SEC M5: 12.10.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on December 10th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. Florida has a big game against Kansas tonight and it appears they will be as close to full strength as they have been all season. Billy Donovan said Scottie Wilbekin and Kasey Hill will return from their respective ankle injuries and play together in a real game for the first time. Neither has a minutes limit, but Donovan’s comments make it sound like Wilbekin is closer to being completely healthy than Hill. “Because [Hill's] been out and been out of practice so long – it’s been nearly about three weeks right now – I just don’t know what I’m going to get from him,” said Donovan. “We’ll give him an opportunity. He’ll have another day of practice under his belt. Hopefully he will get back to feeling more comfortable. He feels pretty good right now and as long as that continues we’ll use him as we need him.” Wilbekin’s mobility will be important for a few reasons: 1. He’s one of the best on-ball defenders in the SEC. 2. An underrated part of Kansas’ vaunted freshmen class has been point guard Frank Mason’s ability to penetrate and either get to the free throw line or create opportunities for the Jayhawk big men. If Wilbekin’s ankle isn’t too tender he should be able to contain this.
  2. Kentucky‘s toughness and effort are being questioned after last Friday’s loss to BaylorKentucky.com‘s John Clay writes that, “intense teams don’t give up more offensive rebounds (18) than it gets defensive rebounds (15) — something that’s happened just three previous times in the Calipari Era.” The rebounding struggles are certainly concerning. Rebounding isn’t like three point shooting: since it’s mostly effort-based it’s harder to have an off night with it. Kentucky should be an elite rebounding team. Rico Gathers and Corey Jefferson are both above average rebounders, but Julius RandleWillie Cauley-Stein, and Kentucky’s cadre of big guards should have been able to wipe that out. They weren’t able to do this, and most glaring were no shows from Cauley-Stein (3 rebounds) and Alex Poythress (2 rebounds, albeit in only six minutes). The Wildcats will run into more teams that can rebound this season and know now that simply walking on the floor doesn’t equal dominance on the glass.
  3. Vanderbilt forward Josh Henderson will miss the rest of the season after tearing his ACL and MCL in the Commodores win against Marshall last week. Losing the junior center hurts Vanderbilt’s already thin front court. He was posting career highs in points and rebounds, and had made improvements on his rebounding metrics from last season. The Commodores have been competitive in all of their losses this season, and that’s encouraging for a team that is clearly rebuilding. Kevin Stallings will need to find some silver lining out of the Henderson injury to further that rebuilding effort. That could be more experience and minutes for talented freshman Damian Jones, who has been the team’s best rebounder. Freshman center Luke Kornet will also be needed for more than the 11 minutes per game he’s currently averaging. The development of these two big men could be a positive out of a sad situation.
  4. We touched on Ole Miss’ loss to Oregon yesterday, but it’s worth exploring again because Marshall Henderson did hoist up 27 shots, and you don’t see that everydayCBSSports‘ Gary Parrish got the following quote from Andy Kennedy after the game about Henderson: “‘The only way to stop him from shooting is to sit him down, and I’ve tried that a few times here and there, and I’ll continue to try that,” Kennedy said. “But he’s a volume guy, he’s been a volume guy since Day 1, and he was a volume guy when I recruited him. I realized that. So I just try to put him in a position where he can help our team, and he’s certainly done that.’” Parrish goes on to write that Kennedy and Ole Miss are certainly better off with Henderson than they’d be without, and there’s no doubt about that. An under the radar story this season is that it appears at least from afar that Henderson hasn’t been a distraction. He’s saying all the right things about coming off the bench (“My favorite players are J.R. Smith and Jamal Crawford, so I just take that mentality into it”), and willingly served as a decoy on Jarvis Summers‘ game-tying three against Oregon. This came after Henderson had hit two three’s to bring the Rebels back, and given his mentality he must have been itching for the ball in the final seconds.
  5. Missouri picked up its third player award this season, as Jordan Clarkson was named SEC Player of the Week. The Tulsa transfer continued his excellent start to the season scoring 25 and 21 points against West Virginia and UCLA respectively. He finally showed the ability to hit from distance against the Bruins. Clarkson received plenty of hype before the season, and it appears this was warranted as he kept up his scoring prowess against better competition. Arkansas freshman Bobby Portis picked up the first hardware of his career, being named SEC Freshman of the Week. Portis only scored 13 points in a win against Clemson, but he did something he hadn’t done yet this season: get to the line (7-of-8 FT’s). He should be able to do this consistently given the athletic advantage he has over most other players his size.
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SEC M5: 10.08.12 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on October 8th, 2012

  1. Residing under the national and local spotlight is a way of life for the national champion Kentucky Wildcats and coach John Calipari. But as if interest in the Cats wasn’t high enough already, a new ESPN series, titled All-Access Kentucky, will go in depth on the Big Blue’s preparation for the 2012-13 season. “With many new players on the Wildcats this year, there is enormous interest surrounding this team,” said Norby Williamson, ESPN’s executive vice president of programming and acquisitions. “All-Access Kentucky gives us an opportunity to deliver something entertaining and unique that helps bring fans closer to a sport they love.” The series will air in 30-minute segments beginning on October 17.
  2. Is Kentucky the only SEC school that cares about basketball season? It seems as though everyone outside of Lexington is still paying attention to some other sport. Blasphemy. Meanwhile, Calipari gave each of a pair of walk-ons, Sam Malone and Brian Long, a scholarship for the upcoming year. While they may not have contributed much on the court, both achieved grade point averages well above 3.0 during last year. Both are excited their determination paid off. “It shows you’ve got to work hard and you’ve got to continue to keep working hard,” Long said. “And you’ve got to be successful on the floor and off the floor and in school. There’s a lot of factors, but it all pays off if you work hard.”
  3. Vanderbilt is starting to turn one eye towards the hardwood, as Anchor of Gold examines a new-look Commodores team. Contrary to the last several years when the ‘Dores had a dominant center down low, Vanderbilt may now have to play small ball to put its best team on the court. Vandy lost its top six scorers from a year ago, and only returns three players standing above 6’9″. While their strength may be in the backcourt, the Commodores can’t ignore their weaknesses in rebounding and low post play. Junior Rod Odom and sophomore Josh Henderson will have to combine for well more than the pedestrian rebounding numbers they managed last season.
  4. If you happened to live under a rock last week, you may have missed the huge announcement that the biggest package deal ever in college basketball recruiting made their collegiate choice on Thursday. If you live anywhere else in the world, you already knew that. The Harrison twins, Aaron and Andrew Harrison of Houston, Texas, chose to play for the SEC’s Kentucky Wildcats over the Maryland Terrapins. Andrew, one half of the future starting backcourt for Calipari’s Wildcats said, “Coach Calipari presented a challenge for us … he would push us every day. We just want to be better players.” With these couple of huge commitments for UK, and with Calipari positioned well for other top prospects in the class, the 2013 class is setting up to be one of Cal’s best since arriving in Lexington, and that’s saying something.
  5. While Calipari continues to put his Wildcats in contention for the number one recruiting spot, he’ll have to beat out Florida coach Billy Donovan to do it. Donovan’s Gators currently sit atop the 2013 rankings, and he is feeling pretty good about hosting one of the top players in the class. Power forward and Plano, Texas, native, Julius Randle made a visit to Gainesville this past weekend. “He’s excited about (the visit),” said Chris Mayberry, Randle’s high school coach. “He went to Kentucky a couple of weeks ago, so this will be his second official visit.” Donovan has already loaded up for next season with Chris Walker (the #8 prospect), Kasey Hill (the #6 prospect), Damontre Harris (a transfer from South Carolina), and Dorian Finney-Smith (a transfer from Virginia Tech).
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SEC Transition Basketball: Vanderbilt Commodores

Posted by Brian Joyce on July 10th, 2012

It’s hot out there, and to many of us, college basketball is the last thing on our minds. But here at the SEC Microsite, we’re going to be rolling out mid-summer resets of each of the (now) 14 basketball programs in our league. We’re calling it Transition Basketball, and you can expect we’ll cover three or four teams a week until we’re done. By that time, we’ll actually start to be turning the slight corner into the fall, and from there it’s a smooth slope down to Midnight Madness in mid-October. Today’s update: Vanderbilt.

State of the Program

The reigning SEC Tournament champions appeared to be on a promising streak preceding the Big Dance. After swatting the proverbial monkey off its back and defeating Harvard in the Round of 64 following three straight first round exits, it was heartache once again for Commodore fans as the team settled well short of expectations. With a trio of NBA level talent and an experienced hoard of role players, 2011-12 was supposed to be the year on which Vandy fans had been waiting. Turnovers, a reliance on the outside shot, and difficulty rebounding marred Kevin Stallings‘ club, and now Vandy looks to be heading into a rebuilding year unfortunately situated in one of the SEC’s strongest years in recent history.

John Jenkins is gone, and so are his NBA bound teammates, Festus Ezeli and Jeffery Taylor

With familiar names such as John Jenkins, Jeffery Taylor, and Festus Ezeli all gone, who does Stallings turn to now? In fact, his top six players in terms of minutes played are gone. The Commodores will rely heavily upon talented yet vastly inexperienced and untested players. The leading returning scorer for the 2012-13 ‘Dores averaged just over three points per game last season. To say there are some question marks about next season is an understatement. As Stallings pointed out in the SEC summer teleconference a few weeks ago, “It is certainly going to be a year of transition for our basketball program. Not one guy who is playing will have ever been in the role he will be assuming for next year’s squad.”  Vanderbilt certainly underperformed last season, but can it now exceed a lowered set of expectations in 2012-13?

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SEC Morning Five: 12.05.11 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on December 5th, 2011

  1. Kentucky and North Carolina played in one of the best regular season college games in quite some time. For a game with an extreme amount of hype coming in, this one lived up to all of the hype and more. It seemed from my Twitter timeline, that most fans, analysts and writers wished for five more minutes of these two heavyweights going at it. We may get forty more minutes in March or April. Here’s the roundup of everyone’s reactions to this instant classic: Jeff Goodman wrote that this one sure felt like March. CBS Sports graded each player based on their NBA prospects. Seth Davis wrote that he hopes UNC and Kentucky meet again. The Lexington Herald Leader talked about Anthony Davis’ signature moment. More on Davis’ incredible block from The Sporting News’ Mike DeCourcy. More from DeCourcy on how proud Calipari is of his freshmen. Rob Dauster of Beyond the Arc wrote that the game lived up to its hype. Jason King of ESPN wrote about how special this game really was. The guys at a Sea of Blue look at the good and the bad for the Cats. And finally, our national overlords at Rush the Court say that Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was a star among stars.
  2. In its 62-60 loss to Louisville on Friday night, Vanderbilt made only eight two-point field goals in the entire game. Half of its points came from threes, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal, outscoring Louisville 30-15 from beyond the arc. John Jenkins is one of the most exciting players in the country to watch coming off screens for a three point shot, especially when he is hot. However, the Commodores have become too reliant on the outside shot, even considering that their biggest inside threat, Festus Ezeli, continues to be sidelined by an injury.  The fewest three-point shots that Vandy has hoisted up so far this season is 17, in a loss to Cleveland State. Despite throwing up more than 20 three-point shots in six of their eight games, the Commodores have only shot over 40 percent once, an 11-25 (44%) effort against Monmouth.
  3. Speaking of three-point shots sinking a team, Alabama lost a thriller on Thursday night to Georgetown on a last second three by Hollis Thompson. With the 57-55 victory, Georgetown snapped a 24-game home winning streak for the Tide in Coleman Coliseum. Potentially more detrimental, the Hoyas might have laid the blueprint to beating Alabama with an aggressive sagging 2-3 zone. It was Alabama’s inability to convert from three that caused its offense to stall. The Tide shot 3-16 from beyond the arc beginning with missing their first 11 three-% on 23 attempts on the season.
  4. Mike Rosario, the Florida’s fourth leading scorer this season, played a season-low six minutes in a loss to Syracuse on Friday night. Rosario came in averaging over 10 points per game, but coach Billy Donovan made the decision to sit him on the bench throughout the entire second half. “The last couple days, I think emotionally, he just hasn’t been there,” said Donovan. “I tried to use him a little bit and he just did not seem himself. It was more my decision not to play him. I actually felt like we needed defense because I knew we were going to have a hard time scoring with Patric (Young) off the floor.” Guards Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker stepped up in his place with a combined 9-19 from three-point land. Boynton finished with 22 points, while Walker added 17 points and five assists. Rosario disappeared in Florida’s last top five match-up in Columbus against Ohio State. Rosario played 19 minutes, but only added five points. Rosario’s play in marquee games should be something to keep an eye on for the Gators.
  5. If I had to choose a team that could ill afford an injury to a frontcourt player at this point, I would probably choose Vanderbilt. With starting center Festus Ezeli still out, the Commodores received more bad news as they have lost 6’11″ center Josh Henderson with a stress fracture in his left foot. He will be sidelined for eight to 12 weeks. Henderson was averaging three points and three rebounds in limited minutes, however, was beginning to gain confidence with a 10-point, five-rebound performance against Monmouth. Henderson played a season-high 18 minutes against Xavier. Henderson’s injury should not be much of an issue once Ezeli returns to action in a couple of weeks, but will further hamper the Commodores until that time.
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Set Your TiVo: 12.02.11 – 12.04.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 2nd, 2011

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

As we move into December, the first big Saturday of the year (highlighted by the battle in Lexington) is now upon us. Not to mention we get a nice preview of things to come on Friday evening.

#6 Florida @ #3 Syracuse – 7 PM EST Friday on ESPN (*****)

  • Syracuse has three distinct advantages in this game despite playing a top ten opponent. One is home court, two is height, and three is depth. The Orange have taller players at every position, one through five, and Jim Boeheim can go a legitimate ten deep into his bench. Against a Florida team that will be without forward Erik Murphy, Syracuse may be able to overwhelm the guard-heavy Gators. The key for the Orange will be defense. The 2-3 zone creates a fantastic match-up given Florida’s preferred style of offense, shooting lots of threes. If the Orange can be active and extend the perimeter of the zone, Florida will have a tough time.
  • The key for Florida is simple: make threes. To do that however, the Gators must establish Patric Young early and often. Playing without Murphy, Young is Florida’s only reliable post player. If he can’t get going, Syracuse won’t have to worry about extending the zone and leaving holes in the middle. If Young gets off to a fast start, the Orange will have to respect his presence by packing its defense in a bit more inside the arc. That will give Florida’s dynamic guards the opportunity to make shots. With Kenny Boynton and Mike Rosario both shooting almost 50% from deep and two other Gators lurking as potential snipers, Syracuse doesn’t want to be forced to do that.

Can UF Establish Patric Young Inside To Give Its Shooters Room?

  • It’s always fun when a team that relies heavily on guards and the three point shot gets together with a team that plays almost exclusively zone. The Syracuse defense will tempt Florida to shoot the deep ball all night but Florida must work for open shots by establishing Young and some sort of an inside-out game. Keeping the zone off balance and moving the ball effectively are always keys to finding open shots. Defensively, Florida has to do better. Syracuse is much more efficient on that end of the floor while the Gators rank a pedestrian 52nd in the nation. Although three point shooting is the big key in this game, Florida’s defense could cost them in a tight game.
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SEC Make or Break: Vanderbilt Commodores

Posted by Brian Joyce on November 13th, 2011

The Make or Break series will tell us what we need to know about each SEC team by looking at the three most important non-conference games on each team’s schedule. Depending on the outcome, these three games could make OR break that team’s season because of the strengths it shows or weaknesses it could expose. The next team in the series is the Vanderbilt Commodores.

Vanderbilt entered the last two NCAA Tournaments as a #4 seed (2009-10) and a #5 seed (2010-11), yet lost in its first game both years. The Commodores last made the Sweet Sixteen in 2007. So, it’s understandable if national college basketball writers and analysts are a bit hesitant to declare Vandy as a Final Four contender. Last year, Vanderbilt was unable to put teams away, especially in close games. The ‘Dores lost a double-digit lead in five of their 11 losses. Their inabililty to close out opponents is a cause for concern this year for a team that is expected to challenge for the SEC title.

Of course, Vanderbilt returns all five starters, including SEC Player of the Year, John Jenkins. This Vandy team has high expectations, and the offensive firepower to be amongst the nation’s best. The ‘Dores also boast some of the best non-conference games in the country as they have several top 25 matchups to test their talented and experienced squad. Preseason All-SEC center, Festus Ezeli, will miss many of their big matchups early on as he recovers from a sprained MCL and PCL injury.

Vanderbilt will miss Ezeli's defense and post presence during his absence.

The three key non-conference games that will make or break the Commodores’ schedule this season:

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Vanderbilt’s Festus Ezeli Sprains MCL & PCL

Posted by Gerald Smith on October 28th, 2011

Vanderbilt’s hopes to challenge for a high NCAA Tournament seed have become a little more complicated. Senior center Festus Ezeli sprained the MCL and PCL ligaments in his right knee during Tuesday’s practice. Luckily for the preseason All-SEC Second-Teamer, the injury does not require surgery and he should return within six to eight weeks.

We Hear Ya, Big Man. Get Better Soon.

Senior forward Steve Tchiengang will likely replace Ezeli as the starting center. Redshirt freshman Josh Henderson was already planning to see more action due to Ezeli’s NCAA-mandated six-game suspension for ineligible benefits. Now Tchingang and Henderson will need to extend their roles through nearly every significant non-conference game for the Commodores: November 21 vs. either Texas or Oregon State in the TicketCity Legends Classic Finals; November 28 vs. Xavier featuring the recently reinstated 7-footer Kenny Frease; and December 2 at Louisville where Ezeli was expected to be productive against Cardinal centers Gorgui Dieng and Stephan Van Treese.

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SEC Morning Five: 10.20.11 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on October 20th, 2011

  1. LSU took an 11-day summer trip to Italy, which Tigers’ coach Trent Johnson is hoping will translate into improved play this year. The Tigers won all six games they played in May, but more importantly, were forced to fine tune an offense that ranked last in the SEC in scoring average at 62.2 PPG in 2010-11. LSU played with international rules which meant they adhered to a 24-second shot clock. Johnson said, “you play international rules and the game is basically all about offense with a 24-second shot clock. They do not like to guard you, and they like to get real physical with you, so it put us in some very adverse situations.” With returning leadership and the benefit of extra practice over the summer, LSU is hoping the overseas trip will benefit the Tigers’ team this year, although Italy has not led to positive results for all of its visitors recently.
  2. Festus Ezeli’s six-game suspension has opened the door for other ‘Dores to step up with additional playing time. Vandy coach Kevin Stallings said 6’11″ redshirt freshman Josh Henderson and 6’9″ senior Steve Tchiengang will see extra minutes. Stallings has been impressed with Henderson’s progression thus far saying, “he’s a surprisingly good rebounder for a guy that’s not real fast. He’s gifted as a passer, he’s one of those big guys that has vision.”
  3. Kentucky Sports Radio’s Matt Jones knows an SEC team will cut down the nets this April. Jones wrote with conviction that the Kentucky Wildcats will win the 2011-12 National Championship. He didn’t say might win it or could win it. He said will. His three reasons why? Well, if you’re that interested, then give it a read over at Grantland. Jones put into words the general sentiment in Lexington and around Big Blue Nation that this is the year for the Wildcats. Kentucky has the “it” factor with more talent than ever before and John Calipari is a coach who has come close so many times in the past that the ball will eventually bounce his way.  Something tells us the people in Chapel Hill are feeling the same way!
  4. Speaking of Kentucky, John Calipari’s teams haven’t exactly been known for their senior leadership. 6’7″ senior Darius Miller is trying to change that as he enters his second year as the leader of yet another group of talented incoming freshmen. Miller reflected on his leadership abilities saying, “last year, I think I struggled with [leading] early on. I’m more comfortable with it now, honestly.” Freshman point guard Marquis Teague agreed that Miller looks out for the rest of the guys saying, “he gets everything organized for practice, makes everything happen on time. He’s like our big brother.” Kentucky will need Miller’s leadership both on and off the court to meet the always-high expectations of Wildcat fans.
  5. The University of Florida student newspaper discussed the tempo of Billy Donovan’s Gator teams. Despite a perception of the Gators playing run and gun basketball, the 2010-11 team ranked 290th in the nation in adjusted tempo. And who doesn’t love KenPom stats? With the departure of strong front court players who were physical in the post and the addition of two dynamic guards making the back court even stronger this year, the Gators plan to push the basketball in transition and create turnovers with their patented press. Donovan plans to play three or even four guards at a time. Point guard Erving Walker said, “being that we have a lot more depth and knowing that in the past Coach Donovan liked to press a lot, I think we’ll be a much more fast-paced team.” The Gator guards just need to make sure the Florida bigs can keep up.
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