SEC M5: 12.06.12 Edition

Posted by DPerry on December 6th, 2012

  1. Florida added another impressive win to its resume Wednesday night, crushing Florida State 72-47 in Tallahassee. The Gators utilized a balanced offensive attack (five players with nine or more points) and shot almost 50% from the field. However, their defensive performance was the real story, especially in the first half. The Seminoles were only able to muster 15 points on five made field goals, going into the break already facing a 20-point deficit. Just to rub a little salt in the wound for the hosts, top 2013 recruit Andrew Wiggins was in attendance to see the ‘Noles get run off the court (though the love he allegedly got from some FSU coeds may be the trump card).
  2. In the wake of Kentucky’s poor start to the season, coach John Calipari has no intention of riding it out. After Tuesday’s game, the Wildcats officially entered “Camp Cal,” a three-week period in which practices will skew heavily toward conditioning. Calipari hopes the strategy will work to improve his team’s mental toughness. “I think we all got intoxicated, including me, about everything that was written and said about this team,” he told the Lexington Herald-Leader. “I kept telling you, ‘We’re not that good.'” Kentucky’s home stand continues for three more games, but a late December trip to Louisville looms large, undoubtedly the target Calipari has in mind for his players’ improvement.
  3. There isn’t much of a winning culture supporting South Carolina basketball, but new coach Frank Martin isn’t willing to quietly let it continue. His most recent problem with his team is with its inability to take care of the ball. “It’s embarrassing,” said Martin. “I wish I could use another word. We’ve lost three games, and all three games have basically been lost with our inability to play offense. We play with such an individual frame of mind on offense, and we don’t pass the ball. We don’t screen. We don’t know the concepts that we need to play with.” The Gamecocks have turned the ball over on a staggering 27.4% of their possessions this season (according to TeamRankings), ranking 338th in the nation in that statistic. Martin succeeded at a non-traditional basketball school in Kansas State, and while there hasn’t been much early success with the Gamecocks this year, there is a new sense of urgency about the program.
  4. Tennessee will honor the late Ray Mears on December 13 when the Vols host Wichita State in Knoxville. “(He) was such an admired and respected man and I think Tennessee fans view him as much more than a basketball coach,” UT coach Cuonzo Martin said in a press release. “I want to ensure that we never overlook his contributions.” Mears is the Volunteers’ all-time wins leader, as he coached Tennessee legends such as Bernard King and Ernie Grunfeld. If honoring Mears isn’t enough to get you out to Thomspson-Boling Arena, the UT athletic department will be offering discounted popcorn and soda (which this writer assumes is an apology for the Vols’ offensive showings against Georgetown and Virginia).
  5. Is getting relegated to a non-BCS bowl enough for LSU fans to eschew football for some basketball? Probably not, but they may be pleasantly surprised if they do. Ex-player and new coach Johnny Jones has his team off to its best start in four seasons. The young Tigers rallied to beat Seton Hall over the weekend to move to 5-0, and even earned a vote in the AP Top 25 poll. Though they’ve taken care of business so far, LSU will have to prove themselves against better competition to be considered a true player in the SEC. After a home date next week with Chattanooga, Jones’ team will get their chance as they leave Baton Rouge for the first time, traveling to play quality opponents in Boise State and Marquette.
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SEC Power Rankings: Week One

Posted by DPerry on November 19th, 2012

Every week, the SEC microsite will post a composite power ranking list for the league’s performances coupled with a short commentary justifying each team’s specific ranking. We’ve been able to see each team in action, but with vastly different degrees of difficulty as far as scheduling, we’ll need to see more before the rankings truly take form.

A perfect night for Erik Murphy propels the Gators to the top spot.

  1. Florida- The Gators’ offense has shown the potential to be dominant. The lineup is bursting at the seams with skilled scorers, both in the frontcourt and backcourt. In going 10-10 from the field, we’ve probably seen senior Erik Murphy‘s best performance of the season, but he should have no problem improving on last year’s breakout campaign. Turnovers have been a concern, but with the reinstatement of point guard Scottie Wilbekin allowing Kenny Boynton to move to the two, Florida should be able to take better care of the ball.
  2. Kentucky- The loss to Duke isn’t a huge concern. The Blue Devils are a quality, veteran team. No, the real problem with the Wildcats so far is the lack of depth. Jarrod Polson, a star against Maryland, was completely ineffective against a more disciplined defense, and John Calipari only trusted Willie Cauley-Stein enough to give him six minutes. The continued absence of Ryan Harrow leaves Kentucky without a true point guard, a role not suited for Archie Goodwin or Julius Mays. Still, in watching the young Wildcats play, it’s tough to argue that they have the highest ceiling of any SEC team.
  3. Missouri- Frank Haith has used his first few games to assess all the new talent that arrived in Columbia this offseason. Auburn transfer Earnest Ross and freshman Negus Webster-Chan have been particularly impressive. We’ll know a lot more about the Tigers after the face three quality opponents in the Battle 4 Atlantis this week. Read the rest of this entry »
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SEC M5: 11.12.13 Edition

Posted by DPerry on November 13th, 2012

  1. In recognition of their stellar opening performances, the SEC named Kentucky forward Kyle Wiltjer as the conference’s Player of the Week, while South Carolina forward Michael Carrera earned Freshman of the Week honors. As his team’s only returning contributor, Wiltjer’s 19 points, six boards and three blocks were invaluable in Kentucky’s nail-biter win over Maryland. The Oregon native has a reputation as a soft big man, but he showed signs that he may have made considerable strides in his defense and rebounding. Carrera’s stat line in his debut performance was shocking. The undersized forward displayed a nonstop motor in contributing 17 points and 15 rebounds in the Gamecocks’ overtime victory against Milwaukee-Wisconsin. He’ll need to maintain that aggression for South Carolina to compete on the glass in SEC play.
  2. The Johnny Jones era at LSU began with a win, but with forward Johnny O’Bryant III going down with an injury, we doubt the new coach could fully celebrate. O’Bryant headed to the locker room only 11 minutes into the Tigers’ opener against UCSB, and his status remains in doubt moving forward. The Tigers are another SEC team that lacks much inside punch, and O’Bryant was expected to handle the bulk of the frontcourt’s production. Fortunately, Anthony Hickey realizes that adjustments are necessary. “All five of us have to rebound,” the sophomore point guard told reporters, “We’re all crashing the boards hard.”
  3. The history of the Duke-Kentucky rivalry isn’t a long one, but it certainly doesn’t lack for highlights. The 1992 East Regional Final is the most notable, as any NCAA Tournament pre-game highlight montage would have you know. However, Kentucky fans are quick to point to the 17-point second half comeback from Tubby Smith’s 1998 national champions against Duke in the Elite Eight as another highlight. In the last match-up between the two bluebloods in 2001, the defending national champion Blue Devils were taken to overtime by a Rashaad Carruth-led Kentucky squad. Tonight’s match-up in Atlanta features two top teams who employ very different styles, and should provide some very compelling basketball. One bold prediction: The announcers will inform the audience, without noting which team is responsible for two-thirds of them, that Duke and Kentucky have combined for 12 national titles.
  4. Tennessee fans received bad news on Monday, with the school revealing that forward Jeronne Maymon will likely remain sidelined through the end of November as he recovers from arthroscopic knee surgery. The senior forward had a breakout junior season and is projected to form one of the conference’s most potent frontcourts with Jarnell Stokes inside. The Volunteers barely missed a beat without him in their opening win against Kennesaw State, but with possible games against NC State, Oklahoma State, and a match-up at Georgetown before the end of the month, the competition will get tougher. Kenny Hall is a quality deputy for Maymon, while Yemi Makanjuola could provide a rebounding boost against bigger lineups.
  5. If a mediocre Horizon League foe blows out an SEC team on its home floor, and no one was there to see it, did it really happen? Well, yes. as Georgia fell to 1-1 with a 68-56 loss to Youngstown State on Monday. The Bulldogs were outrebounded 42-31, and shot a dreadful 3-24 from the field in the first half. Coach Mark Fox didn’t mince words in the post-game press conference, admitting that his team “set the game back 10 years” with its putrid offensive performance. An embarrassingly small and lifeless crowd only contributed to an evening that the Bulldogs hope will be the low point of their season. As a meeting with top-ranked Indiana looms just a week away, Georgia will need to make drastic improvements to keep that game respectable.
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Preseason SEC Power Rankings

Posted by KAlmekinder on November 7th, 2012

Every week, the SEC microsite will post a composite power ranking list for the league’s performances coupled with a short commentary justifying each team’s specific ranking. This week the rankings are centered around the preseason expectations of each team, including the arrivals, departures, and results of their previous season. With the season officially underway on Friday, here’s your SEC preseason power rankings.

Kentucky tops the first Rush the Court: SEC power rankings (Washington Post)

  1. Kentucky – The playlist is set on repeat as long as Calipari is in Lexington; raw freshmen talent comes in, matures, performs at their highest peak in March, and gets drafted. Don’t expect this year’s squad to match last year’s numbers or expectations. However, Calipari will find a way to get these Cats to mature quickly and be in the hunt for their 48th SEC crown and another Final Four run.
  2. Florida – The Gators return quite a bit from their second Elite Eight run in as many seasons. Their expectations are to reach the Final Four for the first time since winning it all in 2007. While the veteran leadership of Kenny Boynton is a positive, the Gators must get more consistent play from several key role players, including Scottie Wilbekin and Mike Rosario, to reach their goals. The pieces are in place for another deep Gator run.
  3. Missouri –  The island of misfit transfers is located in Columbia, Missouri. Newcomers such as Earnest Ross (Auburn), Keion Bell (Pepperdine), Alex Oriahki (Connecticut), and Jabari Brown (Oregon) all come to Missouri to find a new and hopefully winning experience in the Tigers’ first year in the SEC. With preseason SEC Player of the Year Phil Pressey leading the backcourt as well as Laurence Bowers in the post, Missouri should not only come close to their success of last year but also vie for the school’s first Final Four appearance in history.
  4. Tennessee –  The Volunteers won nearly 20 games last year and earned a postseason NIT berth with first year head coach Cuonzo Martin. Adding freshman phenom forward Jarnell Stokes in January resulted in at least four more wins in the second half of the season. Martin’s defensive style of play, plus Stokes on the team for a full year and senior Jeronne Maymon guarding the post, should cause hopes for a darkhorse run at the SEC title. Read the rest of this entry »
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SEC M5: 11.05.12 Edition

Posted by KAlmekinder on November 5th, 2012

  1. Two years removed from raising over a million dollars in Haiti earthquake relief efforts with a nationally televised telethon, Kentucky is at it again. The Wildcats are going to host another telethon this year to support the victims and recovery of the aftermath from Hurricane Sandy in the northeast. John Calipari will host this telethon on Wednesday evening and already has some ideas as to improve upon the last one, stating that the Hati fundraiser had over 70,000 calls. “We couldn’t take them all. We could only take 2,000. So we’re going to hope to have it so that whoever calls in, that phone will be answered somewhere.” The telethon will be from 7-8 PM EST online at WKYT.com.
  2. After the sudden change in roster spots and coaching, many Bulldog fans knew the Mississippi State rebuilding process would take some time, but even they probably did not think it would begin with a very close win in its exhibition game versus William Carey on Sunday night. Rick Ray’s club trailed by eight points in the first half but eventually came back to win, 80-74. Ray was asked if his team was ready for Friday’s regular season match-up versus Troy and he gave “no” as his response. While his team’s execution was poor, Ray focused on the positives and knew that their exhibition would help with teaching points for his squad going forward.
  3. It has been a few weeks since Missouri head coach Frank Haith suspended Michael Dixon and Dominique Bull for team rules violations. On Friday, Haith stated that Dixon would continue to sit out for the Tigers’ exhibition versus Missouri Southern yesterday (which Missouri won, 86-60). Haith said that Dixon is working better to meet the team’s rules and expectations and has rejoined the team in practice. The freshman Bull, suspended for a separate incident, dressed out on Sunday but he was not guaranteed any playing time (he received three minutes). There is no timetable set for Dixon’s return to the lineup.
  4. The first step toward new head coach Johnny Jones’ returning LSU to a premier SEC power is by establishing a solid recruiting base. Jones is off to a great start by already receiving verbal commitments from two 2013 ESPN Top 100 recruits in Jordan Mickey and Tim Quarterman. Late last week he made his biggest splash by landing Baton Rouge star and #14 overall player, Jarell Martin, a 6’8″ power forward who had offers from Alabama, St. John’s, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M. LSU now has two verbal commitments in the Texas/Louisiana area with four more also considering the Tigers. Jones is successfully using his local geography pitch to help land these recruits and it could pay off with more to come.
  5.  The Georgia men’s and women’s basketball teams participated in “Painting the ‘G'” over the weekend, a tradition started two years ago by the Georgia football staff. They let Mark Fox and the basketball players physically paint the Georgia “G” on the football field before their most recent game, knowing that while football still reigns in the SEC, November is also the beginning of the basketball season. The football staff wants to convey the message that all its players and coaches support and respect the other sports at the university and looks to involve them in other projects.
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SEC M5: 10.25.12 Edition

Posted by DPerry on October 25th, 2012

  1. Kentucky took to the Rupp Arena floor Wednesday night for its annual Blue-White scrimmage. Over 12,000 fans were in attendance, with many more catching the action on Fox Sports Net. The new-look Wildcats put on a high-flying, high-scoring show, but coach John Calipari downplayed the performance. “Folks, let me just say this,” he told fans after the final buzzer, “thanks for being here tonight. Can you see how far we have to go?” This isn’t surprising of course, as Calipari downplaying his team’s level of quality before the season seems to be his modus operandi. Big performances from freshmen Archie Goodwin, Alex Poythress, and Nerlens Noel will dominate headlines, but the upperclassmen showed promise as well. Kyle Wiltjer displayed improved strength and dropped a pretty baby hook over Noel, while transfer Julius Mays showed a quick and accurate trigger from long range. Even Jon Hood, coming off a knee injury, looked energetic and shot the ball efficiently. If one of these older players can step into the leadership role vacated by Darius Miller, Kentucky may not be as far away as their coach believes.
  2. Attendence figures have been woeful for South Carolina over the past few seasons, but Frank Martin has designs on quickly changing that. In a meeting with members of the student body on Monday, the new Gamecock coach discussed ideas to increase fan interest. “I’ll make myself available for anything the students want,” he said. “I need you guys in that building.” Martin isn’t the type to shy away from a challenge. In 2007, he took over a Kansas State program that hadn’t been to the NCAA Tournament in over a decade and promptly led the Wildcats to four bids in six seasons. Turning around a moribund South Carolina program might be even tougher. The overall lack of talent on the roster makes an immediate reversal of fortunes unlikely, but Martin’s willingness to reach out to a jaded fanbase is a step in the right direction.
  3. Want to hear what your coach thinks about your team’s chances this season? Your questions will be answered today, as the league’s coaches gather in Hoover, Alabama, for SEC Media Day. The story from last year’s event was the unwavering confidence of Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings, who seemed to take issue with the fact that his team wasn’t being ranked ahead of the inexperienced Kentucky Wildcats. After losing every key contributor from a 25-win team, how will the Commodores’ coach react to this year’s 10th place prediction for his squad?
  4. New LSU coach Johnny Jones got a jump on the Media Day festivities when he addressed local media in Baton Rouge yesterday. “We have really been pleased with the last few days of practice,” said Jones. “Unfortunately, we have had a few players go down with injuries which are somewhat of a little setback. Hopefully, we will get them back on the floor in the near future within the next few days. That would be beneficial for us because of our lack of numbers.” Any hint of injury on an already thin squad is troubling news for LSU fans, since even a full-strength Tiger team won’t win many conference games this season. Jones will be counting on good fortune on the injury front to stay away from the bottom of the standings. If he runs into some bad luck, however, he can ask Andrew Del Piero for help finding practice bodies. A couple of those trombone players looked like they had some size.
  5. Details surrounding Billy Gillispie’s dismissal from Texas Tech continue to emerge, and they aren’t pretty. E-mails obtained by USA Today indicate that the former Kentucky coach regularly ignored practice time restrictions, most notably on one October weekend in 2011 when the team “practiced for 7 hours, 15 minutes on Saturday, and 6 hours, 30 minutes on Sunday”. His tenure in the SEC was an unmitigated disaster, and his failed campaign at Texas Tech only highlights how unfit Gillispie was to lead the league’s most prestigious program. It seems unlikely that another school will take a chance on him in the near future (if at all), so when the controversy over his improprieties in Lubbock fades away, we hope that you won’t have to read Gillispie’s name on this site for long, long time.
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LSU’s Andrew Del Piero: From Tuba Player to Basketball Scholarship

Posted by Brian Joyce on October 24th, 2012

Seven-footer Andrew Del Piero was a two time All-State selection in high school, and as such, highly recruited to attend LSU. But not in basketball. The honors bestowed upon Del Piero were from his time as a standout tuba player before joining the Golden Band from Tigerland. A 7’3″ tuba player? Surely it didn’t take long for the big guy to figure out he fit in more on the basketball court than performing in the band. Can you figure out which one is Del Piero?

Del Piero walked on last season with the Tigers basketball team, playing in only four games. Despite scoring just three points and grabbing two rebounds in 12 minutes of action all season, Del Piero was offered a scholarship to play for coach Johnny Jones this season. “Andrew is on scholarship now,” Jones said. “When we came back to school, because of the work that he had put in and his commitment to what we were doing. Andrew being a senior and what he’s going through, I just thought it would be fitting if a scholarship was awarded to him.” Not only is Del Piero now on scholarship (for basketball), but because of a shortage of size and bodies in the LSU frontcourt, he is making a contribution. Sophomore forward Johnny O’Bryant says Del Piero is usually assigned to guard him in practice, and it is no cakewalk.  “He helps me because he’s got that heavy body and a heavy center of gravity and I have to work when I bang inside with him,” O’Bryant said.

Brian Joyce is a writer for the SEC microsite and regular contributor for Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about SEC basketball at bjoyce_hoops.

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SEC M5: 10.19.12 Edition

Posted by KAlmekinder on October 19th, 2012

  1. As Missouri slowly tries to find its identity in the SEC football realm, its basketball presence has already been met with much hype and high expectations heading into the season. The Tigers’ initial move from the Big 12 to the SEC was criticized regarding the status of some of their regional rivalries, most notably with its immediate neighbors, Kansas and Illinois. Yesterday the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the “Braggin’ Rights” rivalry between Missouri and Illinois will continue through the 2016-17 season. The annual Mississippi River border showdown at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis has featured an intense regional rivalry since its inception in 1980. Missouri has won the last three meetings in the series after Illinois had won nine straight from 2000-08. As for the rivalry with Kansas, no news has surfaced (and may never surface) since Missouri’s departure from the Big 12 and thus ending the century old Border War, for now.
  2.  Could Michigan’s Fab Five beat last year’s Kentucky squad? Or vice versa? Coach John Calipari defended his Wildcats in an ESPN “Numbers Never Lie” clip on Thursday. Co-host and former Fab Five member Jalen Rose, in defense of his Wolverines, jokingly stated “Kentucky cheated by not starting all five freshmen last year.” Calipari praised Rose for his vocal leadership that helped make the Fab Five a very tight-knit group and said “my team wasn’t as vocal but came together in the same way. It would’ve been a heck of a game.”
  3. With the release of the Top 25 Coaches Poll earlier this week, head coach Mike Anderson and the Arkansas Razorbacks saw the difficult road that lies ahead: Seven ranked opponents on their schedule this year, including four within three weeks of each other. The Las Vegas Classic will challenge the Hogs early with games against #15 Creighton and #21 Wisconsin on November 24. Less than a week later, Arkansas hosts #9 Syracuse on November 30. In conference play, Arkansas will play home-and-home with #10 Florida and  #17 Missouri with another home game versus #3 Kentucky on March 2. Anderson will be tested early and often this season, hoping these difficult games will improve on last year’s 18-14 record and get the Razorbacks back into the NCAA Tournament.
  4. In recruiting news, Missouri picked up a commitment on Thursday from ESPN Top 100 forward Johnathan Williams, III. Dave Telep of ESPN reported that the 6’8″ Memphis native chose the Tigers over Tennessee, Michigan State, Georgetown, and George Mason. Williams is ranked as the 38th best overall recruit in the Class of 2013 and the second Top 100 recruit Missouri has obtained for next year. Williams’ pick has immediately vaulted the Tigers to #16 in next year’s class rankings.
  5.  New LSU head coach Johnny Jones spoke out on Wednesday about the first four practices he held this year. Jones discussed the difficulty of playing with only 11 guys and the challenge of molding his squad to understand the tempo he expects to see this season. “We want to try and make sure that our level is as such the way that we play. We’re trying to implement our system in just a short time because we’ll obviously be playing here in less than a month,” Jones said. The new head coach also praised several of his players but was still grounded, knowing they must all improve individually as well as a team going forward.
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SEC M5: 10.16.12 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on October 16th, 2012

  1. LSU went immediately to work this week with new coach Johnny Jones, but without the aid of a cadre of experienced big men. 6’9″ forward Johnny O’Bryant, who averaged 8.5 points and 6.7 rebounds per game last season, will be counted on to lead the way on the low blocks this season. Other than O’Bryant, the Tigers are fairly thin in the frontcourt. A pair of junior college transfers, Shavon Coleman and Calvin Godfrey, could be counted upon to provide quality minutes. And so far in practice reports, Coleman, who has drawn the task of defending O’Bryant, has “held up well.” Coleman stands at just 6’6″, but will likely spend a majority of minutes guarding larger opponents at the power forward slot.
  2. Tony Barbee is feeling confident with his new-look Tigers, but if he is going to get Auburn over the .500 hump he will have to do so with six new faces this season. One of the less heralded freshmen, 6’3″ guard Brian Greene, Jr., could end up being the most productive. The freshman is considered a strong candidate for the open point guard position, and he has drawn praise from returning guard Frankie Sullivan. “It is just not that he stands out, but you always see the guy,” Sullivan said. “Even in the drills, he is the one who is catching on the quickest.” Sullivan will likely start at the two guard spot. He led the Tigers in scoring last year with 12.6 points per game, but still wasn’t 100 percent because of a knee injury that sidelined him during the 2010-11 season.
  3. Want to know why Kentucky has been so good in the Calipari era? They score more points than the other team. And that is not purely because of offense, but because the Wildcats have been a lockdown defensive squad under Coach Cal. For three years running, the Cats have ranked in the top 10 in the nation in three defensive categories: effective field goal percentage, two point percentage, and blocks. According to Glenn Logan at ASoB, “Kentucky has been #1 in the nation in blocks three years running – an impressive statistic that very few people mention when analyzing the Wildcats.” But likely because of that strong protection around the rim, Kentucky has given up a higher percentage of three-point attempts and subsequently a higher percentage of three-point field goals. As Logan points out, “If you’re taking 3’s, you’re not taking 2’s closer to the basket.” With top defender and shot blocker Nerlens Noel guarding the basket, that might just be the plan.
  4. The Arkansas faithful hasn’t exactly witnessed the football success it had hoped for, but there is a certain optimism towards year two of the Mike Anderson era in Fayetteville. And according to Doc Harper of ArkansasExpats.com, the Hogs should be in the NCAA Tournament. “Bottom line, if BJ Young is deserving of all the hype he’s getting, Arkansas will be in the tournament in March,” Harper says. “Any NBA lottery pick should be able to lead a team to the NCAA Tournament on his own.” The Razorbacks should be much improved from a 6-10 SEC mark last season, but it won’t be Young alone that gets them there. Arkansas’ depth should be enough to unleash a full 40 minutes of Anderson’s fast paced system.
  5. Uni watch 2012 is in full effect. With a number of departures from a solid team last season, we are not certain what the Crimson Tide will look like on the court. But we do know that they will be doing it in style. Alabama joined the Nike Hyper Elite team with basketball stalwarts Duke, Kentucky, Syracuse, and North Carolina. The current Tide players showcased the new slimmer look with the Alabama specific print on the back. Alabama lost leading scorers JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell , but return enough talent to make a splash in the SEC standings.

Brian Joyce is a writer for the SEC microsite and regular contributor for Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about SEC basketball at bjoyce_hoops.

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SEC Transition Basketball: LSU Tigers

Posted by Brian Joyce on September 8th, 2012

Wrapping up the SEC transition basketball series with today’s update: LSU.

State of the Program

Other than a home win over Marquette in December, last season was not much to brag about for the LSU Tigers. A 10-3 start to the season had Tigers fans optimistic heading into conference play, but that feeling quickly dissipated after LSU lost six of eight games through one stretch. An 18-15 season was not enough to spark excitement for a fan base looking for any reason to hold onto hope. Coach Trent Johnson announced his departure from Baton Rouge in March. And lo and behold, a spark ignited.

Johnny Jones takes over in Baton Rouge. (Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Enter North Texas coach and former LSU Tiger, Johnny Jones. Jones, who was part of two LSU Final Four teams as a player and an assistant coach, was chosen to lead the Tigers out of its path of recent mediocrity. UNT won two Sun Belt championships under Jones, and LSU is hoping for similar success in the SEC. The Tigers haven’t been to the NCAA Tournament since the 2009 season when they won the SEC with a 13-3 conference record. For Jones to keep the flame lit, an NCAA Tournament berth has to come sooner rather than later.

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SEC Weekly Five: 06.22.12 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on June 22nd, 2012

  1. The University of Kentucky athletic department announced its decision to increase ticket prices by as much as $10 for a single game ticket next season. In addition, the K Fund donation required to buy season tickets has increased by as much as $1500. Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart said the jump in prices were due to several factors including: the increasing cost of tuition, additional travel costs due to SEC conference realignment, and the rising costs of paying upper echelon coaching salaries like John Calipari’s $5.2 million dollar annual salary (it is worth mentioning at least some of which is paid through annual endorsements). However, when you are coming off a 2012 National Championship and have the most passionate fan base in all of college basketball, fans in the Bluegrass State will pay whatever the asking price to watch their Cats in Rupp Arena.
  2. Talent wins championships, and while the 2012-13 Kentucky Wildcats have plenty of talent, there is something missing from next year’s roster — experience, particularly in Calipari’s system. Basketball pundits clamored over UK’s one-and-done stars from last season, but it was senior Darius Miller who stepped out of the spotlight to quietly lead his team.  “He does everything the team needs him to do. He completes everybody. He’s not competing, he’s completing,” Calipari said of Miller towards the end of the 2012 season. “If he needs to rebound, defend (he will). He plays some guard, he plays some four (power forward). Whatever position we ask him, he just completes.” It is clear that Calipari’s Cats have the talent to compete for a repeat performance next year, but the question (asked by Kentucky blog A Sea of Blue) becomes, who replaces Darius Miller? And at this point, the answer is, it’s too early to tell.
  3. New LSU head coach Johnny Jones has added David Patrick to his staff to serve in the role of assistant basketball coach. Patrick has served as an assistant with Saint Mary’s and Nicholls State before his most recent stint as player personnel scout for the Houston Rockets. “We are definitely excited about the addition of David Patrick to our staff,” said Jones. “He will not only be able to help us with game planning and practice preparation, but we look forward to him helping to raise our level of recruiting at LSU, both regionally as well as nationally. With his background in both Division I and professional basketball, he brings a level of experience to our program that will help us to move forward.” Jones has built a lot of momentum since being announced as the head man for the Tigers in April. In addition to luring Patrick to Baton Rouge, he initially recruited former UNT assistants Shawn Forrest and Charlie Leonard and added former Georgetown assistant Robert Kirby over a month ago.
  4. A couple of SEC players made Eamonn Brennan’s list of 10 potential breakout players for 2012-13. Okay, so these lists aren’t exactly news, but it’s at least a conversation starter. Brennan puts Arkansas guard BJ Young, who briefly considered a jump to the NBA after his freshman year, on the list. Can a guy who averaged over 15 points per game really be a breakout player? Regardless, Young and his young teammates (see what we did there) could elevate Mike Anderson’s Razorbacks back into the Top 25 this year after a long hiatus from the national college basketball landscape.The other SEC player on Brennan’s list is Kentucky’s Kyle Wiltjer. Wiltjer saw just over 11 minutes per game last year, but when he was on the floor he took the highest percentage of shots on the team. Wiltjer isn’t afraid to hoist the ball up there, and we are likely to see even more shots from him this season.
  5. Incoming Florida transfer Dorian Finney-Smith has ties to the Florida program and he wasn’t going to choose against the Gators again. Finney-Smith is close friends with former Gator center Vernon Macklin. “Vernon is like a brother to me,” Finney-Smith said. “I saw how successful he was at Florida and that played a role in my decision.” It’s a decision that Finney-Smith seems happy with. “Coach Donovan said we’re going to be going up-and-down the floor, every day,” he said. “I like that. It will be fun.” It isn’t sounding like much fun for the rest of the SEC though. Florida’s 2013-14 front line is coming together with the addition of several quality transfers. In addition to the 6’8″ Finney Smith, Billy Donovan added 6’9″ Damontre Harris earlier this summer, a transfer from South Carolina. Both big men will sit out this season, but will be able to practice with the team.
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SEC Weekly Five: 05.11.12 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on May 11th, 2012

  1. The New York Times reports that incoming Kentucky freshman Nerlens Noel is being investigated by the NCAA for relationships among his inner circle. While some point fingers of allegations because of John Calipari and Kentucky’s involvement, CBSSports.com reminds us that this issue will continue to be a problem with many of the top recruits regardless of school affiliation. “Just change the name and you’ve got a new story,” a high-major assistant coach said to Jeff Borzello this week. But coaches like Bob Knight (long-time Calipari critic) and media members like Pete Thamel (author of the NYT story) continue to point to Calipari as what is wrong in college sports. “People want to say Calipari is the problem with the system,” said an SEC assistant coach. “They want to point their finger at him. But he’s no different than any of these other guys.”
  2. Despite the buzz of allegations, Noel feels very confident that he will be eligible to play for Kentucky next season. He says that at this point the NCAA has not contacted him or his immediate family, and he feels that he is in a “great position to qualify,” even though he is aware of the investigation. “I don’t want to be too specific, but I’m in a good position to qualify,” Noel said in response to the NYT story. A Kentucky spokesman declined to comment, but Noel’s confidence has to be good news for the Cats.
  3. While many of the nation’s top recruits end up in Lexington, Wright State transfer shooting guard Julius Mays may end up rejecting Cal’s Cats. Mays shot an impressive 42.4% from beyond the arc last season, but rather than use those talents for Kentucky he is looking instead at Matt Painter’s Purdue squad. “I would have a chance to score the ball and play guard with a great group of guys,” Mays said. “I feel like I could play for coach (Matt) Painter. I watch a lot of basketball, and any time Purdue is on, I watch them. You never know if this is my last visit. If I’m ready to choose, that’s what I will do.” Kentucky needs depth for next year’s team, and of course, a deadeye shooter wouldn’t hurt either.
  4. Big guard Ralston Turner is considering a transfer and has been granted a release from LSU’s new coach Johnny Jones, who was hired to replace Trent Johnson this offseason. Turner indicated that he would like to take some time to think about his decision, but his release does not necessarily mean that he is leaving the Tigers. “I have been given my release and I will be taking a visit (to another school),” Turner said. “That’s all. I didn’t say I was 100 percent leaving (LSU). It’s something I have thought about for a while and Coach Jones is allowing me to do it. I am going to take a visit and when it’s over I will weigh my options.” Turner averaged 9.1 points and 3.0 rebounds per game in his sophomore year with the Tigers, and would be a solid returning player for Jones in his first year on the bench for LSU.
  5. A lot of talk has centered around non-traditional schedules and Calipari’s desire to play at neutral sites, and now Indiana coach Tom Crean is defending his position regarding the recently dropped rivalry between the Hoosiers and the Wildcats. “First off, someone asked me do you not want to play neutral sites? We have neutral sites,” Crean told reporters. “When the Crossroads Classic came in, that became something that was going to be locked in every year. Even though it’s in Indianapolis, it’s a neutral site. It’s not a home site. You always want to have the ability to play in exempt tournaments. We’ve done that in the past. We have it this year, playing in New York. So there’s three right there.” It is a shame that Indiana and Kentucky cannot find a way to play considering the history and tradition that goes into that rivalry, but ultimately Calipari and Crean (and obviously the rest of the athletics staff involved) have to do what is perceived to be in the best interest of their program. Both head coaches have done enough recently (Cal with a National Championship and Crean with rebuilding IU from shambles) that trust in terms of whether or not each program is going in the right direction should not be an issue.
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