fans as a whole.
  3. Vanderbilt’s double-overtime win over Yale on Saturday may not have been pretty, but it pushed the Commodores’ non-conference record to 10-3, representing great progress over recent seasons. Kevin Stallings’ team should be fun to watch grow throughout SEC play, and their future promise screams from the box score, as all five players who reached double figures against Yale are either sophomores (Damian Jones, Luke Kornet) or freshmen (Riley Lachance, Shelton Mitchell, Matthew Fisher-Davis). A January 10 visit to Fayetteville will be a good test to determine how Kevin Stallings’ young team handles one of the league’s toughest environments.
  4. LSU got a late Christmas present late last week when five-star guard Antonio Blakeney committed to the Tigers. It has already been written on all corners of the Internet, but LSU will be overflowing with talent next season if Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey stick around with Blakeney and super-prospect Ben Simmons arriving on campus. But even if Mickey and Martin both leave for the NBA, the Tigers would still be able to field a competitive, NCAA Tournament-caliber team given how Josh Gray, Keith Hornsby and Tim Quarterman have grown this season. Gray and Hornsby have been a complementary three-point shooting backcourt and Quarterman has been a unique, jack-of-all trades swingman. In this worst-case scenario for LSU, the team’s two new elite prospects would still be entering a team with a solid foundation.
  5. Missouri has had a frustrating season, and conference play could be much more difficult should Teki Gill-Caesar miss any time. The freshman, who has averaged 11.5 points per game this season, left the Tigers’ recent win over Lipscomb in the first half with a back injury and did not return. Kim Anderson said afterward that he wasn’t sure how serious his injury actually is. Gill-Caesar’s scoring has dipped recently as defenses focus their attention on him, but he’s a key piece to a team that showed some promise in close losses to Illinois and Oklahoma State. Missouri has an opportunity against a surging LSU team to open league play on Thursday night, but the Tigers from Columbia will be hard-pressed to win that game if Gill-Caesar is on the bench.
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SEC M5: Christmas Eve Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on December 24th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. Kentucky’s clash with Louisville this Saturday might be the most anticipated game until the NCAA Tournament, and according to ESPN’s Seth Greenberg, it also might be the last realistic chance for the Wildcats to lose a game before the Big Dance. Kansas, North Carolina, Texas and even UCLA (before the game, of course) looked like potential challenges, and Kentucky easily got by them all, so Greenberg has a point here. Nonetheless, I’m betting against the undefeated season. As great as it has been, this Kentucky team has not been immune to slow starts, as exhibited in the Boston University and Columbia games. And although it’s a cliche, the Wildcats will almost certainly get everyone’s best effort in the SEC — a slow start in Tuscaloosa or Athens or Columbia could prove fatal. But the fact that we are using a magnifying glass to find one potential loss among 18 chances tells you just how well the Wildcats have played this season.
  2. Slowly but surely, Florida is working its way back towards national relevance this season. The Gators beat Wake Forest over the weekend, and while that isn’t particularly noteworthy, their roster seems to finally be taking shape. Alex Murphy made his Florida debut with an impactful nine points, four rebounds and two blocks in 29 minutes. “I thought he played great,” Billy Donovan told the Gainesville Sun. “The best part about coaching him is he has got a really good feel and he can play multiple, different positions.” Versatility in the frontcourt might turn out to be one of the Gators’ calling cards this year. Murphy joins Dorian Finney-Smith and Devin Robinson as athletic, mobile bigs who can play on the perimeter. Depth down low is also something Donovan has to work with as Jacob Kurtz (4.5 points per game; 4.9 rebounds per game) played well while being forced into action, and Jon Horford and Chris Walker have seen significant minutes this year.
  3. Johnny Jones is being careful with his LSU Tigers, and it may pay off in the long run. Josh Gray’s injured ankle kept him out of the team’s recent win over College of Charleston, but according to Jones, he could have played if it had been a conference game. Jarell Martin was also held out of the starting lineup and played eight minutes under his season average (34.0) because he missed part of Monday’s practice due to a minor car wreck. Amid all of this, Jones used the opportunity to give minutes to several players who have sparsely played this season, such as Jalyn Patterson, Elbert Robinson and Aaron Epps. Patterson played eight minutes over his average, and Robinson played 14 minutes after not appearing in the team’s previous two games. LSU desperately needs more quality depth, and it’s nice for Jones that he can work players into the rotation while still winning games comfortably.
  4. Georgia is forging its way down a novel path. Instead of letting disappointing early losses to Georgia Tech and Minnesota compound themselves in a negative way, the Bulldogs have ripped off consecutive wins against Colorado and Seton Hall in the last week. In fact, the win against the Pirates is arguably the best non-Kentucky win of any SEC team thus far. If nothing else, it’s up there with LSU’s win at West Virginia, Arkansas’ win at SMU and Tennessee’s win over Butler. The Bulldogs look viable going forward and are more than a two-man show that depends entirely on Charles Mann and Kenny Gaines. Marcus Thornton has been a low post scoring threat (14.7 points per game), and J.J. Frazier has gone from little-used freshman to a dependable lead guard (8.7 points per game; 3.4 assists per game; 4.2 rebounds per game). Frazier has also been a consistent threat from three-point range (41.4%) which was a question mark for Georgia heading into the season.
  5. Several of SB Nation’s SEC basketball writers got together for a roundtable on the state of the league. One of the questions they discussed was which team has surprised the most, and answers included Vanderbilt (good), LSU (good) and Missouri (bad). You can’t disagree with any of those three, and two weeks ago I would’ve personally submitted Auburn as a surprise on the negative end of the spectrum. The Tigers were never going to compete for an NCAA Tournament spot this year, but with their experience (KT Harrell, Antoine Mason) and Bruce Pearl on the sidelines, losses to Clemson and Coastal Carolina were unexpected. Better late than never, but the Tigers turned it around in a big way with a double-overtime win over Xavier last weekend, showing the type of team it can become. Part of what has helped is the emergence of Trayvon Reed, who in his just his fourth college game helped cover the Tigers’ hole in the post with five rebounds and five blocks in 25 minutes. Auburn did, however, nearly undo that good will with a loss to a two-win Texas Southern team last night, but Pearl’s team was able to survive that one by the slimmest of margins.
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Josh Gray Gets LSU Off to Big Start in Critical Week

Posted by Greg Mitchell on December 4th, 2014

Johnny Jones didn’t try to hide how important this week is for LSU when asked about Jordan Mickey missing last Saturday’s win over McNeese State. “Jordan is fine. If he was needed tonight, he would have been available, but he had treatment that past couple of days. We wanted to make sure that we allowed the process to take place there,” Jones said. Translation: we can win this game without Mickey, and we darn well need him ready for next week’s schedule. This was a calculated risk by Jones. UMass and West Virginia loomed, presenting LSU with a golden opportunity to wash away early season losses to Old Dominion and Clemson. The Tigers needed Mickey in the lineup this week, but a slip-up against McNeese State would have been hard to recover from. Jarell Martin did his part by carrying the Mickey-less Tigers to that win on Saturday, and Jones’ gamble paid off with an 82-60 win against UMass (KenPom #59) on Tuesday night.

Josh Gray led LSU to a big win over UMass with 25 points (nola.com).

Josh Gray led LSU to a big win over UMass with 25 points. (nola.com)

Star of the game. The distinction has to go to Josh Gray, who poured in 25 points on 11-of-15 shooting, including 3-of-4 from three (he came into the game only 2-of-8 on the season). He also added five assists and four rebounds, but turned the ball over seven times. Two offensive possessions stand out for me. With around two minutes left in the first half, UMass’ Cady Lalanne made a contested basket inside to cut a 15-point LSU lead down to 11. A few stops and a basket or two and the Minutemen would have had some momentum going into halftime. Gray, however, immediately came downcourt and a hit a three to prevent the possibility of a half-closing run. He squashed UMass’ momentum in the second half too. The Minutemen had pulled to within 10 points on a three-point play by Lalanne, but Gray went on a 6-1 run by himself to ultimately put the game out of reach. Mickey had another great game (16 points, 10 rebounds) but he was locked in a physical battle defending Lalanne all night, holding the UMass senior to 6-of-15 shooting from the floor. Gray’s ability to carry the offense was that much more important when LSU’s star had to expend so much effort on the other end of the court. He certainly doesn’t have to score 20 points each night, but if he can build on this performance and become a reliable offensive threat from the outside, the Tigers will have three legitimate scoring options to really put the pressure on opposing defenses. Read the rest of this entry »

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