Bracket Prep: Florida, Virginia, Michigan State

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 17th, 2014

Championship Week has found its close, but here are a few final short reviews of each of the automatic qualifiers to help you fill out your bracket this week. None of these titans really needed the “automatic bid” portion of their Tournament title gift package, of course, but with each figuring to play a key role in the weeks ahead, here’s what you need to know about a trio of Championship Week’s final victors.


Billy Donovan And The Gators Are SEC Champions Twice Over, But Florida Has Their Sights Set On A Greater Prize

Billy Donovan And The Gators Are SEC Champions Twice Over, But Florida Has Their Sights Set On A Greater Prize

  • SEC Champion (32-2, 21-0)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #2/#3/#3
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +16.1
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #1

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. In the final minutes of basketball before the 2014 NCAA Tournament bracket was unveiled, Florida survived Kentucky to claim the SEC crown, complete their 21-game conference sweep, and keep alive a 26-game win streak. Quite a tidy going away package for the Gators, who will enter the Tournament as a #1 seed and among the two or three favorites to cut down the nets in Dallas. The one-point victory Sunday was only the fifth time this season that the Gators have won by three points or less – a testament to the workmanlike attitude that has extended this win streak time and time again.
  2. The Gators led the SEC in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Defensive weaknesses are hard to spot with the Gators, but despite the high overall level of offensive efficiency, there is a weak spot or two that opponents will seek to exploit. Florida’s free throw shooting is shaky (66.2% as a team, 295th nationally), and even primary ballhandlers Scotty Wilbekin (72%), Casey Prather (68%) and Kasey Hill (63%) are anything but sure things at the charity stripe. Three-point shooting isn’t a concern for Florida at first glance – they shoot 37% as a team, 73rd best in the country – but Wilbekin (58 3PM, 40%) and Michael Frazier (107 3PM, 46%) have combined to make over 70% of the team’s three-point field goals. The rest of the team shot just 27% from distance, so if an opponent can find a way to take away looks from either Wilbekin or Frazier – especially the latter, who is strictly a perimeter shooter – things could get pretty one-dimensional for the Gator offense.
  3. Florida is the perfect example of a team that used the entire season to grow into an elite squad. For much of November and December, Billy Donovan was just trying to keep proverbial head above water with his team, as pieces shifted in and out of the Gator lineup. Wilbekin, Prather, Dorian Finney-Smith, Kasey Hill, and Chris Walker all missed time for various reasons, but save for road losses at Wisconsin and Connecticut (and no shame in those, either), the Gators kept on winning. Prather grew into an unlikely All-American candidate, Wilbekin has staked his claim as the best point guard in America, and Frazier is now second to none when it comes to perimeter shooters. None of these things happen without one of the best coaches in the game pressing all the right buttons from the sideline, but Donovan has spent the last four months constructing a team poised for even greater things in the NCAA Tournament. And after winning 26 games in a row en route to a sweep of the SEC titles, that, my friends, is saying something.

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On the Brink of Perfection, Florida Might be More Than “Good”

Posted by Brian Joyce on March 5th, 2014

Brian Joyce filed this report following Tuesday’s Florida vs. South Carolina game from Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, South Carolina.

Following Florida’s first win this season, Billy Donovan quipped that his team wasn’t very good. “We are light-years away from even being a remotely good defensive team right now, light-years away from even being a ranked team.” Fast forward light years ahead to early March, and Florida is good. Maybe more than good.

Billy Donovan wasn't so sure about his Gators at the beginning of the year, but Florida certainly appears to be good now.

Billy Donovan wasn’t so sure about his Gators at the beginning of the year, but Florida certainly appears to be good now.

RTC was in attendance on press row Tuesday night as the #1 team in the nation visited South Carolina, fresh off a home victory over a storied Kentucky program. But there would be no court rushing in Colonial Life Arena on this night. With the Gamecocks down 39-35 and the crowd sensing the possibility that their team could make a run at a second straight win over a ranked team and its second victory ever over college basketball’s top-ranked team, Florida exercised its dominance with a 15-0 run and a 33-11 surge to end the game. It wasn’t always pretty, but Florida did what it needed to get to 17-0 in conference play. And now the Gators sense the opportunity that lies ahead. Senior center Patric Young kept things in perspective by crediting the coaching staff. “We’ve just been trying to take it one game at a time. We have the opportunity to do something that hasn’t been done before, to go 18-0 in conference play.  And just keeping our eyes on the prize, the opportunity to do something great. To be a part of history has motivated us internally. The coaches have pushed us from day one. Laid down the foundation for us to achieve what we are doing today.”

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How Alabama and Florida Can Win Difficult Tuesday Tests

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on December 17th, 2013

The SEC has two important games tipping off at 8:00 PM CST tonight, as Florida takes on Memphis in the Jimmy V Classic in New York and Alabama hosts unbeaten Wichita State in Tuscaloosa. Momentum is building for the Gators after a November full of injuries and suspensions. Highly-touted freshman Chris Walker enrolled in class last weekend, only a few days after Florida knocked off Kansas in Gainesville. Alabama, on the other hand, stands at the precipice. The Tide are only a game over .500, and hard-fought losses to Oklahoma, Duke and Drexel will only be seen as losses come March. A win over a Shockers team that looks primed for another deep run in the NCAA Tournament would be a giant boost heading into conference place. Here’s what each team faces this evening, and what they will need to do to come away with a win.

Memphis vs. Florida, New York, NY

Patric Young should be able to feast on the glass against a small Memphis team.

Patric Young should be able to feast on the glass against a small Memphis team.

What Memphis does best: Active hands. Memphis has created havoc with its perimeter-oriented lineups. The Tigers have four high-quality guards, and they’ve done a good job creating turnovers this season. Joe JacksonMichael DixonGeron Johnson and Chris Crawford each average over 1.4 steals per game, and the team itself is 14th in the nation at forcing miscues (23.3% of possessions). But their most effective configuration has been when big men Shaq Goodwin and Austin Nichols are paired with three of the guards, allowing Memphis to be more aggressive on the perimeter with the knowledge that the rim is protected underneath.

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SEC M5: 12.10.13 Edition

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


  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‘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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Who Won The Week? Shabazz Napier, Memphis and Villanova…

Posted by Kenny Ocker on December 6th, 2013

Who Won the Week? is a regular column that will outline and discuss three winners and losers from the previous week. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), a Spokane-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game. But he’s not biking anywhere with a sub-zero wind chill. 

WINNER: Shabazz Napier

UConn guard Shabazz Napier can claim two things after a buzzer-beating winning shot against Florida: Being America's top player, and being Who Won The Week's top winner.

UConn guard Shabazz Napier can claim two things after a buzzer-beating winning shot against Florida: Being America’s top player, and being Who Won The Week’s top winner.

The stellar UConn guard and his team only played one game last week, matching up against a ranked Florida squad. And Napier stole the show. Including the buzzer-beating free-throw-line fadeaway for the 65-64 win, the junior guard finished Monday night’s game in Storrs with 26 points on 9-of-15 shooting and a game-high three steals. It’s impressive to think that Kemba Walker’s backup backcourt mate during the Huskies’ 2011 title run has a solid case in being judged the best player in college basketball this season. If he keeps playing at his current level – the senior guard averages 16.4 points, 7.3 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 1.9 steals per game – he could solidify that claim by the end of the year. Of course, some more luck coming his team’s way couldn’t hurt; including Monday’s game, three of the Huskies’ eight wins have come by a single point.

LOSER: Florida

Already down the services of Eli Carter for the year and freshman five-star recruit Kasey Hill for a couple more weeks due to injuries, Billy Donovan’s Gators could ill afford to lose another point guard. Bad news in Gainesville: Starting point guard Scottie Wilbekin is expected to be out indefinitely after sustaining a similar injury with three minutes left in Florida’s aforementioned loss to UConn. Wilbekin, who already missed five regular-season games due to an offseason suspension, was tough enough to replace as the starting point guard when Florida’s second and third options at the position were healthy. Instead, the Gators face an onslaught of Kansas and Memphis back-to-back on the next two Tuesdays.

To give credit where it’s due, the 67-66 home win over rival Florida State last week is nothing to sneeze at, though Wilbekin did have seven points, eight assists and five steals in that match-up.

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SEC M5: 11.22.13 Edition

Posted by Justin Bridgman on November 22nd, 2013


  1.‘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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Will Florida Be Middle Tennessee State’s Next SEC Victim?

Posted by Greg Mitchell on November 20th, 2013

It was “one in, one out” for Florida last week, as the Gators got Dorian Finney-Smith back from suspension only to lose Kasey Hill to a high ankle sprain two days later. It appears the freshman point guard will be out at least a month, and Billy Donovan has said reserve Scottie Wilbekin will not be back just yet either. That leaves Donovan without a true point guard for Thursday night’s game against Middle Tennessee State, a program that beat both Ole Miss and Vanderbilt last season en route to an NCAA Tournament invitation. Should Florida be on upset alert and wary of being the Blue Raiders’ next SEC victim? It says here that, despite the Gators’ ongoing point guard issues, probably not.

Dorian Finney-Smith's rebounding is a big boost to Florida (courtesy

Finney-Smith’s rebounding is a big boost to Florida. (Credit:

Middle Tennessee State has started the season 4-0, but the two things that can lead less talented teams to upsets — offensive rebounding and three-point shooting — are not this team’s strengths. The Blue Raiders are not a good offensive rebounding team, in particular. Senior forward Shawn Jones is having a good season (16.0 PPG; 9.0 RPG) but his 13.9 percent offensive rebounding rate is the best on the team. Neiko Hunter at 10 percent is the only other player in double figures in that metric. The Blue Raiders face a tall task against a team stocked with frontcourt talent if they can’t generate second-chance opportunities. In that vein, the return of Finney-Smith and his astronomical board numbers (22.4% ORB, 27% DRB) is important for the Gators, and should allow his team to control this game on the glass. The Blue Raiders have been solid from three, shooting 38 percent as a team, but no player other than Kerry Hammonds has yet proven to be a consistent threat, and Florida has been equally good in holding its opponents to 31 percent this season, so this seems like a wash.

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Morning Five: 11.20.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on November 20th, 2013


  1. The start of this season has certainly been challenging for Billy Donovan who has been dealing with an ever-changing roster. The latest blow came on Monday night when freshman Kasey Hill injured his left ankle in their game against Southern. The Gators got a little bit of good news when x-rays on that ankle revealed that there were no fractures and Hill is expected to be out for one month with a sprained left ankle. The timing of Hill’s return as well as that of Scottie Wilbekin who still has not played this season as Florida has a brutal three-game stretch against Connecticut (December 2), Kansas (December 10), and Memphis (December 17), which would fall right around the time. Florida will have a tough time against those three teams regardless of whether Hill and/or Wilbekin return by that time, but if both of them are still out of action it seems likely that the Gators will lose all three.
  2. When Rick Pitino heard about Kevin Ware‘s speeding ticket while using a new car he expressed his lack of interest in the situation. It appears that the Louisville compliance department feels the same way as they have officially cleared him after their investigation. Although we certainly do not approve of driving 95 miles per hour in a 45-mile per hour work zone the bigger issue surrounding Ware was his use of a 2013 Dodge Challenger that was owned by a fellow Louisville student who reportedly let Ware borrow the car to visit a friend at Western Kentucky. We are sure that some people (read: Kentucky fans) will latch onto the fact that Ware’s friend–Matt Case–works for a company that paid ran autograph sessions for former Louisville player Gorgui Dieng. That involvement would seem to warrant further investigation, but apparently not for Louisville.
  3. Over the years many teams both at the the professional and collegiate level have used strange gimmicks to try to package their less desirable tickets in with their more high-profile games. Professional teams usually do this by making tickets to the high-profile only available to season ticket holders or through multi-game ticket packages featuring games that most fans would not otherwise be interested in. Colleges often do this, but cannot do it to their students. What they can do is force them to sit through less desirable events in order to get the tickets. And that is exactly what Colorado is doing to their students who want to be there when Kansas comes to town. In order to get the Kansas tickets, students will have to sit through the entire women’s game tonight against Iowa. Think you can just show up at the beginning, walk out, and still claim your ticket? Nice try, but the school is claiming it will take away the wristbands of those who leave the game early. While this gimmick might boost attendance we are not sure how much it will add to the atmosphere as most of those in attendance will just want the game to end.
  4. It has been quite a while since we mentioned conference realignment in the Morning 5, but we guess that all good things have to come to an end. Yesterday, the North Carolina Court of Appeals ruled that a lawsuit asking Maryland to pay the ACC $52 million as its exit fee could go forward. The lawsuit, which was filed nearly one year ago, has been in legal limbo as the ACC has contended that the case can be tried in North Carolina where the ACC is based (in Greensboro) while Maryland has argued that North Carolina has no right to sue a Maryland state-based institution for the fee. For its part, the Maryland attorney general’s office says that it is “considering its options”. We are getting the feeling that this case will go on for quite some time before finally being decided.
  5. In the wake of the 2011 brawl between Cincinnati and Xavier there were calls to cancel the series. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and the schools agreed to play the games at an off-campus site for the next two seasons. Last year’s game went off without a hitch and with this year’s game less than a month away, the obvious question arises as what to do next. At this point, it seems to be up in the air whether the rivalry will be continued at an off-campus or on-campus site, but judging from the comments it seems almost certain that the rivalry will continue. While we can understand the desire to avoid another ugly incident like 2011, it should be clear to everybody involved that off-campus events lack the atmosphere and excitement of on-campus ones.
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SEC M5: 11.19.13 Edition

Posted by Justin Bridgman on November 19th, 2013


  1. Missouri’s Jordan Clarkson was named the SEC Player of the Week for his impressive work against Southern Illinois and Hawaii. He averaged 22 points on 51.5% shooting over those two games while carrying the Tigers to two victories. Clarkson has proven himself to be one of the biggest offensive threats in the conference already this season. His hard driving style has thrived with the new rules. If teams guard him too closely, he ends up on the foul line, and if they don’t, he is finishing at the rim. Clarkson is probably going to earn this honor a few more times this season, he is the heart of the Missouri offense, and without him in the game scoring is going to be difficult for the Tigers. It is not just the scoring that is so important, it’s the way it creates open looks for the rest of the team, especially Jabari Brown.
  2. In a very good article detailing the most overburdened players in college basketball, Miles Simon mentions Ole Miss star Marshall Henderson. As has been mentioned here before, Henderson has to carry his entire team’s offense this season. His most trusted teammates from last season are all no longer on the team, and that creates a situation where Henderson is asked to do too much. As a team, Ole Miss would benefit greatly from Henderson shooting more efficient shots and being able to find open teammates. The problem is, nobody has yet shown themselves capable of making those shots. Jarvis Summers and Ladarius White in particular need to help Henderson in the back court. If Summers and White can prove themselves capable of making open shots, the defense will have to defend them, and Henderson will wind up with more efficient looks.
  3. The Harrison twins were downright awful against Michigan State, but they showed Sunday night why they are such highly regarded basketball players. Aaron finished with 28 points including four made three pointers. Andrew finished with eight points, eight rebounds, and most importantly just two turnovers. Plenty of people questioned their collective readiness for the college game after Michigan State rendered both freshman useless. John Calipari made a great point after the game. “Like I said to Aaron after, you can’t be energized because you made shots. You’ve got to be energized because you’re playing basketball.” This is true not just for Aaron, but for the entire Kentucky team. The challenge isn’t winning on nights when all the shots are falling, it is winning on the night where the shots aren’t falling. That will be what puts them over the top this season.
  4. Coming into the season it seemed like LSU might have a bit of a point guard controversy. Freshman Tim Quarterman had the four star pedigree while junior Anthony Hickey was the solid contributor with past behavior issues. While Hickey has come off the bench every game this season, he already averages double the minutes of Quarterman, who has been the starter. The reality is, this situation is working itself out, and there is never going to be a controversy. Quarterman’s reputation for being a distributor has yet to be proven on the court, he’s had just one assist this season. He’s looked more comfortable playing off the ball, and actually had some of his best minutes while being teamed up with Hickey. This is a great thing for the Tigers, and gives them usable depth instead of a minutes feud. Combined with Andre Stringer, LSU can actually throw a few different guard combinations all with varying skill sets.
  5. As if the Gators needed more bad news, it looks like point guard Kasey Hill is going to miss a lot of time. He badly sprained his ankle Monday night in a win against Southern. It’s a shame too, because Hill was having a very good game going 4-6 from the field with three assists. With Hill out, and Scottie Wilbiken still suspended, Florida currently doesn’t have a point guard. DeVon Walker will fill in for now, along with Michael Frazier and perhaps a sprinkling of Dorian Finney-Smith. Still, it is a large burden to carry, and Florida’s offense is likely to take a dip in production until a real point guard returns. Florida will have to rely on their size advantage inside to create space on the perimeter, instead of the other way around. It will be yet another challenge for Billy Donovan this season.
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SEC M5: 11.14.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on November 14th, 2013


  1. While you were watching the action at the United Center, Jordan Clarkson had a giant game for Missouri against Southern Illinois, scoring an efficient 31 points on 12-of-18 shooting and handing out five assists. What must be refreshing for Missouri fans is that he didn’t commit a turnover despite playing all 40 minutes and initiating the offense most of the game. Phil Pressey did a lot of great things for Missouri last year, but he had the second most turnovers (120) in the SECand too many of these came in crucial late-game situations. Clarkson has had three turnovers in 63 minutes this season and Wes Clark has just one in 38 minutes. These numbers won’t hold up over the course of an entire season, but it’s an encouraging start for a team that had problems coughing the ball up at the point guard position a season ago.
  2. Florida’s loss to Wisconsin Tuesday isn’t one the Gators should hang their heads over, but given how the game began it feels like a missed opportunity. The Gators had a 16-4 lead with under 12 minutes to go in the first half, but as the linked article points out, Kasey Hill‘s second foul and removal from the game led to a stagnant Florida offense. After getting punched back by Wisconsin and falling behind 47-36, the Gators were able to recover and make the game come down to the final minute. But like Alabama against Oklahoma last Friday, Florida wasted a big lead against a quality non-conference opponent. Scottie Wilbekin’s suspension makes the loss all the more frustrating because with another point guard the Florida offense will be less prone to stagnation due to foul trouble.
  3. ESPN‘s Eamonn Brennan wrote about Julius Randle and Kentucky’s cold start against Michigan State saying, “the Spartans forced five steals in the first five minutes, and opened a 10-0 run on the easy (and sometimes spectacular) baskets that ensued. Kentucky’s offense stood stagnant. Randle, UK’s undisputed star, was frustrated by both Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson. Randle had 27 touches in the first 6:30, according to STATS LLC, and exactly zero points from them.” This statistic obviously has to be considered in light of Randle’s eventual 27 points in the game. His physical talent is undeniable and has been raved about ad nauseam on all corners of the internet over the last 36 hours, but the mindset he showed Tuesday night was also impressive. He was flustered to begin the game, continually receiving the ball far from the basket and turning it over multiple times. Despite all of this, Randle recovered to not only have a good game, but a great game. This sort of competitiveness and confidence paired with elite abilities is why he’ll be such a high pick in next year’s NBA draft. It should also carry Kentucky far into the NCAA Tournament next spring.
  4. Rocky Top Talk points out that Tennessee’s inability to get to line against Xavier, and the team’s inability to do anything productive when it got there, was an especially frustrating part of the Volunteers’ season opening loss. Tennessee took only 19 attempts, and shot a paltry 38 percent while there (7-of-19). Jarnell Stokes was particularly disappointing as he didn’t get to the foul line at all. Even though he struggled with foul trouble (eventually fouling out) the Preseason Wooden Award nominee still played 20 minutes and should have been able to get to the line more often. With offensive low post talent and power like Stokes and Jeronne Maymon inside, the Volunteers need to use other teams’ scrambling to leverage the new hand-checking rules to their advantage. Whether they have the ability to cash in on extra opportunities, however, remains to be seen.
  5. Arkansas announced Tuesday that it’ll break ground in December on a basketball-exclusive practice facility that is scheduled to open in 2015. Interestingly, the Razorbacks are the only team in the SEC without a dedicated basketball practice facility, despite one of the biggest college basketball arenas in the country and arguably the second-most enthusiastic SEC basketball fan base. Mike Anderson was promised the new facility during his negotiations with Arkansas in 2011. The new building could be a potent recruiting tool for him, but success on the court is the best recruiting tool. Given the middling results in his first two years on the job, it’ll be interesting to see if he’s still the coach when the first Razorback practice takes place in the new facility in 2015.
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The Year of the Freshman Point Guard in the SEC?

Posted by Greg Mitchell on October 29th, 2013

Antonio Barton was held out of Tennessee’s practice yesterday with a leg injury. The Memphis transfer is expected to handle the bulk of the minutes at point guard for the Volunteers this season, so having Barton available immediately was important because last year’s starting point guard, Trae Golden, transferred to Georgia Tech. Freshman Darius Thompson is the most likely replacement if Barton’s injury lingers. Thompson doesn’t bring the buzz of fellow freshman guard and five-star recruit Robert Hubbs, but he does bring intriguing size (6’5″) to the position. Thompson would join a slew of SEC freshman being counted on to lead talented offenses this season.

Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin Is Making a Habit of This (AP/Adam Brimer)

Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin Is Making a Habit of This (AP/Adam Brimer)

Andrew Harrison is the most high-profile of these freshman point guards. As talented as the Wildcats are, the Kentucky offense won’t run itself. Harrison will need to get Julius Randle the ball in the right spots on the block, and his penetration will also be the key to getting easy baskets for Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress, Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee.

Billy Donovan may also have to rely heavily on his blue chip freshman point guard, Kasey Hill. Hill was going to get big minutes this season regardless, but with Scottie Wilbekin’s indefinite suspension in play, these minutes may be more front-loaded than Donovan originally anticipated. Wilbekin was excellent at the top of Florida’s half-court defense last season, so there is more than just the offense that may need to be replaced.

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Welcome to the Show: Identifying the Freshmen Primed to Make an Impact in the SEC “East”

Posted by Christian D'Andrea on October 23rd, 2013

Fall isn’t just for football in the Southeastern Conference – it also means the start of hardwood action for some of college basketball’s most powerful programs in the South. The SEC suffered through a rough patch in 2012-13. The league sent only three teams to the NCAA Tournament, and one of those – Ole Miss – happened to be a bubble team that blasted its way into the field thanks to a Marshall Henderson-led victory in the conference tournament. This year will be different. A talented group of recruits is ready to help guide the league back to national prominence. Eleven of the nation’s top 25 high school seniors chose conference schools last spring, and they’ll take the court looking to make an impact for their teams as non-conference play begins in November. Today, we’ll look at those difference-making newcomers, starting with the teams of the SEC “East.” We’ll run through each program, along with the one true freshman who is most likely to have a significant impact for his team in 2013-14.

John Calipari once again has plenty of talent to work with. (Getty)

John Calipari once again has plenty of talent to work with. (Getty)

  • KentuckyAndrew Harrison. With six five-star recruits to choose from, Harrison’s spot at the top of the list for Kentucky is a tenuous one. However, the return of players like Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein, along with John Calipari’s history of developing high-level guards, gives Harrison the edge for now. The Texan will step into Coach Cal’s long line of top-flight point guards with the Wildcats this season, joining luminaries such as Derrick Rose, John Wall, Brandon Knight, Marquis Teague, and Eric Bledsoe. The departure of guards Archie Goodwin, Ryan Harrow, and Julius Mays should open up plenty of room in the UK backcourt for the nation’s top point guard recruit. Harrison has the size and athleticism to defend both guard positions and the basketball IQ to command an offense at the next level. He was especially proficient at running the fast break in high school, and he’ll look to push the tempo for the Cats this winter. He’ll have to improve his shooting to become a complete player, but he should have a successful freshman year with Kentucky. Read the rest of this entry »
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