SEC M5: 11.26.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on November 26th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. Jordan McRae was named SEC Player of the Week after scoring a combined 45 points against the Citadel and Tennessee State. He has tightened up his efficiency on offense since the beginning of the year, missing only nine shots in those two games after missing ten in the opener against Xavier alone. His hot offensive week has helped make up for sluggish starts from two players expected to carry part of the scoring load for the Volunteers, Jarnell Stokes (40% FG%) and Robert Hubbs (35% FG%). James Young was named the Freshman of the Week, continuing the stranglehold the Wildcats will likely hold on the award all year long.
  2. Kentucky had its first non-Michigan State scare of the season last night as Cleveland State held a ten-point lead with ten minutes left. The Harrison twins were mainly responsible for the rally that helped Kentucky avoid the upset. This is encouraging for Wildcat fans because Aaron (who has struggled from three) hit a big corner three, and Andrew (who is shooting 37 percent overall) had an important old-fashioned three point play. Consistent perimeter offense from the Harrisons would elevate Kentucky to a truly complete team, and perhaps they can use their big plays last night as a confidence building block.
  3. Scottie Wilbekin made his season debut last night against Jacksonville, and it was immediately apparent how badly Billy Donovan needs his senior point guard. With Kasey Hill injured, Wilbekin had to play 34 minutes in a 26 point win. He had a good start to the season with seven assists against two turnovers. As Donovan gets one important player back, it appears another, Damontre Harriswon’t suit up for Florida this season. “Right now, he’s been gone for 25 days,” Donovan told The Sun. “I don’t have any hope he’s going to come back. We’re still going to try to help him and work with him and try to get him to do the things he needs to do, but there’s no level of accountability on the things that he needs to do on a regular basis.” It’s not often you see a coach be this honest, especially in a negative context. The Gators still have three good forwards in Patric Young, Will Yeguete and Dorian Finney-Smith.
  4. Interim Missouri coach Tim Fuller ended his stint at the helm with a 5-0 record after a win against IUPUI. Frank Haith returns when the Tigers play Northwestern on Thanksgiving. The record looks impressive, but Fuller did it against a weak slate of teams. Still, he had to show composure as the Tigers were tested against Hawaii (one-point halftime deficit), Gardner-Webb (two-point halftime lead), and IUPUI (nine-point lead with under eight minutes to play). This doesn’t say much for Missouri, but it was a good learning experience for a guy with a sterling recruiting reputation that will likely get head coaching looks down the line.
  5. Arkansas dropped its first real test of the year, losing to California 85-77 in the opening game of the Maui Invitational. The Razorbacks were bullied on the glass as the Golden Bears grabbed 18 more rebounds. Mike Anderson got good scoring efforts out of Michael Qualls and Anthlon Bell, but his front court combined to make only seven baskets. Luckily for Arkansas, the deep Maui field means they still have a shot at a resume-boosting win against Minnesota, which lost to Syracuse. The Golden Gophers present a challenge to Arkansas because they haven’t turned the ball over much this year, and have a dynamite rebounder in Eliot Eliason (11.2 rebounds per game).
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20 Questions: Can a Third SEC Team Emerge as a National Player?

Posted by Bennet Hayes on October 17th, 2013

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Throughout the preseason, RTC national columnists will answer the 20 most compelling questions heading into the 2013-14 season. Previous columns in this year’s series are located here.   

Basketball in the Southeastern Conference has long been dominated by Kentucky and Florida. Since 1997, those two schools have combined for four times as many National Championships as the rest of the conference has Final Four appearances. LSU’s 2006 national semifinal appearance was a proud moment for the Tiger program, but outside of that showing and a more recent flourish from Tennessee (six straight NCAA Tournament appearances from 2006-11), it’s hard to find too many SEC teams not named Kentucky or Florida that have made waves nationally. The forecast for 2013-14 doesn’t look a whole lot different than usual, with the Gators and Wildcats climbing into most experts’ preseason Top 25s, the two powers again finding separation from their conference mates. But is there another team in the league capable of surprising the experts and making a push into the national consciousness? The track record of the rest of the conference makes it difficult to be overly optimistic about the prospects of any team making that leap, but a talented Tennessee team with some valuable newfound stability could prove capable of pulling up a third seat at a dinner table that has long sat only two.

Good Luck Finding A Tougher Inside Duo -- SEC Or Elsewhere -- Than Tennessee's Pair Of Bruisers: Jarnell Stokes And Jeronne Maymon

Good Luck Finding A Tougher Inside Duo — SEC Or Elsewhere — Than Tennessee’s Pair Of Bruisers: Jarnell Stokes And Jeronne Maymon

Given the recent success of the Bruce Pearl era (at least when he wasn’t doubling as a grill-master) and the expansive women’s basketball tradition in Knoxville, Tennessee would certainly seem like the most natural program to be poised for a step up in national notoriety. Cuonzo Martin’s first two seasons at the helm in Knoxville exhibited some of that promise, but the Vols would up just short of the NCAA Tournament in each campaign. This season, the talent is in place to not only make the field of 68, but also do some damage upon arrival.

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Tennessee Inches Closer to NCAA Bid, Win Over Alabama Could Seal Deal

Posted by David Changas on March 14th, 2013

David Changas (@dchangas) is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from Thursday afternoon’s SEC Tournament game between Tennessee and Mississippi State.

While the SEC has endured a significant amount of well-deserved criticism for its share of mediocre (well, bad) basketball this season (the fact that Mississippi State not only didn’t finish last in the league and was even able to win a game in the conference tournament – albeit against equally woeful South Carolina – is Exhibit A of the league’s futility), perhaps no conference presents more bubble scenarios as we roll towards Selection Sunday. Thus, while the usual Kentucky-related buzz is absent from this weekend’s festivities in Nashville except to the extent the Wildcats are on the bubble themselves,  there is a lot of intrigue about which teams will emerge and land a spot in the field of 68. As of now, it is assumed that only Florida and Missouri are locks for the field, with Kentucky, Ole Miss, and Alabama, and Tennessee seeking bids.

Tennessee Bowled Its Way One Step Closer to the NCAAs

Tennessee Bowled Its Way One Step Closer to the NCAAs

Clearly,  no team is more squarely on the bubble than the Volunteers, who dispatched of the significantly undermanned Bulldogs 69-53 behind 17 points from Jordan McRae Thursday afternoon at Bridgestone Arena. The win arguably will do nothing to help the Vols’ standing in the RPI and with the committee, but a loss would have crippled Tennessee’s chances to receive a bid. Now, they must face a much tougher test on Friday, as they take on co-bubble dweller Alabama. While some view the contest as a “play-in” game of sorts, Tennessee comes in with a better resume than the Crimson Tide, which has no wins over the RPI top 50. And Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin doesn’t think the bid is in question any longer. “I said after we beat Mizzou that we’re in the NCAA Tournament, so I’ve moved past that,” Martin said, unconvincingly, after the game. Still, for Tennessee, Friday’s game is an opportunity to win another game against a quality opponent and solidify its standing with the selection committee.

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SEC Player of the Year: The Contenders

Posted by DPerry on March 7th, 2013

At this time last year, we weren’t having this discussion. Kentucky was cruising to a perfect 16-0 record in SEC play, and the only real speculation was over whether Anthony Davis would sweep the National Player of the Year awards. In 2013, the competition for the SEC’s top honor mirrors the landscape of the league approaching Selection Sunday: lots of candidates, but lots of flaws. Let’s take a look at the contenders:

Jordan McRae is a leading contender for SEC Player of the Year (ksrcollege.com)

Jordan McRae is a leading contender for SEC Player of the Year (ksrcollege.com)

  • Jordan McRae, Tennessee. If you told me back in November that a Volunteer would be the league’s best player, I would have assumed Jarnell Stokes. The sophomore forward took a while to round into form, however, allowing McRae to step in and excel for the Vols. McRae is averaging 19.5 points per game in conference play and has been especially strong over the past few weeks as UT pushes for an NCAA Tournament berth. He put the team on his back in a resume-making win over Florida, racking up 27 points and seven rebounds. McRae has shown massive improvement in his junior season, with big jumps in his shooting percentages to prove it.
  • Marshall Henderson, Ole Miss. Marshall Henderson is the most one-dimensional player you’ll find on this list. He doesn’t rebound, he has a negative assist/turnover ratio, and he doesn’t excel on the defensive end. Despite all this, his scoring is lethal enough to keep him in the discussion. The junior shooting guard hasn’t made many friends in the SEC with his oncourt antics, but it’s hard to ignore his 19.6 points per game. Some voters will be put off by the unimpressive shooting percentages, however, which could ultimately keep him from taking home the award. Read the rest of this entry »
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SEC M5: 03.07.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on March 7th, 2013

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  1. Arkansas coach Mike Anderson made a return to Missouri on Tuesday night, but it certainly wasn’t the homecoming he had in mind. Missouri thumped Anderson’s Razorbacks by 30 points, and it certainly seemed personal. Anderson maintains that he left the Tigers in good shape after building the program into a contender in the Big 12. “When I got here it was empty,” Anderson said. “It was like, ‘Man, they’ve got a program over there?’ All of a sudden now it’s changed. I think that’s good. So the time has to be right to talk about it. That’s good.” The loss did more than sting Anderson’s ego, but severely dismantled Arkansas’ NCAA hopes. The Razorbacks needed to plead their case to the selection committee with a strong road victory, but the 30-point loss probably all but determined that Anderson will be watching his former team in the Big Dance while his new one heads to the NIT.
  2. Missing the NCAA Tournament could have serious financial implications for Kentucky coach John Calipari. Last year, the coach made an additional $800,000 in bonuses and incentives, of which $700,000 were directly tied to success in the NCAA Tournament. Calipari’s deep Tournament runs have become expected in Lexington, and he has been handsomely rewarded as a result. His Wildcats have advanced to at least the Elite Eight in every year he has been there, including two Final Four runs and a national championship team last season. However, it is not as though the head coach will struggle to make ends meet without a performance-driven incentive. He makes $3.8 million dollars in base pay, and he just signed on for an extension to take him through the 2018-19 season. The only problem here is that it doesn’t seem that it is the head coach that needs the incentive to succeed in this particular equation.
  3. Florida senior guard Mike Rosario sat on the bench for the final 12 minutes of the Gators’ victory over Alabama on Saturday. And being the mature player he is, Rosario says he understands. “I wasn’t playing the way my team needed me to play,” Rosario said. “I wasn’t playing what coach would say is the right way. Sometimes you’ve got to look at it as it not being about an individual. It’s about the team. That game, I wasn’t playing the right way, so I had to give our team what we needed.”Regardless of maturity level, every player wants to be out on the court. The 27 minutes he played on Saturday was the first time he’s played under 30 minutes in a game since a February 9 blowout of Mississippi State. Expect Rosario to be on the court when it matters, though, and his mature handling of this situation demonstrates why this team needs his leadership when the going gets tough.
  4. Florida coach Billy Donovan downplayed the significance that a No. 1 seed has on the outcome of the NCAA Tournament, and he uses his Gators from last season as a perfect example. “Does it make a difference? I don’t know,” Donovan said.  “I mean, you could look at the numbers and say the better seeding you have, the more likelihood there is to advance. But, I mean, we’re a No. 7 seed last year with an opportunity to go to the Final Four. We’ve got to go out and play regardless of what the number is next to our name.” The Gators are in the hunt for a No. 1 seed, but there isn’t a single NCAA Tournament venue site within 700 miles of Gainesville (that is, until the Final Four in Atlanta). In terms of a geographic advantage for Florida, there isn’t really one available. Even as a top seed, UF could be paired with a No. 2 seed that is closer to the venue site, removing any real advantage they would have in advancing.
  5. After losing to Georgia on Saturday, Tennessee understands it is in a position where it must win its remaining two regular season games for a chance to hear its name on Selection Sunday. “We’re in the exact same spot as last year so we know what we need to do,” Tennessee’s leading scorer Jordan McRae said. “We don’t like to label games must-wins, but these next two games, we’ve got to win.” The coach agrees. “Just get Ws and keep moving forward,” coach Cuonzo Martin said. UT has won six of its last seven games, but at this point another loss would be difficult to explain.
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SEC Depth Bolsters Tennessee’s NCAA Tournament Case

Posted by Brian Joyce on March 1st, 2013

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.

At the beginning of the year, the SEC was considered a top-heavy league with four competitors battling it out for supremacy. As the season progressed, the league looked more and more like that original assessment was plain wrong. There weren’t four competitors for the SEC crown;  it appeared there may be just one. The league became Florida and 13 sources of an endless supply of jokes. But nobody is laughing anymore. In fact, some are arguing that the SEC is deeper and better than anyone could have imagined this season.

Frank Martin says the SEC deserves way more credit than it has received.

Frank Martin says the SEC deserves way more credit than it has received.

Nine of the SEC’s 14 teams rank in the top 100 of the RPI (all RPI rankings are taken from RealTimeRPI.com). Florida (#5), Missouri (#43), Kentucky (#49), Tennessee (#53), Mississippi (#55), Alabama (#62), Texas A&M (#87), Arkansas (#89) and LSU (#92) certainly give the SEC one of the deeper leagues in the country. However, will overall conference depth translate into additional NCAA Tournament bids? That subject remains up in the air, but an improved perception of the league’s strength should help on Selection Sunday, particularly for those Tennessee Volunteers.

Just two weeks ago, the SEC looked like a one-bid league. Now, there are as many as seven teams that could be in the conversation for a berth. And just like last year, Tennessee is leading the rise. The Vols finished SEC play winning eight of its final nine games last season, and they are on another tear at the end of this year. Tennessee beat a shell-shocked Kentucky team by 30 points and is coming off a win against Florida on Tuesday to quickly work its way into the NCAA bubble conversation.

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SEC M5: 03.01.13 Edition

Posted by DPerry on March 1st, 2013

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  1. Missouri earned its second road win of the season at South Carolina last night, thanks to a fantastic shooting display. The Tigers hit nearly 70% of their shots, including 6-of-9 from three-point range. “I don’t think we could have played any better offensively,” head coach Frank Haith said. Guards Keion Bell and Jabari Brown enjoyed a size advantage over the smaller starting Gamecock backcourt, enabling them to combine for 47 points. Phil Pressey (one game after scoring 27 against Kentucky) didn’t attempt a single shot, opting instead to serve as a pure play-maker, finishing with nine assists. Missouri will head home for a two-game stretch before traveling to Tennessee for its regular season finale.
  2. After suffering its first three losses of its SEC schedule, the air of invincibility has vanished from Florida. Don’t be too quick to remove them from your list of title contenders, though, as the Gators are finally getting healthy. Billy Donovan announced Thursday that both Will Yeguete and Michael Frazier II have been cleared for this weekend’s game against Alabama. “Our guys that have been through the grind of most of the last month or so, they can’t rest and relax,” Donovan said. “They’ve got to understand that they’ve got to step up and they’ve got to play and they cannot take the approach of, ‘Well, we’re a little bit deeper. We have more guys available.’ Because I just don’t know if Frazier and/or Yeguete are going to be really able to be able to really provide some significant minutes for us.” Frazier missed only one game, but Yeguete has been sidelined since February 5, during which Florida desperately missed his rebounding ability, only out-boarding its opponent in two of six games.
  3. With the Gators finally having the luxury of a full squad, their biggest worry this Saturday will be Alabama guard Trevor Releford. The junior guard from Kansas City has been a revelation for the Tide this season, earning him quite a bit of praise. “I see a lot more confidence in his shot,” said LJ Goolsby, Releford’s AAU coach. “That’s been evident the last couple of games, most importantly. The bigger the game, the better he is a lot of times. That speaks volumes about his competitiveness. Competitors want the biggest challenges. They accept it and embrace it.” With the departures of JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell, the position of #1 scoring option was up for grabs in Tuscaloosa this season, and Releford has locked it down. He’s been especially hot recently (including a career high 36 points against LSU), and will have to be at his best to upset the Gators in Gainesville.
  4. Tennessee waited until the last possible opportunity to turn its season around, displaying some pretty remarkable composure during their late-season run. What’s behind this new and improved Volunteers team?  The Chattanooga Times Free PressPatrick Brown credits coach Cuonzo Martin and his stoic nature. “You can’t get overemotional in certain situations,” Martin says. “You’ve got to be even-keeled. But that’s easier said than done.” The second-year coach rarely changes his tone in his interactions with the media, even when some of the Vols’ early-season performances undoubtedly had him boiling inside. Consider leading scorer Jordan McRae impressed. “You guys see our practices, the way Coach Martin is, you would think we hadn’t won a game yet this year,” said the junior guard. “That’s just the way it’s going to be, and I think Coach Martin does a really good job of making us realize we always have a game after this one.”
  5. Kentucky fans were treated to a night of celebration on Wednesday. The Wildcats easily dispatched Mississippi State, as expected, but the real draw was the 1996 team’s return to Rupp Arena. With stars like Antoine Walker, Tony Delk, and Walter McCarty all in attendance, coach John Calipari will hope uber-recruit Andrew Wiggins, who was taking his official visit to the Lexington campus, was impressed by the tradition. The Bulldogs were a bit of a break for the Wildcats, whose NCAA Tournament hopes will be put to the test when they travel to Arkansas (undefeated at home in SEC play) on Saturday.
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Ten Tuesday (or Wednesday!) Scribbles: On Scoring, Rule Changes, Syracuse and More…

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 27th, 2013

tuesdayscribbles

Brian Otskey is an RTC columnist. Every Tuesday during the regular season he’ll be giving his 10 thoughts on the previous week’s action. You can find him on Twitter @botskey

  1. Much has been made about the decline in scoring in college basketball over the last decade. These days, it is very common to see games played in the 60s, 50s or even 40s in some instances. It is true that scoring has decreased substantially over the last 10 years and the numbers bear it out. In the 2002-03 season, 172 teams averaged at least 70.0 PPG. That number has steadily declined, falling to 145 five seasons ago and 111 this year. With the advent of advanced statistics, one in particular stands out. Ten years ago, 123 teams averaged an adjusted tempo of 70.0 possessions per game. That was cut in half by 2007-08 (62 teams) and the number has continued to decline even since then. This season, only 28 of America’s 347 Division I teams play at that pace or greater. Why is this happening? Pace is certainly a factor but there are other issues at play here. With the proliferation of television coverage and video based scouting programs such as Synergy Sports Technology, scouting and video material is more available than ever. Head coaches and their staffs know everything about an opponent and that makes a huge difference for a lot of teams on the defensive end. A lot of teams run the same sets and it’s simply easier to prepare when you see the same thing over and over again. The elephant in the room, however, is the talent level in college basketball. Most of us probably wouldn’t like to admit it but the talent level has noticeably dipped in our sport over the last decade. I’m not talking about a once in 20 years type of player like Kevin Durant but the overall depth of talent in the game. There’s a reason a lot of people are saying this year’s NBA Draft class could be the weakest ever. That’s because it is. Until college basketball gets a much-needed infusion of talent, low scoring games will remain the norm.
  2. A lot of people would like to see the so-called “one-and-done” rule fade to black and that got me thinking about some much-needed rule changes in college basketball. I’m not going to discuss the one-and-done here, I’m talking about changes that need to be made during the actual games. If I had the power, the first thing I’d do is shorten the shot clock to 30 seconds. Five seconds may not sound like a lot but since there are roughly 66 to 67 possessions in an average Division I game, that would translate into another 10 possessions per game. Immediately you’d see an increase in scoring which makes the game more attractive to fans. One thing that annoys me is the amount of timeouts and stoppages in the game. There are already four mandated media timeouts every half and each team gets a total of five timeouts per game. In an era when coaches rarely leave timeouts on the table, there are 18 different timeouts in a typical college game, an average of one every two minutes and 13 seconds. It hurts the flow of a game in a big way and my proposal would be to reduce the number of timeouts to three per team and no extras in overtime. The end of every college basketball game these days seems to include a multitude of timeouts, fouls and official reviews. Officials reviewing plays has helped many sports get calls right, including college basketball. However, officials are abusing the monitor more than ever before. A big reason why is the NCAA rule change a few years ago regarding flagrant fouls and elbows thrown. I get why this rule was implemented (player safety) but there is no evidence this rule acts as a deterrent. Players have been taught from a young age to clear space with your elbows when being pressured by a defender. Now, a loose elbow can be deemed a flagrant foul even if there was no intent to injure by the offending player. This has to change. I have absolutely no problem with calling a flagrant foul for a malicious elbow or other physical contact. But calling a flagrant for an innocent or accidental elbow is wrong and is another thing that contributes to college games that lack an entertaining flow. A couple other changes I’d make include not resetting the 10-second count in the backcourt after a timeout, not being able to inbound the ball into the backcourt (it’s a bailout move for a team without a quality inbounds play) and starting the 1-and-1 bonus at nine fouls instead of seven. What are your thoughts on some of these proposals?

    Tubby Smith, Minnesota

    Tubby Smith has Minnesota pointed in the right direction

  3. This time of year, bubble talk dominates the discussion. My way of looking at bubble teams is simple: Did you beat quality opponents and what have you done away from home? This approach is one Jay Bilas mentions on television every year, something I wholeheartedly agree with. I remember years ago when Bilas went on ESPN and said something like, “Bubble teams have all proven they can lose. The question is, who did you beat and where did you beat them?” Truer words have never been spoken. You can’t dismiss all losses but when we’re talking about bubble teams, we’re usually looking at teams that have lost anywhere from 9 to 12 games, sometimes more. When I look at this year’s group of bubble teams, a few stand out. Minnesota is only 7-8 in Big Ten play but has multiple quality wins over Memphis (neutral), Illinois (away), Wisconsin (home), Michigan State (home) and last night’s massive upset of Indiana at the Barn on its resume. All of that trumps Minnesota’s loss to Northwestern and should get the Golden Gophers into the Big Dance.  Staying in the Big Ten, Illinois is in the same boat and I believe the Illini have done enough to warrant a bid at this point. Villanova is an interesting team. The Wildcats have a high number of losses (11) but wins at Connecticut and home versus Louisville and Syracuse have them in the NCAA discussion. I think Villanova is an NCAA-worthy team but the Wildcats need to do more to earn a bid because a pair of bad losses on their resume hurt the cause. Teams like St. Mary’s are harder to quantify. The Gaels have just one top 50 win (home vs. Creighton) on their resume and a pair of bad losses to Pacific and Georgia Tech. When a team wins a number of games against poor competition as St. Mary’s has, it’s very hard to determine if they’re NCAA-worthy. I think the Gaels are, but their resume leaves a lot to be desired. Beating Gonzaga in the WCC Tournament would prove to everyone that they deserve a spot. Read the rest of this entry »
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SEC M5: 02.27.12 Edition

Posted by DPerry on February 27th, 2013

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  1. The red-hot Tennessee Volunteers extended its winning streak to six games Tuesday night, handing Florida their second loss in three games. Jordan McRae provided most of the offense with 27 points, while Jarnell Stokes (14 rebounds) dominated the glass in a game that was almost a must-win for the Vols to make the NCAA Tournament field. Florida began SEC play with 11 straight victories, looking almost infallible in comparison to the rest of the weak conference. However, injuries have taken their toll (Will Yeguete and Michael Frazier II, most recently) and the Gators have lost some of that shine, maybe enough to completely excuse themselves from the #1-seed conversation. With the loss, Billy Donovan’s record against Cuonzo Martin fell to 0-3.
  2. Anthony Grant charged Trevor Releford with putting the offense on his back through the rest of the season, and he started out in style. Behind 21 points from the junior guard, Alabama avenged an ugly February 6 loss to intrastate rival Auburn with an easy win Tuesday night. Nick Jacobs chipped in with 10 points and 10 rebounds. “We talked about the importance of every game going forward, but obviously any time you get a chance to play your in-state rival that adds a different meaning,” Grant said after the game. Alabama travels to Gainesville this weekend with, unbelievably, a chance to tie the Gators atop the SEC standings.
  3. Believe it or not, Georgia still has a chance to grab a first-round bye in the SEC Tournament. Show of hands: Who thought the Bulldogs would be able to say that at the end of February? Really? Really? Coach Mark Fox will face a challenge tonight, as he brings his young backcourt into the uncomfortable environment that is Vanderbilt’s Memorial Gym, the only venue in the nation that features benches along the baseline. “I’m probably more worried about it this year with such a young perimeter group,” Fox said of the Commodores’ court configuration. “There’s a lot of the game they’ll have to manage on their own on the floor.” Freshman Charles Mann has been seeing more time at the point, while classmates Kenny Gaines and Brandon Morris have earned their share of minutes as well. The Bulldogs have lost three of four games after a previous five-game winning streak.
  4. Andrew Wiggins, the top recruit in the class of 2013 according to both Rivals and ESPN, will take an official visit to Kentucky, probably while you’re reading this. He’s visited the Lexington campus before, but expects to see more than he did on his previous unofficial trip. “He’ll have a chance to meet different people: the academic people, the athletic director,” said Rob Fulford, Wiggins’ coach at Huntington (WV) Prep. “It’s more official as far as what you’re looking for and getting a feel for the school.” The forward originally from Canada is also considering Florida State, Kansas, and North Carolina. Also, watch this.
  5. Frank Haith hasn’t been hesitant to criticize his team this season. His most recent target is his team’s subpar defense on the road against Kentucky. “We had nobody play on that end of the court,” Haith said. “And when you have nobody play on that end of the court, you don’t have a chance. We had so many breakdowns where we didn’t rotate, we didn’t shrink the gap and allowed them driving lanes and loose balls and poor closeouts.” Kentucky entered Saturday’s game with Missouri without any momentum, but the Tigers’ lax defense allowed the Wildcats to shoot over 50% from the field, as well as over 40% from long range. Haith believes that his team only plays quality defense when their offensive game is on, which may help to explain much of the Tigers’ road struggles this season.
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Night Line: Vols Making Habit of February Revival

Posted by BHayes on February 27th, 2013

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Bennet Hayes is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @HoopsTraveler on Twitter. Night Line runs on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.

Attention bubble dwellers – it is time to make room for the Tennessee Volunteers. After a rousing victory over the SEC’s best in #8 Florida, the Vols are officially back in the NCAA Tournament picture. If you are feeling as if you have seen this movie before, it’s probably because you have. A year ago, Cuonzo Martin’s club ripped off eight victories over the course of its last nine regular season games, overcoming a disastrous 10-12 beginning to find their way into the March bubble talk. Losing to Ole Miss in their SEC Tournament opener would ultimately relegate last year’s Vols to the NIT, but this season’s bunch has a chance to script a different ending. More work left to be done for certain, but a late February six-game winning streak is a good place to start if you are looking to re-enter the NCAA discussion.

Trae Golden Has Been One Of The Major Catalysts For The Volunteer Revival

Trae Golden Has Been One Of The Major Catalysts For The Volunteer Revival

While the Vols may have reached their aesthetical nadir back in December after posting a total of 74 points in two games against Georgetown and Virginia (yes, I said total), it isn’t as if Cuonzo Martin’s club is all of a sudden winning pretty. Their adjusted tempo still places them in the bottom fifth of Division I basketball, and Tuesday night’s win over the Gators saw just one Vol in double figures, with Jordan McRae continuing his strong play by posting a game-high 27 points. Grinding pace aside, the team’s overall offensive efficiency (53rd nationally) is not bad, but the Vols are heavily reliant on getting to the free throw line and pounding the offensive glass — blue-collar efforts that may or may not appeal to the average fan, but that the tough-as-nails Martin has to love.

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SEC M5: 02.25.13 Edition

Posted by DPerry on February 25th, 2013

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  1. Kentucky rose to the occasion for ESPN’s GameDay, knocking off Missouri Saturday night in overtime. The Wildcats have taken a ton of heat over the past week following assertions from John Calipari that some his players were “uncoachable” following a blowout loss to Tennessee. Two of the assumed targets of the comments came up big against the Tigers. Point guard Ryan Harrow scored 12 of his 16 points in the first half, while Archie Goodwin scored all 18 of his after the break. “Oh man, I mean we fought hard,” said Goodwin. “That is ultimately what it came down to. We made a lot of mistakes, but in the end we just wanted it more than they did.” Saturday’s performance served as a huge statement from a few players who have had their effort widely questioned throughout the year.
  2. The elder statesman of this Kentucky squad had himself quite a game as well. Wright State transfer Julius Mays led the Wildcats in scoring with 24, including six game-icing free throws in overtime. Mays has done his best to seize a leadership role for Kentucky, and his efforts looked to pay dividends against Mizzou. “He’s a great leader and he’s a great big brother for me,” Goodwin said. “He’s like my best friend. He’s just always there for encouragement. Sometimes when things are not going our way, he’s always the person that pulls me aside and just tries to get my head back right.” With his more talented teammates singing his praises, “Uncle Julius” hopes his teammates will get on board for an NCAA Tournament push.
  3. Florida got the revenge it craved in Saturday’s easy win over Arkansas, but it came at a high price. The Gators lost reserve forward Michael Frazier II to a concussion after the freshman guard collided with Scottie Wilbekin chasing a loose ball. “I don’t know when he’ll be back. He was knocked out on the floor,” said Florida coach Billy Donovan. “It could be a week, it could be 10 days, it could be two weeks – I don’t know.” With Will Yeguete already sidelined, Donovan is down to only six regular rotation players and says he will turn to Braxton Ogbueze, Dillon Graham or DeVon Walker to pick up the spare minutes.
  4. Even a good night on offense rarely leads to victory for the road team at the O’Connell Center, but Arkansas’ two big shots didn’t give the Razorbacks much of a chance. BJ Young and Marshawn Powell, who led a balanced Arkansas attack in scoring in their upset of Florida in the first meeting, were held to only 10 points, with Young in particular being shut out from the field. A big night from Coty Clarke (8-of-8 from the field) kept Arkansas in the game in the first half before the Gators pulled away after the break. “It was a tale of two halves,” Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson said. “We scratched and clawed and gave ourselves a chance, even with some adversity with the early fouls. In the second half, Florida really attacked the glass and we didn’t make shots.
  5. They’ve been so hot over the past few weeks, 40 minutes wasn’t enough basketball for Tennessee on Saturday. Tied at 62 after regulation in College Station, Texas A&M and the Volunteers decided to play another two halves of hoops, resulting in a fifth straight victory for the visitors. Trae Golden led the way with 32 points, with both Jarnell Stokes and Jordan McRae eclipsing the 20-point mark in the longest game in Tennessee history. Cuonzo Martin’s team is getting hot at exactly the right time, and an upset victory over a depleted Florida team on Tuesday would really make the “at-large” whispers that much louder in Knoxville.
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SEC M5: 02.22.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on February 22nd, 2013

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  1. Ryan Harrow was a big part of Kentucky’s 74-70 win over Vanderbilt, partly because he stepped out of his comfort zone. After coming off the bench against Tennessee, Harrow went to coach John Calipari to ask to be inserted in the starting lineup. His teammates recognize what a big step that was for the quiet-natured point guard. That was a big step for Ryan,” freshman forward Willie Cauley-Stein said. “We need him to be more vocal like that; get it within himself and express how he feels to coach. It’s all about growing up and starting to be a man like that. That’s what they express to us every day.” The leadership moment off the court translated to success on it, as Harrow finished with 12 points, four assists, zero turnovers, and a much better command of the offense. 
  2. As Kevin Stallings’ club staged a comeback against the Wildcats on Wednesday night, it was a shot blocking center for Kentucky that came up with two big blocks on defense. Willie Cauley-Stein filled in right where Nerlens Noel left off, but it wasn’t just his defense that impressed. “We gave up 20 points to a guy who’s not averaging 20,” said Stallings. “That will usually get you beat.” The Vanderbilt coach was, of course, referring to Cauley-Stein’s season-high 20 points that went along with his seven rebounds and three blocks on the night. Cauley-Stein seems to be hitting his stride since returning from injury. He has scored in double figures in four of his last five games, and will likely continue to see big minutes with UK’s thin frontcourt.
  3. Sometimes teams just need to loosen up a bit. That’s the approach Kentucky and Calipari took when the players took on the coaches in a friendly game of dodgeball. “We’ve got to lighten this mood up,” Calipari said. “These guys are playing with the weight of the world on their shoulders, let’s do something.” After a big win Wednesday over the Commodores, Calipari plans to continue keeping the mood light. “We’re going to play wiffle ball Friday,” the head coach quipped. “I promise they will lose Friday.” And he probably hopes a fun time leads to a win on Saturday.
  4. Jordan McRae was 6-6 from three point land on his way to 34 points in a Tennessee win over LSU, but the coaching staff sees his performance as a credit to the entire offense. “It’s contagious,” assistant coach Kent Williams said. “When some other guys are shooting well, you tend to shoot well with them. You feel good as a team.” The hot shooting has the Vols on a four game winning streak to bring their record to 7-6 in the conference. Tennessee won eight of its last nine games to end the regular season last year, so be on the lookout for a repeat.
  5. Florida continues to look for answers as to why it has experienced several late game collapses in single digit games this season. Missed free throws contributed not only to the Gators three point loss to Missouri, but in an earlier loss to Arizona. “It’s hard to explain,” senior guard Mike Rosario said. “Normally, we step up to the line and make those with confidence.” Several Florida players are not strong free throw shooters. Three players seeing significant minutes this season (Casey Prather, Patric Young, and Will Yeguete) shoot below 60 percent from the charity stripe. Florida’s point guard, Scottie Wilbekin, the player likely to have the ball in his hands in end game situations, shoots 64.5 percent. If Florida is to reverse its misfortunes in close games, improving its free throw shooting is a good place to start.
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