SEC M5: 12.17.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on December 17th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. Without a doubt, Alabama blew a gigantic opportunity for a statement win by coughing up a lead in the final seconds of last night’s loss at Wichita State. There is no way to sugarcoat it. The Tide held an 11-point lead with five minutes remaining, but a combination of missed shots, bad rebounding and turnovers against the press allowed the Shockers to come back and win. The moral victory of hanging close against a very good team on the road likely won’t have any positive impact on the Tide’s resume, but let’s look for a silver lining. Alabama defended very well, holding the Shockers to 53 points — 25 fewer than their season average — in stifling the 10th most-efficient offense in the country. Much of Alabama’s second half lead was built on Wichita State settling for three-pointers (5-of-18) over an effective zone. Not to peek ahead, but a formula utilizing the Tide’s length and athleticism, could potentially hold up well against a Kentucky team that struggles from the outside (it always comes back to the Wildcats, doesn’t it?). Circle January 17 (home) and 31 (away) on your SEC calendar.
  2. LSU held on to win a competitive game against Sam Houston State last weekend to run its winning streak to four games. It wasn’t all rosy, though, as Josh Gray left the game with an ankle injury, and was seen afterward walking on crutches. Johnny Jones said on Monday that Gray was receiving “aggressive treatment,” but it’s unknown as of this writing whether he’ll miss any games. Ankle injuries can be tricky to heal, and if Gray does miss time it’ll trim down an already thin roster (Jones used only eight players against Sam Houston State). Tim Quarterman, a player who is enjoying a breakout season, would likely slide into the starting point guard role, with freshman Jalyn Patterson also seeing more minutes. The injury does come at a good time of the season for the Tigers, as their toughest non-conference stretch is now behind them and they have games against beatable teams like UAB, College of Charleston and Southern Miss over the next two weeks.
  3. Arkansas got back on track with a win over Dayton last weekend in a game that saw Mike Anderson shuffle his starting lineup. JuCo transfer Jabril Durham got the start at point guard over senior Rashad Madden, who went scoreless and turned the ball over five times in 31 minutes against Clemson. This also came a few days after Anderson said that Madden was “trying to do too much.” Booting a senior from the starting lineup in favor of a first-year player is a precarious road to walk, but it seemed to work out well enough as Durham hit two three-pointers early and Madden scored 12 points (including 8-of-8 from the free throw line). So far, it looks like Anderson knew what buttons to push, and that’s important because Madden’s scoring ability is a key to the success of the Razorbacks’ season.
  4. Two SEC players made College Basketball Talk’s list of the 10 most important midseason additions: Florida’s Alex Murphy and Auburn’s Trayvon Reed. Of the two, Reed seems to be the one needed the most. The article mentions that the 7’1’’ center is incredibly raw and likely won’t contribute much this season, but the guess is that Bruce Pearl will throw Reed into the fire early since this season was always going to be more about development than contention. Reed logged eight largely unproductive minutes (four fouls, one block) in Auburn’s recent loss to Clemson, and he’ll probably consume at least part of the 11.0 minutes per game going forward that was going to Devin Waddell.
  5. Jerry Palm’s first update to his NCAA Tournament bracket projection has three SEC teams in the fold: Kentucky (#1), LSU (#10) and Arkansas (#10). Alabama and Tennessee are among Palm’s first four out, and Florida is nowhere to be found on his board right now. All things considered, this is a pretty generous view of the SEC given how the season has unfolded thus far. The Tigers and Razorbacks have both notched some nice wins, but they also have experienced setbacks that threaten to snuff them from the conversation (e.g., both teams have lost to Clemson). The simple fact that, in Palm’s view, they are still squarely into the Dance should be encouraging. Neither Alabama (sorta) nor Tennessee (very much so) were thought of as NCAA Tournament teams prior to the season, so seeing them on the fringe in December is encouraging for the league. And finally there is Florida, which many believe will right its ship and find a way into the party, especially given Dorian Finney-Smith’s recent resurgence.
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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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Welcome to the Show, Part II: Breakout Newcomers in the Former SEC West

Posted by Christian D'Andrea on November 18th, 2014

Last week, we sorted through Kentucky’s latest five-star recruiting haul and delved into Frank Martin’s latest freshman class to determine who the SEC East’s breakout newcomers would be in 2014-15. Today, we’ll take a closer look at the first-year players who are ready to make a splash in the division once known as the SEC West. A number of high-profile junior college pickups will help teams like Arkansas, Auburn, LSU, and Mississippi replace departing talent and reload en route to a potential NCAA Tournament bid.

Alabama: Justin Coleman. Coleman was a big pick-up for Anthony Grant, and the embattled Alabama coach may need his four-star freshman to come through in a big way if he’s going to keep his job. Coleman started the Crimson Tide’s sole exhibition game and had six assists (and four turnovers) in 31 minutes as the team’s floor general. He’ll cede minutes to Ricky Tarrant – an explosive scorer from the same spot – but it looks like Coleman will have every opportunity to remain his team’s primary option at the position. He’s a diminutive player at just 160 pounds, but he has the passing instincts and shooting range to make an impact against SEC opponents as a true freshman.

Justin Coleman Can Fly (Al.com)

Justin Coleman Can Fly (Al.com)

Arkansas: Anton Beard. Beard is one of two solid point guard prospects in Fayetteville. He’s currently locked in battle with junior college transfer Jabril Durham for a role behind or alongside Rashad Madden, who can handle either guard spot. As a result, this prediction could change as the season wears on. Beard grew two inches in his senior year of high school to bolster his solid man-up defense and develop into a high-major recruit. However, he struggled to find his shot in exhibition play (25% FG). Durham had similar issues, but his JuCo experience and stronger passing from the point carried him to a start in the Hogs’ season opener last weekend. The two newcomers will see their roles expands and contract based on Mike Anderson’s offensive and defensive strategies and Madden’s availability this winter.

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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: 11.22.13 Edition

Posted by Justin Bridgman on November 22nd, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. ESPN.com‘s Eamonn Brennan took a look at the early candidates for the Wooden Award, and it’s no surprise that Julius Randle made the list. In fact, Randle was the only SEC player to be named. In a season of big-time talent across the nation, the SEC is a bit short yet again. Put me in the camp that has Randle as the current favorite, though, as he has dominated in a way that freshman typically do not. While Marcus Smart and Jabari Parker are both fine candidates, my money is on Randle. He’s a singular force that changes the way his entire team is defended. Even on nights when his shot isn’t falling, Randle can control a game with his rebounding and brute force. Ultimately, though, the winner of the award will probably be whichever player’s team wins the most games.
  2. It has been far too long since a John Calipari to the NBA rumor came out, so good thing it was reported yesterday that the Knicks are interested in hiring him. From a Kentucky perspective, this would be an unmitigated disaster. Calipari has been insanely successful as the Wildcats’ head coach, and it is doubtful the school could strike gold twice in a row (remember Billy Gillispie?). Odds are that this speculation continues for a while but goes away when Calipari gets a pay bump from his employer. Barring another visit from the NCAA, Coach Cal can stay in Lexington for as long as he likes. In New York, Calipari would be setting himself up for disappointment with a lack of draft picks and a bunch of overpaid fading stars. Right now, it doesn’t seem worth it for Calipari to leave the college game.
  3. Jordan Clarkson has been an early revelation for Missouri this season, and the defending SEC Player of the Week is just getting started. Clarkson sat out last season due to transfer rules, and he spent all the practice time working on his finishing moves. That work has given Clarkson the confidence to keep attacking the rim, which is going to help Mizzou in games where they would otherwise have no business winning. Clarkson can get an entire team’s frontcourt in foul trouble and make a living at the line. The most impressive park of his game thus far, though, is his willingness to avoid the three. He’s only taken eight treys this season, and he seems to be aware it isn’t his strength. That awareness is what is allowing him to flourish.
  4. With Kasey Hill out for at least a month, Billy Donovan has a lot of work to do. In this press conference Donovan talks about how he already had to pull point guard minutes from desperate places when Hill needed rest during games. The problem is that Donovan previously only needed to find 10 minutes per game to spell him, not 40. The bottom line is that without a true point guard the Gator’s offense will suffer. Shooting guards and point forwards are more inclined to look to score and make plays for themselves rather than through the offense.That can lead to bad shots and unhappy players. At least for one night though, the team found balanced scoring in a solid win over Middle Tennessee. Still, they had just 10 assists on 25 made baskets, which just goes to show they really miss having a true point guard.
  5. Ever wonder what a high major recruit could do to JuCo competition? Well new LSU commit Josh Gray is giving us a pretty good idea. Gray, who will be joining Johnny Jones in Baton Rouge next season, scored 61 and 59 points in his last two games. Originally a Mississippi State recruit, Gray actually went to Texas Tech for his freshman season before moving on to junior college, and now LSU gets to enjoy his services next season. A solid rim attacker and distributor, Gray will be an excellent addition to a rising Tigers program next season.
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Assessing the Season: Texas Tech Red Raiders

Posted by Nate Kotisso on April 12th, 2013

As the season winds down and Big 12 teams continue to find themselves eliminated from the post-season, we’re taking a look back on a team-by-team basis at the 2012-13 season. Next up: the Texas Tech Red Raiders.

Final Record: 11-20 (3-15)

The Expectations: Normally, the only time a college basketball team makes news in August is if it secures a top commitment from a recruit. What was being reported by CBS Sports last summer was far from normal. Head coach Billy Gillispie was in a heap of trouble, violating NCAA rules by exceeding the allowable amount of practice time (four hours/day; 20 hours/week) to as many as eight hours in a day. One player, later identified as Kader Tapsoba, was so worn down by the practices that he developed multiple stress fractures. And yet Gillispie still made him practice. It wasn’t just excessive practice that led to Gillispie’s downfall, though. He promised ex-Indiana player Tom Coverdale a job as an assistant but later changed his mind. Secretaries, trainers, graduate assistants and others also left in the early stages of Gillispie’s tenure. It was already well-documented that Texas Tech was going to have a vastly different roster compared to the year before with 15 players transferring out of Lubbock in the 18 months that he had been head coach there. Associate head coach Chris Walker was later tabbed as the interim coach for the 2012-13 season, but Texas Tech basketball was starting over. The only thing you could expect from this team was to play hard, game in and game out.

Interim head coach Chris Walker was left to pick up the pieces in Lubbock. (TexasTech.com)

Interim head coach Chris Walker was left to pick up the pieces in Lubbock (TexasTech.com)

The Actual Result: The Red Raiders pressed their way to a 4-0 start to the season, albeit against inferior opponents Prairie View A&M, Nebraska-Omaha, Jackson State and Grambling State. Then came some tougher opponents in Arizona, Alabama and Arizona State, all of which soundly beat Tech in Lubbock. (Aside: everyone is no doubt jealous at how Tech was able to get all of their non-conference games at home.) Conference play began and that went just as well as you would have expected. The Red Raiders lost 15 games in the Big 12 including nine in a row at one stretch. Their best home win came against Iowa State in which both teams combined to score 107 points. Jordan Tolbert, perhaps the best player on last year’s team, told ESPN.com he’d transfer if Gillispie wasn’t fired. Tolbert returned but the 11.5 PPG scorer from last season struggled to find his offensive game, probably because Tolbert’s father and biggest motivator, James Tolbert, passed away in October. That and the fact that the freshman starting point guard, Josh Gray, was going through a baptism-by-fire against the likes of Marcus Smart, Pierre Jackson and Angel Rodriguez. It shouldn’t go unmentioned that Jaye Crockett had been a former starter for the Red Raiders and still made an impact. Chris Walker made the decision to bring him off the bench this season, and Crockett quickly became one of the better sixth men in America (11.9 PPG, 6.5 RPG).

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Wednesday Wrap-Up: Wild (or Ugly) Night Doesn’t Exclude the Big 12

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 24th, 2013

Thanks to the double dip of games on Big Monday and the Sunflower Showdown the following evening, Wednesday was rather light on the conference schedule. Like, the weight-of-a-leaf light. TCU-West Virginia and Iowa State-Texas Tech were match-ups that sounded like they were made for ESPN3,  yet there they were, soaking up precious air time on ESPN2 and ESPNU last evening. For fans of Big 12 basketball, it wasn’t a good night.

Iowa State played Tech's Game all night and it was hard to watch (Stephen Spillman/The Avalanche-Journal)

Iowa State played Tech’s game all night. (Stephen Spillman/The Avalanche-Journal)

West Virginia 71, Texas Christian 50: Everybody knew that the game of the night was down in Coral Gables. What I was hoping for was a close game between Duke and Miami so that the drama of that game would limit the opportunity to check up on that eyesore in Morgantown. As luck would have it, the game I wanted to watch didn’t go as planned but the one that I didn’t want to watch did. Oh, the horror.

Both teams lacked basic fundamentals. Ball-handling was spectacularly bad, fast breaks were poorly executed, and passing was hilarious in the saddest of ways. And I’m talking about TCU and West Virginia. If these schools just stayed where they were, this game would have been the Big East’s problem. TCU plays like they don’t deserve to be in a major conference. I’ll admit it: The Big 12 is having a bit of a down year but will the Horned Frogs win even one conference game this season? I don’t think so. What if they were still in the Mountain West, a conference that’s looking a lot better than several power conferences? I think, no I know, that they’d go oh-fer for sure. I hope Trent Johnson can turn things around and soon because no one deserves to root for a team that’s currently 344th out of almost 350 Division I schools in team scoring. West Virginia on the other hand has been playing better basketball as of late. They came into last weekend having lost three of four to start conference play but could have easily been 3-1 instead. They stunk it up against Purdue on Saturday so with TCU next up on the docket, it was a shoe-in for Bob Huggins’ team to get a W in the left hand column. Deniz Kilicli had his best game of the calendar year and a young guard to keep an eye on is Eron Harris. Huggins has rewarded the freshman with more minutes, and as a result, he’s averaging 15.3 points per game in his last three outings.

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Big 12 Team Preview #9: Texas Tech Red Raiders

Posted by Nate Kotisso on October 31st, 2012

Over the next two weeks, we’ll bring you the obligatory team preview here at the Big 12 microsite. Monday, Danny Spewak (@dspewak) took care of previewing the TCU Horned Frogs. Today, Nate Kotisso (@natekotisso) previews the cellar-dwellers from a year ago: Texas Tech. The Red Raiders were not a unanimous choice among the Big 12 microsite writers to finish ninth in the conference but we’re guessing we still won’t find much argument with this selection either. 

The Skinny: 

  • 2011-12 Record: 8-23 record, 1-17 in the Big 12
  • Key Contributors Lost: G Javarez Willis, F Robert Lewandowski
  • Head Coach: Chris Walker, 1st season
  • Projected Finish: 9th

Walker now makes three different coaches in three seasons. (Associated Press/Zach Long)

Interim head coach Chris Walker undoubtedly has a tough act to follow but at the same time he doesn’t. Former head coach Billy Gillispie had as tumultuous of a season that a coach can have. He broke NCAA practice rules more than once, was reprimanded by his athletic director for those trangressions, and his team stunk it up on the basketball court. Since the bar isn’t set very high at this point, I’m sure Walker can win more than eight games and look somewhat competitive in Big 12 play. This is Walker’s first opportunity at a head coaching job but like many first-timers, he too was a well-traveled assistant coach. He started off at Loyola Marymount in 1992 (this was the post-Paul Westhead/Kimble/Gathers era), left for Vanderbilt in 1996, went to Pepperdine in 1999, back to his alma mater Villanova in 2000, then headed to UMass in 2001, before going to New Mexico in 2007, and then back to Villanova in 2009 before arriving last season in Lubbock. For a man thrust into as awkward a situation as any, Walker is saying all the right things and then some. On “wearing” the interim tag:

“It’s all about attitude. I was remarking to somebody the other day there are a lot of interim coaches out there, they just don’t know it. I look at this situation, and people look at it as if I’ve been diagnosed with cancer. It took me six months to live. I’ve really flipped it and said it’s six months to give. I’m head coach for the first time in the Big 12. I’m going to give everything I have to the University, to the players and the community of Lubbock.”

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Big 12 Summer Update: Texas Tech Red Raiders

Posted by dnspewak on August 6th, 2012

In an effort to remind you that college basketball does in fact exist during the summer, Big 12 microsite writer Danny Spewak (@dspewak) will roll out three summer updates per week during the next month. The goal is to compile every bit of news and information from the summer months for each team and package it into neat, easy-to-read capsules for your convenience. Next on the list — Texas Tech. 

2011-12 record: 8-23, 1-17

Billy Gillispie knew he had a major reclamation project on his hands at Texas Tech when he took over prior to the 2011-12 season. The program, which has always traditionally lagged behind the rest of the Big 12 in attendance and overall support, had slowly faded from a perennial NCAA Tournament team under Bob Knight to a cellar-dwellar under Pat Knight in just a few seasons. So when Gillispie landed in Lubbock after Knight’s firing and brought in a boatload of junior college transfers and freshmen, it was no surprise his team finished with eight victories and showed almost no signs of life in his first season. Apparently, that did not sit well with half the team, since six players decided to transfer during the offseason. Gillispie had originally oversigned with his 2012 recruiting class, so it’s not certain what exactly transpired this spring, but it wasn’t strong publicity for Gillispie. Before you accuse him of losing control of his program, though, look at the actual defections that occurred. He’s not losing his entire team by any means. Only one starter (Javarez Willis) transferred. That’s not good, obviously. But the others? As harsh as it sounds, they’re replaceable. And the fact is, Gillispie’s best player and leading scorer returns for his sophomore year in Jordan Tolbert, and he inked eight — yes, eight — newcomers, a class with decent potential on paper. There are still roster questions and other potential defections to worry about this summer, so much that the team hasn’t even officially published its roster online yet. But minus Billy G’s tumultuous tenure at Kentucky, the rest of his track record affords him the benefit of the doubt at Texas Tech. It might not be all that pretty in 2012-13, but the rebuilding process has entered its critical first steps here. Now, we just need to figure out who’ll actually play on the team next year.

Billy Gillispie’s Program Can’t Go Anywhere But Up

Summer Orientation:  As much potential as this Class of 2012 may have, it already lost one member when juco forward Rodrigo Silva left the team this summer to pursue a pro career in Brazil. It’s important to note that the move isn’t yet official, but the word around Texas Tech circles is Silva’s father is ill, and his family has serious financial needs. Understandable. On the court, it’s difficult to lose a 6’10” forward with the largest frame of any recruit in the class, and he’s not the only one who might not make it back to Texas Tech. Fellow forward Wannah Bail, one of the most highly-touted freshman in this bunch, had problems in the classroom this summer and had to temporarily go home. Gillispie said he expects to see him on campus for the fall semester, but this situation poses a serious problem for everybody involved. Bail, a 6’8” tweener and a top-150 prospect, needs to add considerable strength but has the athleticism and defensive potential to log a lot of minutes in his first season– if he plays. That’s why this is such an important development for Gillispie right now. He played high school ball with Michael Carey, who also committed to Tech in February but may not qualify. To be quite frank with you, we’ve attempted to look into Carey’s status for the 2012-13 season, but it appears completely unknown at this point. We know he signed, and we know there’s questions about his eligibility, but that’s all we know. Again, that’s a trend this summer. Who in the heck will really play for this team this season? Here’s another example: Blake Nash, who did officially transfer to Texas Tech but may or may not play in 2012-13. The former South Florida guard wants a hardship waiver after logging decent minutes as a backup during USF’s NCAA Tournament run in March. If he’s eligible, he’ll likely find his way into the rotation in some capacity for Gillispie in his first season and will help stiffen that point guard battle in off-season and fall practice even more.

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