Conference Report Card: ACC

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 28th, 2011

Matt Patton is the RTC correspondent for the ACC.

Conference Recap

The ACC had a down year though North Carolina’s Kendall Marshall-led resurgence and Florida State’s Sweet Sixteen appearance helped a little bit. Before and during the season, Duke was the runaway favorite in the conference: Kyrie Irving’s toe injury obviously was the pivotal point that brought Duke back down to earth. Equally pivotal (in the reverse direction) was Marshall’s move to starting point guard for North Carolina. With Larry Drew II at the helm, there is no way the Tar Heels could have come close to surpassing Duke for the regular season title. The down year did not really surprise most people, and despite lofty preseason expectations (read: people forgot how highly rated North Carolina was to start the season) I think the perception is that the league at least lived up to preseason expectations with a couple of notable exceptions: NC State, Wake Forest, and Virginia Tech. NC State had NCAA Tournament talent, but did not come anywhere close to sniffing the Big Dance; Wake was arguably the worst major conference team in the country; and Virginia Tech once again found itself very highly seeded in the NIT. On the flip side, Clemson and Florida State both exceeded expectations.

Roy Williams and Kendall Marshall led a mid-season resurgence that resulted in a trip the Elite Eight. (News Observer/Robert Willitt)

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Roy Williams Can Totally Fix The Oil Leak

Posted by jstevrtc on June 2nd, 2010

Forget all this James Cameron-to-the-rescue talk.  Given the speed with which he can plug holes, BP should hire Roy Williams.

Yesterday brought news that James McAdoo, a 6-8 power forward and the third-ranked player in the ESPN-U 100 for the high school class of 2011, might decide to shorten his senior year of high school and enroll at North Carolina a year early, meaning he’d be available to play for the Tar Heels in the upcoming season, giving them the help that they need down low.  McAdoo had already committed to UNC as a class of 2011 member, but needs only to finish some summer courses to meet the NCAA’s requirements for scholarship eligibility.

His name should sound familiar.  His uncle, Bob McAdoo, played a year for North Carolina back in the early 70s and went on to a Hall of Fame NBA career that included three scoring titles, two world championships with the Lakers in 1982 and 1985, and an MVP award in 1975.  He virtually created the concept of a big man who could shoot effectively from the perimeter.

James might hit Franklin Street a year earlier than expected.

On May 25, we learned that Alabama’s Justin Knox will transfer (sort of) to North Carolina after finishing his degree over the summer.  Knox happens to be a 6-9, 240-pound forward, and, because he’ll have finished his degree before next season begins, he will not be required to sit out a season before playing a final year in Chapel Hill as long as he chooses to enroll in a graduate program that Alabama does not offer.  The University of Alabama’s Graduate School offers more than 120 graduate degree programs.  Call us optimistic, but we’re betting Knox miraculously finds one out of UNC’s 89 that Alabama just doesn’t have.

Just a few weeks ago, Tar Heel fans were lamenting an emerging vacuum in the post, having lost Deon Thompson to the passage of time, Ed Davis to the NBA, and then the Wear boys defected.  It’s true, a lot of teams would relish a “problem” like having Tyler Zeller and John Henson as part of their front line.  But while that might be a talented duo, it’s still a duo, and you can’t survive in the Patriot League, let alone the ACC, with just two post players.

The hand-wringing was probably never as bad as it was made out to be, since top high school stud Harrison Barnes had committed to UNC a long time ago, and we’re sure he’ll provide more than his share of immediate excitement in Chapel Hill.  Still, in hopes of shoring up the workforce in the paint, UNC made last-minute overtures to high schooler Kadeem Jack, but those went unfulfilled when Jack decided to go to prep school for another year.  Tar Heel supporters were left thinking…What now?

They can now sleep soundly, for those holes in the paint have been successfully been filled.  Seriously, can somebody please make sure that Roy Williams has Tony Hayward’s number?

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Morning Five: 05.26.10 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on May 26th, 2010

  1. Vegas Watch aggregates seven pre-preseason top 25s, including yours truly’s.  Duke is a clear #1, but Michigan State at #2 and a lot of teams with serious question marks (K-State, Villanova, Pitt, Gonzaga) populate the rest of the top ten.  We had Butler (#8) and Georgetown (#10) in our top ten, but few others did.  Thanks for doing this, VW.
  2. More transfer news — a while back we suggested that the Wear Twins (David and Travis) would end up at UCLA, and that was confirmed yesterday with the announcement that the SoCal-raised pair will be heading to Westwood.  They’ll have three years of eligibility remaining, beginning in the 2011-12 season.  All we want to know is where was Stanford on this one (remember the Collins and Lopez twins)?  Meanwhile, UNC filled one of their open inside positions with Alabama transfer Justin Knox, who has already graduated and will be eligible to play next season for Roy Williams.  This is a substantial coup for UNC in that they were facing a season with few experienced bigs (only the rail-thin John Henson and Tyler Zeller return inside), and this addition will help bridge the gap until Williams can bring in some help.
  3. Finishing in the top four spots of the Big East regular season will not hold as much meaning as it did the last two years, as conference officials yesterday voted to do away with the double-bye system in the Big East Tournament.  In the new format, MSG’s Tuesday and Wednesday sessions will feature first round games using a traditional 1/16, 2/15, etc., format.  For some reason, we’re less excited about this change.
  4. Gregg Doyel thinks that Oklahoma basketball might deserve the death penalty, but taking his typically grumpy stance (we love it, btw), he doesn’t think that much of anything will come to pass.
  5. Duke’s national championship team has plans to visit the White House tomorrow.  No word on whether Coach K will give President Obama some beef over picking against his Devils in the regionals.
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Morning Five: 05.21.10 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on May 21st, 2010

  1. The NCAA is discussing the highly-anticipated question as to how to structure the new 68-team NCAA Tournament, and specifically, the four play-in games.  We’ve written extensively about the options on the table (and preferences), but in reading yesterday that there are three possibilities — slotting the last eight auto-bids, the last eight at-larges, or a hybrid of the two (interesting…) — we’re happy that they’re considering the right questions.  In reading the tea leaves, it’s apparent that they are concerned about the same low-RPI leagues ending up in the four PiGs every year, but a proposed “rotation system” seems very contrived.  Does a SWAC team get a bye into the first round as a #15 seed regardless of resume if they’re in the PiG three straight years?  And what of this hybrid option — how would that look?
  2. Was the Class of 2007 one of the greatest high school classes of all-time?  It’s difficult to make that statement just three years out, but so far, as this Basketball Prospectus piece shows, the star power of that class (Love, Mayo, Beasley, Gordon, Griffin, etc.) leaves most other classes in the dust.
  3. Alabama’s Justin Knox will transfer to either Georgia Tech or UNC after the Tide program refused to grant him a waiver so that he could go to UAB, his top choice.  Knox states that he believes the transfer will help his goal of reaching the NBA, but if that’s true, we’re not really sure what he would have been able to get in Birmingham that he couldn’t get in Tuscaloosa.  Or what he thinks he can get in the ACC that he couldn’t get in the SEC.  The whole thing is just very strange, and Alabama fans are convinced that UAB was recruiting him while he was still a member of the Tide program.
  4. With the signing deadline passed this week, here’s your top 25 recruiting classes for 2010.  Kentucky is obviously #1 and Memphis #2 with loads of talent coming in at every position, but the ACC (four of the top ten) and Big Ten (four of the top fifteen) appear to be the leagues with the strongest influx of talent arriving.  In a related piece, Luke Winn lists his top ten developments of the spring recruiting period this year.
  5. Speaking of Memphis, guard Roburt Sallie is leaving the program to transfer to a school closer to his hometown of Sacramento, California, or to pursue professional opportunities overseas.  He is due to receive his degree in August, and if he does so, he will not have to sit out the transfer year and will therefore be eligible to play college basketball in 2010-11.  Mike Montgomery on line two.
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Morning Five: 05.06.10 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on May 5th, 2010

  1. Butler will have to deal with the ghoulish specter of Expectations next year without star forward Gordon Hayward, who has decided to remain in the NBA Draft pool.  The Bulldogs should still be very good in 2010-11, but it’s unlikely to expect another run at the national title without the versatile Hayward back on campus.  Ole Miss guard Terrico White has also decided to stay in the draft, forgoing his final two years of eligibility.  This is a questionable decision, as some prognosticators think White may sneak into the bottom of the first round, while others think he’ll be lucky to be drafted.  With the withdrawal deadline looming on Saturday, there will be a number of these over the next few days (we hope) and Northern Arizona’s Cam Jones is one of the first to announce a return to school.
  2. Some coaching news from yesterday as Temple’s Fran Dunphy was rewarded for another NCAA campaign with an extension that will keep him secure through the 2018 season.  At Kentucky, John Calipari responded to the Chicago Bull rumors with an audio tweet stating that he’s only interested in an extension at UK, not a raise.  After the Tim Welsh debacle at Hofstra, the university wasted no time in hiring Mo Cassara, an assistant that Welsh had hired from Boston College, for the top spot.  A month ago he didn’t even have a job — now he’s the head coach.
  3. How about some transfer news today to round out things?  Memphis added New Orleans transfer Charles Carmouche, a scoring guard who will be eligible immediately for his final two seasons as a result of UNO’s self-demotion to Division 3.  Alabama is restricting rising senior Justin Knox’s transfer bid to UAB as a result of what they think is tampering.  Bizarre situation for the 2008-09 SEC men’s basketball scholar-athlete of the year who will have already graduated from the school this year.
  4. Oklahoma State forward Matt Pilgrim has been served with a protective order by a woman who is claiming that he raped her on April 12.  Pilgrim was an integral part of the inside game for the Pokes last season (8/7) and undoubtedly was expected to be even more prominent next year.  He posted this on his Facebook page on Wednesday afternoon: “I can’t take it no more… I always play the victim. (All) I’ve done was work hard to prove people wrong… People lie and every one that know(s) me know(s) my passion to become somebody, but Satan is working overtime on me…. But I’m (going to) let God handle this… I will still work hard to provide for me and the ones I love. Please do (not believe what’s) going on. I just want peace… Sorry to everyone that is affected by this.”  You never know what the details will show in situations like these, so let’s just hope that justice (whatever its form) is served in the end.
  5. Testing the waters is a sham now that the NCAA caved in to several prominent whiners coaches and gives prospective NBA players a mere two weeks during  many schools’ exam period to gauge their stock.  We have a piece up on this today, and Gary Parrish chimed in as well with some of his own research from the NBA side of the ledger (result: most NBA teams aren’t interested in this right now).  If the NCAA has any interest in actually helping its student-athletes make educated decisions, then they’ll admit they flubbed this one and create a more realistic window for kids to get evaluated.  Well, at least they got the important stuff, y’know, like throwing ‘bows, figured out.
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Boom Goes The Dynamite: Wednesday 1.13.10 Edition

Posted by jstevrtc on January 13th, 2010

There are some REALLY good games on tonight and many of them will be somewhere on the tube, so we figured tonight we’d step up with a special edition of our weekend live-blogging feature.  To start off, we’ll be checking on Boston College at Duke (ESPN), Pittsburgh at Connecticut (ESPN2), and Cincinnati at St. John’s (ESPN-U), and we’ll branch out to other networks as well throughout the night.  We want to know what you’re watching, as well.  Keep hitting that refresh button and we’ll see you in the comments section.  It’ll all start off momentarily…

7:03 pm ET: Wow, where to start?  This is a ridiculous night of hoops.  SO many games on, which is why we’re here.  The first thing I notice is the wardrobe symmetry between play-by-play man Rece Davis (?!?) and Bobby Knight.  Both in the v-neck sweaters.  Is it good when Bobby Knight is influencing your wardrobe choices?  I guess Rece can make it work.

7:07: Yeesh.  Not exactly a good trip for Nolan Smith.  A missed dunk and then a missed 10-foot jumper from almost behind the backboard.  Meanwhile, over on the Big Ten Network, Minnesota is keeping up with Michigan State early; MSU has a 24-21 lead at the under-4 TVTO.  I’m especially fired up for this UConn-Pitt game.  Can Pitt continue this ascent after being basically forgotten about in the early part of this season?  Up on the Huskies early in Storrs…

7:20: UConn looks like a YMCA club team.  They’re straight up on defense, if you can call it that.  At this point they seem severely uninterested.  Pitt has guys moving on offense without the ball, talking on defense, etc.  That’s how you build an early ten point lead on a team in their own house.

7:23: Maybe that Jerome Dyson dunk will get UConn going.  UConn’s strategy is obvious, and that’s to run Pitt into the ground.  UConn scored on four straight possessions so it looks like they’ve finally shown up mentally.  But what’s this?  Interesting score…South Florida up at home on West Virginia 23-12 over on ESPN 360 with about 7:00 left in the first.  Virginia has an early lead on Georgia Tech and BC just got a NICE dunk by Reggie Jackson to go up one on Duke.

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Checking in on… the SEC

Posted by rtmsf on January 5th, 2010

Paul Jordan of Wildcat Blue Blog is the RTC correspondent for the Southeastern Conference.

STANDINGS

EAST

  1. Kentucky       15-0    
  2. Tennessee      10-2
  3. Florida       11-3
  4. Vanderbilt         11-3
  5. South Carolina       8-5
  6. Georgia         7-5

WEST

  1. Mississippi State      12-3
  2. Mississippi      11-2
  3. Alabama      10-4
  4. LSU        9-5
  5. Auburn         8-6
  6. Arkansas       7-7

NEWS & NOTES

  • The big story in the SEC this week was the arrest and indefinite suspension of four Tennessee basketball players — Tyler Smith, Melvin Goins, Cameron Tatum and Brian Williams.  The group was arrested on a myriad of drug and weapon charges.  Some of the charges were felonies, and given the recent problems with UT’s football program, it is hard to imagine any scenario in which the players may step back on the court this season.  It is a big loss for the Vols, as the players had accounted for 33 points a game.  Elsewhere, South Carolina dismissed forward Mike Holmes from the team for repeated rule violations.  Holmes is the second starter lost this season for the Gamecocks as Dominique Archie was also lost for the season due to injury. 
  • Kentucky continues to be the class of the SEC in the rankings, holding onto their #3 ranking in both the AP Top 25 and the ESPN/USA Today poll.  Tennessee is #15 in the ESPN/USA Today poll and #16 in the AP Top 25.  Mississippi remains the third ranked team at #14 in the AP poll and #16 in the ESPN/USA Today.  Florida is hovering just outside the top 25 and may re-emerge with another strong week or two. 
  • Kentucky’s DeMarcus Cousins was named SEC Player of the Week again after averaging 18.5 points and 15.0 rebounds in two Wildcat wins.  Cousins also won the Freshman of the Week award last week for his double-double performances against Drexel and Long Beach State.  This week, that honor goes to Vanderbilt’s John Jenkins, who averaged 17.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 3 assists in a pair of Commodore wins.  

WHAT TO LOOK FOR THIS WEEK

The parade of cupcakes ends later this week as SEC play officially gets underway.  What else really needs to be said?  As of right now, the SEC has seven teams with 10 wins already, and you have to consider each strong tournament teams right now.  Let’s see how these teams hold up as it goes within the conference from here on out.

  • 1/5 – #2 Texas (13-0) @ Arkansas (7-7) – 7:00 PM – ESPN2
  • 1/5 – #17 Georgia Tech (11-2) @ Georgia (7-5) – 7:00 PM – ESPN360
  • 1/6 – Charlotte (10-3) @ #15 Tennessee (10-2) – 7:00 PM – ESPN360
  • 1/9 – Florida (11-3) @ Vanderbilt (11-3) – 12:00 PM – ESPN2
  • 1/9 – Mississippi State (12-3) @ #16 Mississippi (11-2) – 1:30 PM – ESPN360
  • 1/9 – Alabama (10-4) @ LSU (9-5) – 5:00 PM
  • 1/10 – #1 Kansas (13-0) @ #15 Tennessee (10-2) – 4:30 PM – CBS

TEAM UPDATES (ratings are AP, ESPN/USA Today)
 
EAST

  • Kentucky (#3, #3)John Wall set a UK record for assists with 16 as UK crushed the Hartford Hawks 104-61 on Tuesday night.  DeMarcus Cousins added 19 points and 12 boards and Darius Miller scored a season high 16 points to key the  ’Cats win.  On Saturday, Kentucky endured a sluggish first half and then pulled away in the second half to defeat bitter in-state rival Louisville 71-62.  Cousins led the way with 18 points and 18 rebounds.  Patrick Patterson and John Wall both had 17 points.  Kentucky, at 15-0, is off to their best start in 40 years. 
  • Tennessee (#16, #15)Wayne Chism had 15 points and nine rebounds, and Tennessee dominated inside for a 66-59 victory over Memphis on New Year’s Eve.  JP Prince and Tyler Smith had 12 and 11 to lead the Vols in the rivalry game.
  • Florida—Florida breezed to a 43-13 halftime lead against Presbyterian and then coasted for a 79-38 win.  The Gators outrebounded the Blue Hose, yes, the Blue Hose, by a 48-24 margin.  Chandler Parsons led the way with 21 points off the bench and Alex Tyus had 16 points and 13 boards while Erik Murphy had a double-double (16 pts, 11 boards) off the bench.  Chandler Parsons hit a dramatic 75-foot shot as time expired in OT to give the Gators a 62-61 win over NC State.  The three-pointer was Parson’s only FG of the game.  Vernon Macklin had 14 points and Erving Walker 13 to lead the Gators in scoring. 
  • Vanderbilt—Freshman reserve John Jenkins scored 15 points to lead Vanderbilt to an 86-48 victory over Manhattan.  Eleven players scored for the Commodores, the third straight game that Vanderbilt had at least 10 players score.  AJ Ogilvy also came off the bench to add 12 points.  John Jenkins scored a career-high 20 points to lead Vanderbilt in an 82-46 rout of Southern Mississippi.  The freshman guard was 6-of-6 from 3-point range and the Commodores shot a season-high 64.3 percent (9-for-14) from beyond the arc. Jeffery Taylor had 14 points off the bench and Ogilvy had 10 points in his return to the starting lineup as Vandy blasted Middle Tennessee 73-53.  Vanderbilt proves to be one of the SEC’s deeper teams as five players scored in double figures. 
  • South Carolina—The Gamecocks battled back from a 21-point halftime deficit, but it was not enough as they fell short to the Boston College Eagles 85-76.  Devan Downey had 29 points and Brandis Raley-Ross 13, but SC fell to 8-4 on the season.  Baylor made a clean sweep of its two games in the SEC, this time stopping the Gamecocks 85-74.  Downey had 20 points and Lakeem Jackson 19 but it was not enough to stop the Gamecocks’ second loss of the week.   
  • GeorgiaTrey Thompkins had 12 points and 13 rebounds as the Bulldogs dusted the Pepperdine Waves 64-47.  Travis Leslie and Ricky McPhee also scored in double digits for the Bulldogs.  The Bulldogs were no match for the Missouri Tigers on Saturday as they were routed 89-61.  Leslie was the only Bulldog in double digits with 18 points as the Bulldogs had only 6 assists against 23 turnovers.

WEST

  • Mississippi (#14, #16)—Ole Miss set a school record for three-pointers with 14 as they beat Jackson State 90-75.  Terrico White hit 7 of 10 from beyond the arc and scored 29 points to lead the Rebels.  Zach Graham added 14 points. 
  • Mississippi State—Jarvis Varnado scored a season-high 23 points and tied his career-best 17 rebounds as Mississippi State won its ninth straight with a 77-68 victory over San Diego on New Year’s Eve.  The Bulldogs used their superior inside game to take control of the game late in the first half and maintained its lead throughout the game.  Kodi Augustus added 17 points.  MSU also suffered a tough loss at the hand of the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers 55-52.  Jarvis Varnado had 17 points and 12 rebounds for the Bulldogs and Dee Bost added 13 off the bench. 
  • AlabamaJaMychal Green scored 19 points and had eight rebounds to lead Alabama to a 77-65 victory over Tennessee State.  Senario Hillman added 15 points and six assists for the Crimson Tide, who have won three of their past four games.  Mikhail Torrance scored 19 points to lead Alabama over Toledo 67-50 on Monday night for their third straight win. Justin Knox added 14 points and Green had 12 for the Crimson Tide who have put together a three-game winning streak for the third time this season.
  • LSU—LSU is starting to look like a team that will not be able to compete in the SEC as they got thumped by Xavier 89-65.  LSU has gotten blown out of a couple of matchups against NCAA-level teams so far this season.  Bo Spencer, Tasmin Mitchell and Storm Warren accounted for 49 of the Tigers 65 points.  The Tigers also blew a 12-point second half lead in the second half and went down to Utah, 61-59.  Warren (21 points) and Mitchell (19 points) accounted for over two-thirds of the Tiger’s points.  LSU snapped their three game losing streak with a 83-60 romp over McNeese State.  Mitchell and Spencer had 19 and 18 points, respectively, to lead the Tigers. 
  • AuburnLucas Hargrove had 20 points and 13 rebounds as Auburn overcame a sluggish start to beat Charleston Southern 77-62 on Tuesday night.  The Tigers fell behind 22-15, but turned up the pressure and forced 22 turnovers.  Frankie Sullivan added 10 points and six steals for Auburn.  Brendon Knox scored 18 points and 11 rebounds for his first career double-double and Auburn defeated Georgia Southern 95-75.  The Tigers shot a season-high 54.2 percent from three-point range (13 of 24), including a 4-5 effort by Sullivan who finished with 15 points.
  • Arkansas—The Razorbacks had a chance to get a good statement win but were blown out at home by Baylor, 70-47.  Jemal Farmer, Rotnei Clark and Marshawn Powell were the only Razorbacks to show up as they scored 38 of Arkansas’s 47 points.  Arkansas had a chance to redeem themselves against #24 UAB but suffered a heartbreaking 73-72 loss as UAB scored at the buzzer.  The Hogs got good games from Powell (22), Washington (18), and Clark (16) but those three accounted for 56 of Arkansas’ 72 points. 
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Checking in on… the SEC

Posted by jstevrtc on December 16th, 2009

checkinginon

Paul Jordan of Wildcat Blue Blog is the RTC correspondent for the Southeastern Conference.

CURRENT STANDINGS

EAST

  1. Kentucky  10-0
  2. Florida  8-1
  3. Tennessee  7-1
  4. South Carolina  6-2
  5. Vanderbilt  6-3
  6. Georgia  4-4

WEST

  1. Mississippi  8-1
  2. Mississippi State  7-2
  3. LSU  6-2
  4. Alabama  6-3
  5. Auburn  5-4
  6. Arkansas  4-5

It was a very slow week in the SEC as three teams did not see any action at all.  Kentucky and Mississippi State represented the SEC well in the SEC/Big East Invitational while Florida and Georgia lost their matchups.  Both Mississippi teams have been coming on strong and supplying some firepower to the West; Tennessee has only one setback and they should challenge UK all season.  The big story for the rest of the year will be the race to 2000 wins between UK and North Carolina.  Kentucky has pretty much assured themselves of being the first team to break the 2000-win plateau as they currently have 1998 wins to 1992 for UNC.

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Checking In On… the SEC

Posted by jstevrtc on November 24th, 2009

checkinginon

Paul Jordan of Wildcat Blue Blog is the RTC correspondent for the SEC.

CURRENT SEC STANDINGS

EAST

  1. Kentucky   4-0
  2. Florida   3-0
  3. Tennessee   4-1
  4. South Carolina   3-1
  5. Vanderbilt   2-1
  6. Georgia   1-2

WEST

  1. LSU   3-0
  2. Mississippi   4-1
  3. Mississippi State   2-1
  4. Arkansas   2-1
  5. Alabama   2-1
  6. Auburn   2-3

Coming into this season, there were two main storylines to watch for the conference as a whole.  The first was if the SEC, after a down year and having only three NCAA teams last year, could rebound and regain its status as an elite conference.   The second one was if the influx of new talent in the SEC, both in the coaching and playing ranks, would help to raise the prestige level of the SEC.

The jury is out as to whether the SEC is going to be an elite conference this year.  So far, the SEC has an unimpressive 32-12 record so far.  There have been embarrassing losses, the key one being #19 Mississippi State losing to Rider by 14 points.  Add to this the fact that the SEC have not knocked off a “name team,” yet.  Just last night, #9 Tennessee lost to #6 Purdue and #24 Vanderbilt lost to Cincinnati.  The East division is clearly the class of the league with a 17-5 record and all three of the SEC’s ranked teams residing in that division.  So far, only Kentucky, Florida, and LSU have escaped the first two weeks of the season unscathed.

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2008-09 Conference Primers: #5 – SEC

Posted by rtmsf on November 7th, 2008

Kurt of SEC Hoops: The Good, The Bad, The Dirty is the RTC correspondent for the Southeastern Conference.

Predicted Order of Finish:

EAST

  1. Tennessee (25-5, 13-3)
  2. Florida (25-5, 12-4)
  3. Kentucky (22-8, 11-5)
  4. Vanderbilt (24-6, 9-7)
  5. South Carolina (19-10, 8-8)
  6. Georgia (15-13, 5-11)

WEST

  1. Alabama (18-11, 8-8)
  2. LSU (21-10, 8-8)
  3. Mississippi State (21-10, 8-8)
  4. Ole Miss (17-13, 7-9)
  5. Arkansas (14-15, 5-11)
  6. Auburn (14-17, 3-13)

sec-logo1

What You Need to Know.  The name of the game for the SEC this year is youth. The Western Division in particular, as nearly every team loses some nucleus from squads that formed a comparatively weak conference half as it was. Tennessee once again looks to lead a strong Eastern Division despite the loss of All-American Chris Lofton. The nation will be looking towards this typically loaded conference with several questions heading into 2008-09. Can Florida’s sophomores have a breakout season similar to those of 2006-07? Can Kentucky put enough guards around all-SEC forward Patrick Patterson to compete for the East? And can the West avoid being stomped once again in head-to-head competitions with the East? My answers: yes, yes, and no.

Predicted Champion.   Tennessee (#2 seed NCAA). It’s pretty easy to brag on Bruce Pearl. He’s one of the nation’s premier coaches, owning a ridiculous 394-108 (.785) record as a head coach, standing third amongst current head coaches. Despite losing popular 2007-08 preseason pick for National Player of the Year Chris Lofton and do-everything guard/forward JuJuan Smith, the Vols will benefit from huge losses across the board for the SEC. All-American forward Tyler Smith (13.6 ppg, 6.7 rpg) returns to provide the squad with a heavy-duty anchor inside (although the 6’7, 215 lb. junior hits 37.8% from behind the arc), while talented center Wayne Chism will be mopping up inside defensively. Hopping aboard the orange train are a pair of insanely talented newcomers. Everything-All-American out of high school Scotty Hopson will be challenging for the starting spot at shooting guard while junior-college All-American Bobby Maze looks to start at point guard. All in all, the talent, experience, and coaching level is the highest in Knoxville, and that’s why the Vols are picked to win the SEC regular season for the second consecutive season.   Here’s some clips from the classic #1 v. #2 matchup Tennessee had with Memphis last season.

NCAA Teams.

  • Florida (NCAA #3) – The Gators have once again put together a formula for a set of super sophomores. The league’s top freshman, as well as one of the conference’s best point guards in years, returns in Nick Calathes while a pair of star freshmen in Kenny Kadji and Eloy Vargas will attempt to fill the rather large shoes of NBA-bound Marreese Speights. Don’t be surprised if the Gators reclaim the SEC regular-season title for the third time in the past four years and show up knocking on the door of the NCAA’s Elite Eight.
  • Kentucky (NCAA #6) – The Wildcats have a lot of outside shooting to replace, after losing over 33 points per game in Joe Crawford and Ramel Bradley. SEC Co-Freshman of the Year Patrick Patterson returns and looks to touch the ball on nearly every possession, and incoming freshman DeAndre Liggins should serve as this year’s heavily-relied upon freshman for the Wildcats at the point guard spot. UK could challenge for the Eastern Division (and thus, the overall SEC crown) and sneak into the NCAA Sweet Sixteen if the pieces fall correctly.
  • Vanderbilt (NCAA #9) – Replacing SEC Player of the Year Shan Foster won’t be easy for Kevin Stallings, but the Commodores have another potential POY candidate in A.J. Ogilvy to step into that leadership role. Ogilvy returns as the conference’s most efficient player and scorer, and Jermaine Beal will be the guy to pass inside to the talented post-man while remaining a scoring threat this season. Although the Commodores lose an immense talent in Foster, Ogilvy should be enough to push the squad into the first couple of rounds in the NCAA Tournament.
  • LSU (NCAA #11) – The Tigers return nearly every major contributor from last year’s 13-18 squad except for star freshman Anthony Randolph and head coach John Brady, who was replaced during the offseason with accomplished former Stanford coach Trent Johnson. Johnson inherits possibly the league’s most talented overall player in senior Marcus Thornton, the league’s leading returning scorer, along with a chance to get LSU back to the NCAA Tournament (if just so) for the first time since 2006’s Final Four run.
  • Mississippi State (NCAA #12) – The Bulldogs lose the most talented duo in the conference in multi-dimensional Jamont Gordon and dominating post-presence Charles Rhodes. In addition, State will need to find a replacement at shooting guard with sophomore Ben Hansbrough transferring to Notre Dame. The positive, however, is that MSU is loaded with talented and will anchor around National Defensive Player of the Year Jarvis Varnado, who led the nation in blocks per game and helped the team rank second nationally in field-goal percentage defense. Adding two big new pieces to the puzzle in freshmen Dee Bost and Romero Osby, the Bulldogs could win their share of the West for the third time in the past four season and make an appearance in the NCAA Tournament for the sixth time in the past eight seasons.

NIT Teams.

  • Alabama (NIT) – I’ve predicted several SEC squads with similar in-conference records, and thus those with the weaker RPIs have been restricted to the NIT. Alabama is one of them. The Tide return former All-American Ronald Steele, but major questions still surround his ability to return to his former self after several complications with knee injuries. McDonald’s All-American freshman JaMychal Green will step into the spot of the league’s most dominant offensive post-man in departed Richard Hendrix. If Green can handle the post himself, or if little-known sophomore Justin Knox can step in to assist, the Tide could find themselves away from a top NIT seed and into the NCAAs.
  • South Carolina (NIT) – New head coach David Horn from Western Kentucky infamy will step into a very favorable position at the helm of the Gamecocks. USC brings back more firepower, at least percentage-wise, than any other SEC team and could post the biggest turnaround season the league has seen in quite some time. Junior Devan Downey returns as one of the league’s top point guards and toughest men to keep out of the lane along with ranking as the SEC’s second-leading returning scorer. With almost every piece seeming to come into place for a special season for USC, keep your eyes pealed for a potential Gamecock bubble squad.

Others.

  • Arkansas – Just as USC returns nearly everyone, Arkansas loses nearly everyone from a team that underachieved a season ago. Namely, the Razorbacks lose former SEC Freshman of the Year Patrick Beverly, who decided to try his luck overseas. Despite a solid recruiting class, this should be a rebuilding year for John Pelphrey.
  • Auburn – The Tigers simply have had a bare cupboard in both talent and depth constantly under Jeff Lebo, and this year is little different. The return of Korvotney Barber should help matters some, assuming he stays healthy, but Auburn won’t improve to any real degree until Lebo is let go.
  • Georgia – The Bulldogs under Dennis Felton have been comparable to Auburn under Lebo for quite some time, except that Felton recruits a bit better and has had some nominal success such as last year’s confusing SEC Tournament run. With mass suspensions and off-the-court issues, UGA should remain near or at the bottom of the conference this season – and Felton should receive his pink slip much like Lebo.
  • Ole Miss – The Rebels lost a lot last season, but were still anchored inside by solid and experienced forwards, especially Dwayne Curtis.  With those losses, this team is almost entirely underclassmen and could sneak into the NIT if they catch some breaks.

RPI Boosters.

  • Kentucky @ North Carolina (11.18.08) – If the Wildcats can pull a massive upset of the consensus #1 team in the nation in Chapel Hill, they will be well on their way to returning to national recognition.
  • Tennessee vs. Marquette (12.16.08) – The Volunteers get little or no breaks throughout the non-conference schedule, and this SEC vs. Big East matchup will be for conference bragging rights.
  • LSU @ Texas A&M (12.20.08) – If the Tigers want to prove they are rebounding, this will be one of few opportunities for them to so in the non-conference slate.
  • South Carolina @ Baylor (01.02.08) – The Gamecocks’ schedule is ridiculously light, and their schedule will be inflated by this point in the season. This game is a must-win if USC wants to take the step up into the NCAAs.
  • Tennessee @ Kansas (01.03.08) – Another heavyweight matchup for the Vols, who have a chance to take down a reigning national champ on their home court.
  • Kentucky @ Louisville (01.04.08) – The Cats could seriously bolster their NCAA seed and chances to advance in the NCAAs by taking down Louisville on the road.
  • Memphis @ Tennessee (01.24.08) – A quickly-heating rivalry as the amount of NBA potential on this floor could drown the common man.

Important Games.

  • LSU @ Mississippi State (01.11.09) – If the Tigers want to break through the cap and take the West, a win in this early conference game would be a huge advantage.
  • Kentucky @ Alabama (01.24.09) – The Tide must be able to win games at home against the top tier of the East if they have any serious hope of challenging for the overall SEC crown.
  • Mississippi State @ Alabama (02.21.09) – If the Bulldogs take care of the Tide at home, they have a shot to make it six in a row over their rivals and take a major step towards another West title.
  • Tennessee @ Florida (03.01.09) – The Gators must hold serve at home to compete in the East, while the Vols could wrap up the conference title with a win here.
  • Kentucky @ Florida (03.07.09) – We know the Wildcats can win at home, but can they win in Gainesville? This one could be for the East.

Neat-O Stat.  The Southeastern Conference is one of the nation’s deepest and most competitive leagues. The SEC ranks second only behind the ACC in average conference RPI since 1999, and has put every single member into the NCAA tournament since 2002.

65 Team Era.  The SEC has had a tremendous amount of success in this era, going 178-117 (.603) which is good enough for third behind the ACC and Big East.  This includes thirteen F4s and five national titles.  What’s particularly impressive is that only four of those F4s and two titles belong to Kentucky, the traditional standard-bearer of this league, which shows that the rest of the conference has taken basketball to heart and stepped it up. 

Final Thoughts.  The SEC was a huge disappointment on the national scene a season ago. Without major flag-bearers such as Kentucky or Florida dominating, expectations fell on Tennessee to take their #2 seed to the Final Four. Instead, the Vols served as the only team from the conference to make the Sweet Sixteen before falling on their faces to Louisville.  While this year likely won’t be much of an improvement, consider it a gigantic top-to-bottom reloading of one of the nation’s premier men’s basketball conferences, with the league’s talent being tremendously youth-oriented.  Three SEC teams look to have serious aspirations for getting past the second round of the NCAA Tournament, and all are from the East: Tennessee, Florida, and Kentucky. If a Western Division team can step up and compete better than expected and at least two of these teams make the Sweet Sixteen this season, it should serve as a useful springboard to a very potent year for the SEC on the national scene in 2009-2010.

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