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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Reassessing Georgia and LSU’s NCAA Tournament Prospects

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on November 28th, 2014

Georgia entered this season with hopes of making its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2010-11. That expectation didn’t seem far-fetched since the Bulldogs are coming off a 20-win campaign in 2013-14 and return most of their core contributors. LSU entered this season with similar expectations, largely because of the NBA potential of Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin. Two weeks in both teams are already saddled with two losses, which begs the question, should we re-adjust our expectations for the Bulldogs and the Tigers?

LSU has been unable to overcome off-nights from either Jordan Mickey or Jarell Martin (comojuega.com).

LSU has been unable to overcome off-nights from either Jordan Mickey or Jarell Martin (comojuega.com).

To me, LSU has been the most disappointing team in the SEC. Missouri and South Carolina have more losses, but neither was expected to finish in the top quarter of the league. The Tigers dropped neutral site games to Old Dominion (KenPom #100) and Clemson (#93), and needed a late rally to beat Texas Tech (#114) at home. Early season losses to power conference teams and historically-respectable mid-majors (like ODU) are not a sin. But the simple fact is that these are games the Tigers should be winning if they are the team many thought they could be.

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SEC Season Preview: LSU Tigers

Posted by David Changas on November 12th, 2014

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

LSU Tigers

Strengths. In many other conferences Johnny Jones would have the best frontcourt in the entire league. Alas, this is the conference that Kentucky’s parade of McDonald’s All-American bigs call home. Nonetheless, LSU is loaded up front and hoping Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin can key a breakthrough season in Baton Rouge. Mickey raked in the hardware last season, landing on the All-SEC Second Team, All-Freshman Team and All-Defensive Team. After flirting with the NBA Draft last spring, he returns as one of the best rebounders (7.9 RPG) and shot-blockers (3.1 BPG) in the conference. Martin is an athletic forward who can play on the perimeter, and he got better as the season went along. His statistics across the board were better in conference play than they were in non-conference play, including an offensive rating that jumped from a nice 108.6 to a better 113.9. Massive freshman center Elbert Robinson III may only play in short spurts, but at 7’0’’ and 300 pounds, he’ll be a challenge for any defense. Fellow freshman forward Aaron Epps has drawn praise from Jones for his defensive rebounding and also figures to enter the frontcourt rotation.

Jordan Mickey will look to improve on his All-SEC Second Team freshman season (comojuega.com).

Jordan Mickey will look to improve on his All-SEC Second Team freshman season. (comojuega.com)

Weaknesses. Leadership. I’m always hesitant to write about something intangible that I can’t possibly understand or measure from my seat on the couch, but LSU is an undeniably young team. Their leaders, at least by performance, figure to be Mickey (a sophomore), Martin (a sophomore), Gray (first year in the program) and Hornsby (a transfer). The only senior on the roster is John Odo, who averaged 5.2 minutes per game last year. In an alternate universe the Tigers would have two seniors playing big minutes, but Johnny O’Bryant entered the NBA Draft and Anthony Hickey transferred to Oklahoma State. You don’t need to look further than Kentucky’s run to the National Championship game last year to see that youth and inexperience don’t preclude success. But in a season filled with high hopes, someone on LSU will need to fill the leadership role in the locker room and on the floor. Read the rest of this entry »

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SEC M5: 11.07.14 Edition

Posted by David Changas on November 7th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. Thursday was a really bad day for Tennessee. As we documented earlier, Jason King of Bleacher Report reported that Southern Mississippi, which was coached for two years by new Volunteers coach Donnie Tyndall, is under NCAA investigation for improper financial support of “Prop 48″ athletes. Tyndall has not been contacted by the NCAA yet, although that appears inevitable. Shortly after that troubling news broke, Chris Clarke, a top-75 senior who committed to Tennessee last week, reneged and announced that he will instead head to Virginia Tech. While it is likely the switch was in the works prior to the release of King’s story, it is hard to believe that the investigation had nothing to do with his change of decision. Clarke was clearly the crown jewel of the Volunteers’ class, and Tyndall must now head back to the recruiting drawing board under the potentially dark clouds of an NCAA investigation.
  2. SI’s Seth Davis recently made waves with an interview of Kentucky head coach John Calipari for his Campus Insiders show. In the interview, Davis raised the issue of the vacation of his two Final Four appearances at UMass and Memphis. Calipari did not seem overly pleased with Davis’ question, indicating that he was not concerned about “me or my reputation. I sleep great at night.” Of course, that particular topic is one that Calipari’s detractors often raise to support their argument that he does not recruit above board, but he was not implicated in either of the two scandals and he seems to be doing well for himself in the Bluegrass State.
  3. Exhibition basketball is about as meaningful as the NFL preseason, so the results of these games are hardly worth paying attention to. Still, it is always surprising when a top-10 team plays a relatively close game against a Division II school. On Thursday night, #7 Florida struggled with Barry College in its exhibition opener, winning by only nine points and getting outscored by the Buccaneers in the paint, 22-18. While the Gators may not have played particularly well, they did get a game-high 22 points from Rutgers transfer Eli Carter, who went 5-of-9 from three-point range. Florida head coach Billy Donovan has to be pleased with Carter’s output — especially given the inexperience in the Gators’ backcourt behind Kasey Hill and Michael Frazier II — and likely will not worry too much about the margin of Florida’s win.
  4. It is no secret that Anthony Grant likely needs a successful season to keep his job, and that he will be sent packing if Alabama does not significantly improve upon last year’s 13-19 record. The Crimson Tide have some returning experience, but Grant also brought in the best recruiting class in his six years in Tuscaloosa. Drew Champlin of AL.com took a look at Grant’s early efforts to blend this team’s youth and experience together. Alabama will be led by seniors Levi Randolph and Rodney Cooper, but expect significant contributions from its four freshmen as well. Grant also brought in long-time Buffalo head coach Reggie Witherspoon to add some much-needed experience to his staff. Witherspoon, who has what Grant calls a “great basketball mind,” will be crucial to the development of this team, and given a very difficult pre-conference schedule that includes games against Wichita State, Iowa State, Xavier and UCLA, he will need to work his magic quickly.
  5. LSU recently extended Johnny Jones’ contract through the 2017-18 season, based in large part upon his ability to bring in talent to Baton Rouge. He already has a commitment from Rivals.com’s top player in the 2015 class, Ben Simmons, and this weekend he will receive visits from two big-time recruitsJaQuan Lyle and Antonio Blakeney, both of whom previously committed to Louisville before backing out of their pledges. Lyle was a Class of 2014 player who committed to Oregon before reclassifying and going to prep school. Blakeney is ranked No. 13 in the 2015 class, and his decommitment from the Cardinals garnered significant attention because of the widespread belief that his decision was related to shoe company affiliation. For Jones, getting the two on campus for the weekend of the LSU-Alabama football game is a major coup, and if he can somehow convince the two guards to join forces with Simmons, the landscape of this program would change significantly.
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Assessing the SEC Coaching Hot Seat

Posted by David Changas on October 29th, 2014

As the college basketball season approaches, it’s time to assess how much pressure, or lack thereof, is on each of the SEC’s 14 coaches.

The Seat is ICE COLD

  • Billy Donovan (Florida) and John Calipari (Kentucky). It is hard to imagine two seats being any cooler than these two. The only way either leaves his current post is voluntarily for a high-profile and higher-paying job in the NBA. While that may still be a threat for both, Calipari would appear to be the more likely option to eventually take that route. Donovan, who remarkably is now entering his 19th season at Florida, does not appear to be headed anywhere, although he has flirted with — and once even took the Orlando Magic gig — several times in his tenure. For now, though, the two kings of the SEC are firmly entrenched at their respective schools and appear to be primed to dominate the league for the foreseeable future.
  • Bruce Pearl (Auburn). The Auburn administration did what many thought was unthinkable in March: It made Auburn basketball relevant again. The school’s hiring of Pearl was not just a home run; it was a grand slam, as the former Tennessee coach will have the Tigers playing at a high level within two to three years. He has already started recruiting well  – his 2015 class is currently No. 10 in Rivals.com‘s most recent ratings — and once his system is in place with the right parts, the rest of the SEC will be on notice.
Auburn is happy to have Bruce Pearl back in the SEC. (athlonsports.com)

Auburn is happy to have Bruce Pearl back in the SEC. (athlonsports.com)

  • Donnie Tyndall (Tennessee). Tyndall takes over a program that went to the Sweet Sixteen last season and was one controversial call away from having a chance to play for a Final Four berth. However, it is no secret that former head coach Cuonzo Martin was not beloved in Knoxville, and Tyndall’s engaging personality seems to be a better fit for the school. The Vols will certainly struggle this year and maybe a couple more after that, but Tyndall will get a pass in the short term to bring in players who fit his more frenetic system.

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LSU Gives Jones Extension: Does He Deserve It?

Posted by David Changas on October 24th, 2014

LSU announced earlier this week that head coach Johnny Jones‘ contract has been extended for two years through the 2017-18 season, and that he has received a $400,000 raise. Jones had been one of the lowest-paid coaches in the SEC, and will now make $1.5 million per season as the leader of the Tigers (with incentives, that number could reach as much as $2.1 million). While that is still well below what the highest-paid coaches in the SEC earn, the question that must be answered is why LSU thought this was the right time for an extension.

Johnny Jones and LSU Are Happy

Johnny Jones and LSU Are Happy

Jones has been at LSU for two years now but he has yet to lead the Tigers to an NCAA Tournament berth, and last season was a disappointment. Despite being picked to finish fourth in the conference, LSU went 9-9 in league play and 20-14 overall. The Tigers reached the NIT, but they were beaten handily by SMU in the second round. The Tigers were unable to finish better than .500 in league play despite having the talented services of Johnny O’Bryant, who departed for the NBA after the season, and freshman sensation Jordan Mickey, who was selected earlier this week to the preseason all-SEC first team. The Tigers also had Jarell Martin on hand, a player who came in as a five-star recruit but did not produce on the level of the less-heralded Mickey. And although attendance at the Maravich Center increased from Jones’ first year on the job, it is still not on the level it was even a decade ago and questions remain as to whether he can bring the program back to a level it was for much of Dale Brown’s tenure.

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SEC M5: 10.20.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on October 20th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. The ability to recruit was (and still is) a big question mark surrounding first year Missouri head coach Kim Anderson. To address this expected deficiency, Anderson added Huntington Prep coach Rob Fulford to his staff, and that decision has already paid immediate dividends in landing four-star wing Montaque (“Teki”) Gill-Caesar from – you guessed it – Huntington Prep. Fulford told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the time Gill-Caesar spent playing with Andrew Wiggins at Huntington was invaluable. “Teki would never back down from Andrew. Now, there were points in practice where Teki would get the better of Andrew until Andrew decided, ‘OK, enough’s enough.’” The Tigers will need that kind of confidence from Gill-Caesar as they replace Jordan Clarkson, Jabari Brown and Earnest Ross, three players that accounted for virtually all of the team’s scoring last season.
  2. Luke Winn and Dan Hanner continue their intricate, raw number modeling at SI.com, this time predicting which transfers will have the biggest impact at their new schools. Texas A&M’s Jalen Jones (SMU) lands the second spot on the list as the model predicts he will score 13.9 points per game for the Aggies. This infusion of scoring talent is vital for Billy Kennedy since his team was at times difficult to watch offensively last season. The addition of Jones and a healthy Davonte Fitzgerald should give Texas A&M the offensive boost that it needs. Florida’s Alex Murphy (#70) and Jon Horford (#90) check in pretty far down the list, but each will be heavily relied upon in the frontcourt while Chris Walker serves his three-game suspension, and they could shoot up this list if Walker’s off-court problems persist into the season.
  3. LSU junior guard Joseph Gray checked in at #12 on the SI.com list, and his journey to Baton Rouge has been tumultuous and at times heart-breaking. The Louisiana native, whose mother passed away while he was in high school, was spurned as a prep recruit by former Tigers coach Trent Johnson and ended up Texas Tech. He left the Red Raiders after one productive season (9.3 PPG, 3.2 APG) for Odessa Community College, where he averaged 34.7 PPG in his single season of JuCo action. New LSU head coach Johnny Jones gave Gray the chance to return home and he has a massive opportunity in front of him. He should be in position to earn a lion’s share of the minutes at point guard with Andre Stringer (graduation) and Anthony Hickey (transfer to Oklahoma State) now out of the picture. And despite all the movement in his young career, Gray has two years of eligibility to establish himself as a star at LSU.
  4. Unfortunately for Alabama, one of its transfers won’t see the court at all this season. Christophe Varidel, a graduate transfer from Chaminade, will miss the season because of a pre-existing knee injury, thus ending his collegiate career. Varidel was a part of Florida Gulf Coast’s Sweet Sixteen team in 2012-13, but transferred to the Islands when Andy Enfield left for USC after that season. First and foremost, it’s a sad situation for Varidel, as he will miss out on his only chance to play basketball in a power conference. It’s also an early blow for Anthony Grant since Varidel, a career 38.5 percent three-point shooter, would have played a part in trying to replace the scoring production that left with Trevor Releford.
  5. Frank Martin is angry — this time about criticism leveled at the lack of fan support for basketball at South Carolina. “It’s hard to tell me people don’t care, and yet you’re in the top 40 in the country in total attendance, you’re fifth in the SEC, and there’s an opinion that people don’t care,” Martin told the Charleston Post and Courier. The article points out that South Carolina was actually 41st in attendance with an average of 10,074 fans per game last season, but Martin’s argument is still well-taken. It’s rather impressive that a team without much success in recent history can post that kind of attendance figure, because winning leads to crowds no matter the sport and no matter the level. If Martin can turn the Gamecocks around, Colonial Life Arena and its 18,000-seat capacity will become a daunting challenge. For his part, Martin is about determined as a person can be to reach that point. “I’m not going to stop until the good Lord either takes me, or we put 18 [thousand] in that building when we play,” he said. Touche.
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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

SEC_morning5

  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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