Award Tour: Anthony Bennett is the New No. 1 Freshman, the Five Worst D-I Teams, and an Ode to the Big East Conference…

Posted by DCassilo on December 14th, 2012

awardtour

David Cassilo is an RTC columnist who also writes about college basketball for SLAM magazine. You can follow him at @dcassilo.

Farewell, Big East. As a Villanova grad who grew up in New Jersey, you were always close to my heart. I’ll miss the prime time Saturday night final. I’ll miss the coaching legends. I’ll miss the physical play that would be called for a foul in any other league. I’ll miss the afternoon games of the Big East Tournament. I’ll miss being sponsored by Aeropostale. I’ll miss record crowds at the Carrier Dome. I’ll miss seeing Carnesecca and his sweater sitting behind the St. John’s bench. I’ll miss Mick Cronin being displeased with his team. I’ll miss West Virginia fans throwing stuff. I’ll miss looking at the newspaper and saying, “Wow, DePaul won.” I’ll miss Madison Square Garden. I’ll miss the weird dimensions of the RAC. I’ll miss Seton Hall thinking its good. I’ll miss Providence’s mascot. I’ll miss UConn breaking the rules. I’ll miss Pitt’s illegal screens and 30-year old point guards. I’ll miss Boston College, Virginia Tech and Miami. I’ll miss Pitino’s press conferences. I’ll miss people saying Villanova is Guard U when it rarely sends a guard to the NBA. I’ll miss Georgetown running the Princeton offense. I’ll miss the overachievers at Notre Dame and Marquette. I’ll miss that time South Florida was good. I’ll even miss the double bye, Burr and Higgins. Now let’s end this league in style.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR

10. Brandon Paul – Illinois (Last Week – NR)
2012-13 stats: 19 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 3.5 APG

Illinois is going to need a big effort out of Brandon Paul at Indiana. (Joe Robbins/Getty)

Brandon Paul tore apart Gonzaga. (Joe Robbins/Getty)

With 35 points at Gonzaga last Saturday, Paul officially declared his candidacy in the Player of the Year race. The major improvement in his game this year comes down to his shooting. He never cracked 40 percent from the field in his first three years but is up to 46.8 percent this season.This week: December 16 vs. Eastern Kentucky

9. Michael Carter-Williams – Syracuse (Last Week – NR)
2012-13 stats: 12.4 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 10.4 APG, 3.8 SPG

There’s no doubt that Carter-Williams does more to fill up the stat sheet than any player in the country, but it’s his passing that has been second to none. He leads the nation in APG and has 37 dimes in his last three games. A high turnover rate (3.8 per game) and poor three-point shooting (22.2 percent) hold him back from challenging for the top spot. This week: December 15 vs. Canisius, December 17 vs. Temple

8. Jeff Withey – Kansas (Last Week – 7)
2012-13 stats: 13.8 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 5.6 BPG

After blocking five shots against Colorado last Saturday, Withey has swatted the ball at least that many times in six of his team’s eight games. His defensive dominance coupled with the rise of freshman Ben McLemore has the Jayhawks thinking of a return to the title game. This week: December 15 vs. Belmont, December 18 vs. Richmond

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Award Tour: The Struggles of Ranking Cody Zeller

Posted by DCassilo on December 7th, 2012

David Cassilo is an RTC columnist who also writes about college basketball for SLAM magazine. You can follow him at @dcassilo.

What do we do about Cody Zeller? That’s what we’re asking after his second game this season with fewer than 10 points. The preseason pick for Player of the Year has simply not been the monster in the middle that was expected, but he hasn’t been a disappointment either. We’ll start with the bad. He’s scored 20 or more points just twice in eight games and is averaging a pedestrian 15 PPG and 7.6 RPG this season. You’ll find about 100 players with numbers like that. Now the good. He’s shooting 63.2 percent from the field and his numbers are almost identical to his stellar freshman season. To be honest though, Zeller is likely staying as high as he is on this list based on expectation. But now we’re giving him one final chance. If he doesn’t break out by the end of December, he’ll be off the top 10 list.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR

10. Elias Harris – Gonzaga (Last Week – NR)
2012-13 stats: 16.8 PPG, 8.1 RPG

Harris has Gonzaga thinking national title. (AP)

As a senior, Harris is finally coming into his own in all areas of the game. That has especially been true for his offense. After a slow start, he’s scored at least 16 points in five of his last six games. As Gonzaga continues to win, his candidacy will pick up steam. This week: December 8 vs. Illinois

9. Isaiah Canaan – Murray State (Last Week – 7)
2012-13 stats: 21.4 PGG, 3.7 RPG, 3.9 APG

With one game this past week against an NAIA opponent, Canaan essentially had an off week. His slight fall down the rankings has more to do with the other players on the list than with himself. Canaan’s biggest challenge for the rest of the season will be playing well enough to overshadow his weak competition. This week: December 8 at Evansville

8. C.J. McCollum – Lehigh (Last Week – 3)
2012-13 stats: 24.4 PPG, 5.0 RP, 3.2 APG

We’ve said all season that if a player from a conference like the Patriot League is going to win this, he needs to be beyond spectacular. McCollum has been close to that, but performances like the 13 points he put up against Fordham in his last game won’t cut it. Chances are we’ll see another 30-point game from him soon enough, though. This week: December 8 vs. St. Francis (Pa.)

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Blue Devils Went Down To Georgia, Found Their Heart And Soul…

Posted by ARowe on November 14th, 2012

Everyone’s talking about how great Duke’s seniors were against the freshmen of Kentucky. And they deserve every ounce of praise they’re getting.

Seth Curry was amazing down the stretch. He’s been fighting through a shin injury over the last few months and has only been able to participate in four practices so far this season. Even then, he was a limited participant. His first organized game of basketball in two months was Duke’s second exhibition game against Winston-Salem State, where his rust showed. Battling like the tough competitor that he is, Curry logged 34 minutes in an intense game and showed no ill effects of the nagging pain. He somehow seemed to get better as the game wore on, scoring 13 of his 23 points in the final 13:13 with Mason Plumlee on the bench for six of those minutes.

Duke’s Guys Were Ready in Atlanta Last Night (credit: Duke Blue Planet)

Mason Plumlee played like a man possessed early in the game. Kentucky’s defense was clearly geared to stop him, but Nerlens Noel could not contain Plumlee down low. He scored six of Duke’s first nine points and 14 of their first 27. Not only did he put up 18 points on 7-8 shooting, he was perfect from the line and found open shooters on the wing with smart kick-outs as Kentucky’s defense collapsed around him in the paint.

In the battle of “seniors vs. freshmen”, Kentucky had only one player who had logged meaningful minutes last season — Kyle Wiltjer. Watching Kentucky’s game against Maryland, it was clear that Wiltjer was the key to the Wildcats’ offense as he put up 19 points on 67% shooting. Not known as a defensive stopper, Ryan Kelly matched up perfectly with Wiltjer and completely took him out of the game.  Wiltjer was only able to get five shots off against the senior, connecting on two of them for five total points.

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SEC M5: 10.08.12 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on October 8th, 2012

  1. Residing under the national and local spotlight is a way of life for the national champion Kentucky Wildcats and coach John Calipari. But as if interest in the Cats wasn’t high enough already, a new ESPN series, titled All-Access Kentucky, will go in depth on the Big Blue’s preparation for the 2012-13 season. “With many new players on the Wildcats this year, there is enormous interest surrounding this team,” said Norby Williamson, ESPN’s executive vice president of programming and acquisitions. “All-Access Kentucky gives us an opportunity to deliver something entertaining and unique that helps bring fans closer to a sport they love.” The series will air in 30-minute segments beginning on October 17.
  2. Is Kentucky the only SEC school that cares about basketball season? It seems as though everyone outside of Lexington is still paying attention to some other sport. Blasphemy. Meanwhile, Calipari gave each of a pair of walk-ons, Sam Malone and Brian Long, a scholarship for the upcoming year. While they may not have contributed much on the court, both achieved grade point averages well above 3.0 during last year. Both are excited their determination paid off. “It shows you’ve got to work hard and you’ve got to continue to keep working hard,” Long said. “And you’ve got to be successful on the floor and off the floor and in school. There’s a lot of factors, but it all pays off if you work hard.”
  3. Vanderbilt is starting to turn one eye towards the hardwood, as Anchor of Gold examines a new-look Commodores team. Contrary to the last several years when the ‘Dores had a dominant center down low, Vanderbilt may now have to play small ball to put its best team on the court. Vandy lost its top six scorers from a year ago, and only returns three players standing above 6’9″. While their strength may be in the backcourt, the Commodores can’t ignore their weaknesses in rebounding and low post play. Junior Rod Odom and sophomore Josh Henderson will have to combine for well more than the pedestrian rebounding numbers they managed last season.
  4. If you happened to live under a rock last week, you may have missed the huge announcement that the biggest package deal ever in college basketball recruiting made their collegiate choice on Thursday. If you live anywhere else in the world, you already knew that. The Harrison twins, Aaron and Andrew Harrison of Houston, Texas, chose to play for the SEC’s Kentucky Wildcats over the Maryland Terrapins. Andrew, one half of the future starting backcourt for Calipari’s Wildcats said, “Coach Calipari presented a challenge for us … he would push us every day. We just want to be better players.” With these couple of huge commitments for UK, and with Calipari positioned well for other top prospects in the class, the 2013 class is setting up to be one of Cal’s best since arriving in Lexington, and that’s saying something.
  5. While Calipari continues to put his Wildcats in contention for the number one recruiting spot, he’ll have to beat out Florida coach Billy Donovan to do it. Donovan’s Gators currently sit atop the 2013 rankings, and he is feeling pretty good about hosting one of the top players in the class. Power forward and Plano, Texas, native, Julius Randle made a visit to Gainesville this past weekend. “He’s excited about (the visit),” said Chris Mayberry, Randle’s high school coach. “He went to Kentucky a couple of weeks ago, so this will be his second official visit.” Donovan has already loaded up for next season with Chris Walker (the #8 prospect), Kasey Hill (the #6 prospect), Damontre Harris (a transfer from South Carolina), and Dorian Finney-Smith (a transfer from Virginia Tech).
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SEC Morning Five: 01.24.12 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 24th, 2012

  1. Ole Miss forward Terrance Henry was named SEC Player of the Week after his first double-double of the season. Henry played well in the Rebels’ win over Georgia with 24 points and 10 rebounds. He averaged 18 points, 6.5 rebounds and two assists on the week. While Henry scored 12 points, three rebounds and three assists in Ole Miss’ win over Mississippi State, it was his defense on point guard Dee Bost that helped stifle the Bulldogs’ offense. Tennessee freshman Jarnell Stokes was named SEC Freshman of the Week in just his second week with the Volunteers. He helped UT beat defending national champion Connecticut by averaging 13.5 points, 10 rebounds, 1.5 blocks, one assist and one steal. For Stokes to accomplish that in his second and third games of the season is even more impressive.
  2. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope must have great timing. He called to commit to the Georgia Bulldogs while coach Mark Fox was on an airplane ready for take-off. “He called me, I looked at my phone, and I said I better answer this,” Fox said. “So I answered my phone, and this flight attendant was saying: ‘You have to hang up your phone.'” As the plane took off, Fox lost the connection before Caldwell-Pope could finish the call. So when the freshman guard called back later that week, Fox was at dinner. The head coach knew exactly what to do though. “Left the table,” Fox said.  Caldwell-Pope’s 14.7 points and 5.1 rebounds per game so far this season probably made that an easy decision for Fox.
  3. Guard Mike Rosario has helped turned the Gators’ bench from a liability in SEC play to a positive. Everyone is aware of Rosario’s offensive firepower, but he is getting additional playing time because of his commitment to the defensive end of the court. “Coach told me to stick my nose in there whenever I can to try to slap the ball and try to get a steal,” Rosario said. The strategy worked for the 6’3″ guard as he has four steals in his past three games. Prior to that, Rosario had not recorded a steal since December 17.
  4. First Kevin Stallings cried foul, and now Florida coach Billy Donovan is following suit. The Gators’ head man, just like Vanderbilt’s coach last week, is upset that Kentucky doesn’t go through the same rigors of conference scheduling as the rest of the SEC. “My problem with it is if you want to get more teams in the NCAA Tournament… our league should not put teams at a disadvantage competitively,” Donovan said. “I don’t think that’s right to the players, to the teams that are playing. I think we all agree that we need to play Thursday-Saturday-Tuesday. We’ve done it. But I think everybody needs to do it.” As mentioned last week in the SEC Morning Five, Kentucky is one of only three SEC teams that didn’t have the back-to-back scheduling issue that Florida and Vanderbilt (among others) had to endure. But if Donovan wants to argue that the SEC needs additional teams in the NCAA Tournament, then he also must understand that exposure helps in that endeavor. And the best exposure for the SEC is a TV deal with the Worldwide Leader, and the Kentucky Wildcats are the basketball reason that deal is a reality.
  5. Former Oklahoma State starter Fred Gulley plans to join the University of Arkansas basketball team next season. He will sit out one year based on NCAA transfer rules, and will be eligible in the spring of the 2012-13 season. Prior to leaving the Cowboys this season, Gulley averaged 4.0 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.5 assists in eight games. He is a 6’2″ guard, and is originally from Fayetteville, Arkansas. Arkansas will welcome the help. While the Razorbacks could use additional depth in the low post, coach Mike Anderson’s fast-paced style of play means that the Hogs can use healthy bodies at any position.
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SEC Morning Five: 10.19.11 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on October 19th, 2011

  1. Jason King wrote his first article since joining the ESPN crew on what he knows about college basketball. He wrote, “The Big East will (again) be the country’s top conference this season, but I’m more excited about the SEC. Kentucky, Florida and Vanderbilt are Final Four contenders, and no team intrigues me more than Mississippi State.” I couldn’t agree more. It will be a great season to be an SEC basketball fan.
  2. Gary Parrish of CBS turned in his 50 player ballot for the Naismith Award. Lots of SEC love as ten conference players made the list, including five Kentucky players. The SEC list consists of Brad Beal (Florida), Dee Bost (Mississippi State), Anthony Davis (Kentucky), JaMychal Green (Alabama), John Jenkins (Vanderbilt), Terrence Jones (Kentucky), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (Kentucky), Doron Lamb (Kentucky), Jeffery Taylor (Vanderbilt) and Marquis Teague (Kentucky). If you love lists, and since you’re reading one now I bet you do, you will love the excellent coverage at CBSSports.com as they have also unveiled a list of the Top 100 players in college basketball and a Preseason All-America list. Of course, the SEC is well represented on both with Vandy’s Jenkins placing as a first team All-American. However, it was Jeff Goodman’s placement of Terrence Jones on his fourth team All-America list that sent mobs of angry Kentucky fans Goodman’s way. Goodman placed Thomas Robinson of Kansas on his first team over Wildcats Anthony Davis and Jones. I ask you, loyal SEC fans, is the best power forward in the country from the SEC?
  3. Not sure whether to add ESPNU to your cable package? Well, ESPN released its television schedule with more than 1,450 regular season and Championship Week games across ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN3, ESPN4… sorry, I got carried away. The release is a 23-page document with 11,122 words in it, so make sure you have a couple of hours to go through it all. Just want the highlights? College Gameday will visit the SEC once in Nashville for the Kentucky/Vanderbilt matchup on February 11. Super Tuesday returns with a Big Ten/SEC doubleheader on ESPN, and an ACC/SEC doubleheader on ESPNU. That should make your decision on ponying up a few extra bucks for the U a little easier. Finally, the SEC Tournament semifinals and championship games will be televised nationally on ABC.
  4. It was initially believed that Florida may violate NCAA rules by using two basketballs during game action to ensure they have enough shots to go around for their ball-hoggin’ backcourt, but a Gainesville Sun article says Billy Donovan is impressed with the unselfish behavior of his guards. He pointed out that point guard Erving Walker has taken the third fewest shots on the team in the early going of practice. Donovan said, “he has really tried to grasp and understand who he is playing with on the floor. His assist to turnover ratio has been really good. I think he has an idea of the challenges in front of him.” Donovan has challenged his point guard to lead the SEC in assists this season. We’ll have to wait and see if Walker accepts that challenge, but he seems to be distributing the ball well in the early going.
  5. Kentucky fans who have been clamoring for more Dribble Drive Motion Offense will finally get their wish. On his website, John Calipari wrote his six observations from the first six days of UK’s practice. In number six, Cal wrote, “this may be a Dribble Drive team. Instead of using it 30 percent of the time, we may use it 70 percent of the time. They’re reacting quickly and they’ve got a feel for what’s going on. They’re doing pretty good with it.” The outspoken head Wildcat has never been one to hand out too much praise for his Wildcat teams, especially early on, but he’s been nothing but positive to start out this year. He even agreed with former Kentucky coach Joe B. Hall when Hall said that this year’s team is “way ahead of where we were a year ago.” That’s great news for Cat fans who will be quick to remind us that last year’s Final Four team wasn’t too shabby.
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Great Expectations for Five Highly Ranked SEC Freshmen

Posted by Brian Joyce on October 18th, 2011

This year, the SEC will be home to 14 McDonald’s All American Game alumni including JaMychal Green (2008), Kenny Boynton (2009), Renardo Sidney (2009), Patric Young (2010), Terrence Jones (2010), Doron Lamb (2010), Jelan Kendrick (2010), Brad Beal (2011), Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (2011), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (2011), Johnny O’Bryant (2011), Anthony Davis (2011), Marquis Teague (2011) and Kyle Wiltjer (2011). These players are selected using recruiting rankings and evaluations at the high school and AAU level. It is not an exact science, but obviously players ranked in the top of the class generally produce at the next level. Green, Boynton, Sidney, Young, Jones and Lamb have demonstrated their talent through superb play and numerous all-SEC selections among them (Kendrick remains to be seen). This year, expectations are at an all-time high. The focus of this post is on the five newbies the SEC welcomes from the top 12 of Scout.com’s final recruitment rankings for the Class of 2011 – Davis, Kidd-Gilchrist, Beal, Teague, and Caldwell Pope. With that level of talent coming into the league it is certain that the SEC’s overall play and competitiveness will be elevated. However, is there any guarantee that with high expectations comes automatic production?

#1 recruit - Kentucky's Anthony Davis

To get some idea of what we can expect this season from the SEC’s highly ranked incoming freshmen, I have evaluated the top 12 players from Scout.com’s final recruiting rankings over the last five seasons. Why 12? Well, the best answer is that it seemed to be a good cutoff and I was too tired to extend it to 15 or 20. I am only one man people! I examined PPG in their first year in college, as well as results from whether or not they went pro as that is also an indicator of talent or at least potential. Here are the last five years of players and their point production beginning with the Class of 2006 and going through the Class of 2010.

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