SEC M5: 01.13.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on January 13th, 2014

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  1. Missouri, LSU, and Arkansas all took hits to their tournament resumes in their first SEC games. Tennessee now belongs on that inglorious list after blowing a 14-point first half lead and losing to Texas A&M. The Aggies have thrown a wrench into both the Vols’ and Razorbacks’ tournament hopes in less than a week. Alex Caruso is off to a scorching start in SEC play, with 19 assists against 4 turnovers in the Aggies’ two wins. As the folks at Good Bull Hunting write, Texas A&M should continue to cause problems because of their defense. “The season may be pretty ugly thus far, but with A&M’s play on defense, they can never be taken lightly, as Arkansas just experienced.” That was on display in Knoxville, as the Aggies held both Jordan McRae and Jarnell Stokes in single figures. Billy Kennedy’s squad is the early leader for SEC Spoiler of the Year.
  2. Starkville hasn’t been kind to Ole Miss, where they’ve now lost 15 of their last 16 game against their biggest rival. For the Rebels it was yet another close game they weren’t able to close out, similar to losses against Kansas State, Oregon, and Dayton. ”Our guys scrap and fight and it’s not always the most pleasing to watch from any vantage point, but we stay in games,” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. “Then it comes down to the stretch and you’ve got to make plays. The games we’ve made plays — like (Auburn on Thursday) — we win. The games we don’t make the plays and Mississippi State does, they win.” At this point the Rebels simply aren’t in the NCAA tournament conversation, especially after losing to RPI #156. For Mississippi State, the win moved them to 11-4, surpassing their win total from last season. Even though their fans didn’t get a chance to boo the suspended Marshall Henderson, the win still must have been satisfying.
  3. Julius Randle was limited to 25 minutes in Kentucky’s win against Vanderbilt because of cramping, which he struggled with against Louisville as well. Randle has the Wildcats’ highest usage rate (27.9%) and is the focus of every opposing defense. John Calipari talked about the toll this is taking on the freshman. ”You have to understand, he’s in a dogfight,” Calipari said in his post game news conference. “I think he is the only college player when he catches the ball, he’s got three guys on him. He’s not just running up and down the court. He’s, like, in a football game.” Randle’s conditioning will be something to watch going forward, and the onus falls on Alex Poythress, among others, to keep the power forward position afloat. Poythress has played reasonably well in the 41 minutes he’s logged in SEC play (21 points, 8 rebounds, 4 blocks).
  4. Missouri‘s front court rotation has suddenly grown since the Tigers entered SEC playTorren Jones (13 minutes) and Keanau Post (14 minutes) saw extended minutes against Auburn after both played sparingly during the non-conference season. They combined for 17 rebounds, and this was important because senior Tony Criswell was benched for an undisclosed team violation. Criswell began the year suspended so his absence could easily snowball into more games, and Frank Haith will need to keep relying on Jones and Post. Starting center Ryan Rosburg was in foul trouble much of the game, so it’s encouraging for Missouri that they were still able to win the rebounding battle (44 to 28).
  5. Scottie Wilbekin says his ankle is feeling good, and that’s obviously great news for Florida. “I think (I was) 100 percent, maybe 90 percent, 85,” Wilbekin said. “It wasn’t really hurting that bad. It was just range of motion. It was good. It was all right.” The senior point guard was able to play 35 mostly effective minutes in the Gators’ overtime time in Fayetteville. Injuries appear to be an inevitable part of Florida’s 2013-14 season after early ankle injuries to Wilbekin and Kasey Hill, and the current injuries faced by Wilbekin, Patric Young and Casey Prather. Young was able to play 21 minutes despite knee tendinitis, but Prather sat out and is the major concern for Billy Donovan. It’s always hard to lose a senior starter, but Prather is a little different because, foremost, he’s having a SEC POY-type season and no one else on the roster has his combination of size, length and ball-handling. The status of his knee has become a key to Florida’s season.
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SEC M5: 11.07.13 Edition

Posted by Justin Bridgman on November 7th, 2013

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  1. After securing a commitment from power forward Trey Lyles, Kentucky now has the number one ranked 2014 recruiting class – seemingly an annual tradition at this point. With six of 247Sports top 10 players still undecided, that ranking is by no means locked in, but regardless, the Wildcats will reload again. Even if Kentucky does not land the biggest names like Jahlil Okafor or Cliff Alexander (and the rumors are that it won’t), this is still an amazing recruiting class. Kentucky fans should take a look at the players they are adding next season as a net positive. Tyler Ulis and Devin Booker are two players that are likely to stick around for two or three years rather than leave for the NBA after one season. Those are the type of players who help sustain championship-level teams as the elite prospects roll through on their one-year stopovers. The 2012 National Championship team needed senior Darius Miller as well as sophomores Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb. The one-and-done players are awfully nice, but having some 4-star recruits stick around an extra year or two also benefits the team in the long run.
  2. Speaking of Kentucky and highly touted recruits, Ken Pomeroy examined how many first round picks this Kentucky is likely to have next June. He looked back in the Draft Express archives and examined where players were picked and then compared it to their projected draft position before the season. The conclusion was that Kentucky is most likely to have either four or five first round picks this season. Something to keep in mind is that what we think of players now is often not what we think of them at the end of the season. Last January nobody would have thought Alex Poythress would be back for his sophomore season, and Nerlens Noel was the runaway choice to be picked first overall. Things can change drastically over the course of a season. Perhaps Andrew Harrison wants to stay in school with his brother who is not ready for the NBA yet. James Young could decide he wants to wait a year and get picked higher. No matter what happens, projections suggesting up to seven Kentucky players could go in the first round should be taken with a grain of salt. Too much can change between now and June to know anything for certain.
  3. When Missouri coach Frank Haith sits for his five-game NCAA suspension related to the Miami/Nevin Shapiro scandal, Tim Fuller will take over the Tigers’ head coaching duties. Fuller came to the Tigers with Haith and has been the associate head coach the last two years. This move is a bit of a surprise, considering assistant coach Dave Leitao has some experience as a head coach at the D-I level. Still, Fuller has been rumored to be a prime head coaching candidate the last couple of summers, and he deserves a chance to prove himself too. Missouri has a fairly easy opening five games (Southeastern Louisiana, Southern Illinois, Hawaii, Gardner-Webb, IUPUI), but not having the head coach in place creates a leadership void. Haith feels as though Fuller is up to the task, and it is a good bet that when Haith returns on Thanksgiving to face Northwestern, the Tigers will already be 5-0. The two things to watch for with Fuller: managing the rotation of players, especially with a young and unpolished frontcourt; and how he coaches at the end of games. Haith struggles himself at the end of close games, perhaps Fuller can prove himself capable in avoiding that same issue.
  4. Buried within the Tim Fuller news was the announcement that two Missouri big men might not play the season opener on Friday night. Forward Tony Criswell has been suspended for the first game of the season, while fellow big man Keanau Post hasn’t practiced all week with a bad ankle. Criswell is the only returning interior player for the Tigers this season, so they need him to play as much as possible. While Haith said he expected Criswell to be back for the team’s second game, that is not a given. When a team has as much roster turnover as Missouri does, they need as much time to play together as possible. Post was a solid scorer at the JuCo level and Missouri desperately needs someone who can score inside this season. Until these two inside players are able to return to the lineup, look for Mizzou to use its four-guard lineup quite often to spread the floor and overcome the size disadvantage.
  5. Billy Donovan isn’t sure what to expect in the early part of this season because he’s missing so much of his team. Donovan questions the team’s top 10 ranking to start the season, pointing out that the team pollsters voted on is not the team he currently has available. With three key players suspended, one sick with mononucleosis, and five-star point guard Chris Walker struggling with test scores, the Gators are missing a starting lineup that could beat Auburn by 15. Donovan is right, his team is going to hit some really rough patches early. Their non-conference schedule is tough, and they could suffer a few losses that probably would not have occurred if the team was at full strength. Playing Wisconsin on Tuesday will be especially challenging without all their athletes around to negate the Badgers more deliberate pace. Hopefully by the time Florida plays UConn on December 2, the team will be more intact. Like Devon Walker says in the article, eventually they will get most of their players back and have time to come together. Perhaps a slow start removes an opportunity for a two-seed in the NCAA Tournament, but a fully healthy Florida roster in March has no ceiling.
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SEC M5: 01.08.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 8th, 2013

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  1. X-rays conducted on Erik Murphy confirmed that the Gators’ forward suffered a fractured rib last week. Florida coach Billy Donovan is hoping Murphy can return to action soon, but the team’s second leading scorer is listed as doubtful for Wednesday’s SEC opener against Georgia. “It’s in a really bad spot. It’s right by his lat [muscle],” Donovan said. “Any time he raises his arms up or reaches his arms up, there’s a significant amount of pain.” The Florida coaching staff will make a final determination on Murphy’s status on Wednesday. If the starter is unable to go, expect forwards Will Yeguete and Casey Prather to see additional playing time. Yeguete scored 14 points and grabbed nine rebounds against Yale in Murphy’s absence, while Prather came off the bench for nine points and six boards.
  2. Missouri received a rather large commitment from JuCo center Keanau Post. Post is coming to Columbia from Southwestern Illinois College where he averaged 12 points and 10 rebounds per game. “As soon as I get there working with the strength and conditioning coach, I think my upside is real good and I can fit in,” said Post. “I know they’re looking for me to be a bit of a scorer, which I know I can do with all the work I’ll be doing in the weight room to get myself stronger. They want me to rebound which I know I can do. I can run the floor very well. The other day when I was up there, Alex (Oriakhi) did a great job of that. I think I’ll put up the same kind of effort. Blocking shots, being there to clean up.” But the post player is seriously a big guy, standing at 6’11″ and weighing in at 260 pounds. He will give the Tigers some depth in the post next season after the losses of both Oriakhi and forward Laurence Bowers.
  3. Guard Phil Pressey has practically done it all for Missouri this season, but coach Frank Haith doesn’t want his superstar point guard to force shots. “Phil just needs to be Phil,” Haith said. “Phil doesn’t have to be more than Phil Pressey, and I think that he’s hearing that too much, and I don’t like that because I think that makes him feel like he has to do more. He doesn’t. He has to just be Phil Pressey. He doesn’t have to take 25 shots. He doesn’t have to. […] He really doesn’t.” With the loss of guard Mike Dixon earlier this year, Pressey has been forced to play 34.1 minutes per game for the Tigers. He leads the SEC in percentage of possible minutes played at 85.3 percent. Only five other SEC players exceed 80 percent.
  4. Yesterday’s SEC M5 talked about the decision of Tennessee forward Jeronne Maymon to take a medical redshirt this season in order to return for a final year of eligibility in 2013-14. Would Maymon’s return this season disrupt some positive momentum the Vols have going? The power forward didn’t want to chance it. ”I didn’t want to miss too many games,” Maymon admitted. “I didn’t want to come back and be a distraction and have coach try to put me in there where other guys have paved the way for themselves to play this year. I’m just going to take the backseat and let guys do what they have to do.” Vols coach Cuonzo Martin confirmed that Maymon would likely be able to return from the injury later this month, but both the player and coach agreed that a few late season games weren’t worth risking his health or a full year of eligibility. ”I knew at some point, if it got this late, I wasn’t about to put the kid on the court and try to win a few games and he’s not 100 percent,” Martin said. Tennessee carries on without the preseason all-SEC selection on Wednesday in its SEC opener against Ole Miss.
  5. Every team needs some experience and Alabama is happy to welcome its lone senior, Andrew Steele, back after six missed games with an injury. Steele scored just two points in his first game back, but the Tide broke a losing streak that included losses in five of their last six games. And perhaps the senior’s addition had a little something to do with the change. “The complexion of our team has changed a little bit,” Alabama coach Anthony Grant said. “We look forward to starting conference play. He affected the game in a variety of ways that don’t show up on the stat sheet.” The youthful Tide started four sophomores and a junior in their last outing, so Steele’s return gives Grant’s squad a leader to turn to on the court.
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