SEC Saturday Storylines: Are Texas A&M’s Title Hopes Still Alive?

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 20th, 2016

There’s still plenty at stake in the SEC this weekend even if it doesn’t have quite the same juice as last weekend’s schedule. Kentucky can continue its seemingly inevitable charge at the SEC title in College Station and several other teams can play themselves further onto (Alabama) or off (Georgia, Vanderbilt) the bubble. Here are three things to watch for in this weekend’s SEC action.

Does Texas A&M still have a road to the SEC title? (247sports.com)

Does Texas A&M still have a road to the SEC title? (247sports.com)

Texas A&M’s last stand. Drawing comparisons to the Alamo may be overly dramatic but the Aggies will be up against it on Saturday evening. A few short weeks ago the Kentucky game looked like it would be the SEC game of year. Despite Texas A&M’s 2-5 slide over the past few weeks, this game is still getting the bright-lights treatment with ESPN‘s College Gameday broadcasting from College Station. This could represent a swing game for Aggies. A win draws A&M within one game of the Wildcats and Mississippi State, Missouri and Auburn due next. Kentucky’s next three games against Alabama, Vanderbilt and Florida are considerably tougher. This scenario of course assumes that both teams completely reverse their recent runs, but it’s nonetheless a path for Texas A&M. A game storyline worth watching is whether Tyler Davis and Jalen Jones can take advantage of a Kentucky frontcourt that might be without Marcus Lee — he was held to just 17 minutes against Tennessee due to a back injury. The thought of Isaac Humphries or Skal Labissiere trying to contain either of those guys must have John Calipari worried. On the other end of the floor, the Wildcats’ three-point marksmen Jamal Murray and Derek Willis (yes, he’s earned that title) will face a defense that has struggled to defend perimeter shots at times this season.

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Kentucky is Suddenly in Control of the SEC

Posted by David Changas on February 19th, 2016

On February 2, Kentucky inexplicably blew a 21-point first half lead against a mediocre Tennessee team in Knoxville as the Vols upset the Wildcats. John Calipari’s team at the time sat 6-3 in league play, while Texas A&M, at 7-1 and on a major roll, appeared in complete control. LSU, which had won at Auburn on the same night, was also ahead of the Wildcats at 7-2 and the Tigers finally appeared to be hitting their stride. Just 17 short days later, the Aggies have now lost four of five games and LSU is coming off a perplexing home loss to Alabama. For its part, Kentucky has not lost since, and after exacting some revenge against Tennessee on Thursday night with an 80-70 win in Rupp Arena, it’s difficult to argue that the Wildcats are not once again the team to beat with five games remaining. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Tyler Ulis is playing at an MVP level (Getty)

Tyler Ulis is producing at a Player of the Year level (Getty)

The Wildcats have flourished despite losing their most consistent low-post threat and third-leading scorer, Alex Poythress, to injury. But thanks to dominant backcourt play from Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray as well as an increase in production from junior forward Derek Willis, Kentucky has seized control of the league race and appears ready to climb the national rankings back into the top 10. Willis, who hardly played during his first two seasons in Lexington, scored a career-high 25 points in Thursday night’s win and has capably filled a void left by Poythress’ absence and the inability of freshman Skal Labissiere to consistently produce.

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Introducing Rush the SEC Podcast: Vol. 1

Posted by Brian Joyce on February 18th, 2016

The Rush the Court SEC microsite writers recently got together and tried their hand at podcasting for the first time. In the inaugural episode, Brian Joyce, Greg Mitchell and David Changas discuss all the uncertainty at the top of the SEC standings, whether Tyler Ulis has overtaken Ben Simmons as the likely SEC Player of the Year, what is wrong with Texas A&M and if Alabama is indeed an NCAA Tournament team this season. Give it a listen and let us know @rushtheSEC if you would like to hear more.

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What’s Trending: Tackles, Tempers, And More!

Posted by Griffin Wong on February 18th, 2016

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Griffin Wong (@griffwong90) is your weekly host.

If College Basketball’s Tripping Epidemic Wasn’t Enough…

Then we have this item for you, as Maryland’s Diamond Stone took it up a notch. At the end of the first half, with Maryland down big to Wisconsin at home, the freshman phenom briefly lost his temper, tackling Wisconsin’s Vitto Brown after the whistle. To make matters worse, Stone pushed Brown’s head back into the ground as he was getting up. Take a look:

Stone was given a flagrant 1 for his actions, and subsequently suspended for a game by coach Mark Turgeon. Though Stone was apologetic after the game, it’s a shame to see any player lose his temper like that. Oh, and Wisconsin snapped Maryland’s 27-game home winning streak.

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SEC Rundown: Volume XII

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 16th, 2016

Kentucky and LSU separated themselves from the pack on a pivotal weekend in the SEC title race. If both teams hold steady the rest of the way, we could have a gigantic game between the pair in Rupp Arena to close out the regular season. Plenty of drama is also heating up near the bubble, with Alabama staking a claim to a spot in the conversation. Here’s what went down last week in the SEC and what to look for in the week ahead.

Retin Obasohan and Alabama won in Gainesville for the first time since 1995 (rolltide.com).

Retin Obasohan and Alabama won in Gainesville for the first time since 1995 (rolltide.com).

Trending Up. Alabama. The Crimson Tide’s RPI surged up to #37 after four straight wins, including two victories last week over likely tournament teams (Texas A&M and Florida). It’s easy to forget that Avery Johnson’s club started SEC play at 1-4, but that looks understandable in hindsight, considering those games included losses to Kentucky, Vanderbilt and LSU. The fourth loss (at Auburn) is really the only dark spot on the resume, although the Tigers had the services of Kareem Canty in that one. Welcome to the bubble, Alabama.

Trending DownTexas A&M‘s seed. Just a few weeks ago the Aggies looked like a solid #2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, with a realistic shot of climbing up to the top line if things broke their way. Their recent four-game losing streak hasn’t put an invitation at risk, but it has done great damage to what could have been a historic placement for the program. With the exception of a home game against Kentucky, the schedule eases up quite a bit and should allow A&M to build some confidence before heading to Nashville.

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Tyler Ulis is Not Kentucky’s Prototypical Defensive Game-Changer

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 11th, 2016

Kentucky fans are used to having defensive game-changers. These are usually athletic behemoths like Anthony Davis or Karl-Anthony Towns — players who make entry into the paint a house of horrors for their opponents. But there’s another defensive game-changer on campus in Lexington this season, except that he’s over a foot shorter than his predecessors and does most of his defensive dirty work outside the lane. Tyler Ulis‘ control of the offense and Jamal Murray‘s scoring barrage have gotten a lot of well-deserved attention during the last week, but it has been Ulis’ keen ability to disrupt opponents’ offensive game plans that has been just as important. Just ask Florida head coach Mike White.

Tyler Ulis (USA Today Images)

Tyler Ulis (USA Today Images)

“I thought it started, again, with Ulis,” he said last weekend after a blowout loss in Rupp Arena. “There were three or four plays that we called that were quick-hitting or with some movement in the first half that Tyler just blew up with the pressure on the basketball.” Kentucky followed up that win with another lopsided victory over a Georgia team that might have been playing for its NCAA Tournament life. But in the end, the box score was littered with ugly numbers. The Wildcats held the Bulldogs to a measly 0.76 points per possession and an astonishingly low 25.0% eFG, poor marks even for a team that has struggled to score this season. Ulis was again the main culprit, using his exceptional quickness in a variety of ways to frustrate Georgia.

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SEC Saturday Storylines: League Title Up For Grabs?

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 6th, 2016

A little over a week ago it looked like Texas A&M was about to run away and hide with the SEC’s regular season title. The excursion into non-conference play and exciting win over Iowa State obscures the fact that the Aggies are now on a two-game SEC losing streak after dropping a game in Nashville Thursday night. That puts Johnny Jones‘ LSU squad in a tie for first midway through conference play. Just as everyone predicted, right? The regular season title scramble highlights a crucial weekend in the league.

Didn't expect to see me on top of the standings, did you? (sportsnola.com).

Didn’t expect to see me on top of the standings, did you? (sportsnola.com).

  1. Break out the binoculars and tape measures, we’ve got a race! The Aggies and Tigers are tied atop the standings, and five more teams sit within two games of the lead. LSU should take care of business against Mississippi State at home – although the Bulldogs have been competitive lately – and put pressure on Texas A&M to rebound against a hungry South Carolina team. The winner of Kentucky and Florida will position itself nicely for a run at pole position, as well. But don’t forget about Vanderbilt. Less than week after a disappointing performance in Austin, the Commodores have renewed momentum with that Texas A&M win. They now face Ole Miss, Missouri, Auburn and Mississippi State, and if they run through that manageable stretch undefeated the ‘Dores will be sitting pretty at 9-4 in league play. We were due intrigue in the league title race after Kentucky and Florida won the league by an average of 5.5 games the past two seasons, and we’ve definitely got it. Read the rest of this entry »
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Freeze Frame: Big 12 Stars vs. SEC Defenses

Posted by Brian Joyce on February 3rd, 2016

LSU and Kentucky each came into the Big 12/SEC Challenge last weekend in very different spots. LSU’s NCAA Tournament resume was already on thin ice, with only a home win over those Wildcats on which to hang its hat. A win over top-ranked Oklahoma would certainly change that. Kentucky found itself in the rare position of needing to prove that it can win on the road in a game where virtually nobody thought it could (at Allen Fieldhouse). After a pair of close-but-no-cigar losses, both teams can hold their heads high about their performances, but it was the Big 12 stars who we are still talking about this week. Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield and Kansas’ Wayne Selden had outstanding individual performances that propelled their teams to victory. In this edition of Freeze Frame, we focus on how LSU allowed Hield to get loose and how Kentucky lost contact with Selden.

Jamal Murray is great with the ball in his hands, but he struggled defending Wayne Selden in Lawrence on Saturday (photo credit: Mark Zerof, USA Today).

Jamal Murray is great with the ball in his hands, but he struggled defending Wayne Selden in Lawrence on Saturday (photo credit: Mark Zerof, USA Today).

ESPN branded the matchup between LSU and Oklahoma as a battle between Ben Simmons and Hield, and neither like All-American disappointed. It was Hield, however, who proved once again that he is college basketball’s brightest star, waiting to explode after his team had fallen behind by 14 points in Baton Rouge. Seven of Hield’s eight three-pointers came in the second half on his way to 32 points, eventually leading the Sooners to a big-time comeback win over the Tigers.

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SEC Rundown: Volume X

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 2nd, 2016

After a fun Saturday hanging out with the Big 12, SEC teams return to league action starting this evening. Waiting for them is a conference race with the potential to heat up considerably over the rest of the month. Quite the change from the last two years, right? Here’s a look back at last week’s SEC action and what to watch for ahead.

Dorian Finney-Smith and Florida made a bold statement against West Virginia (smokingmusket.com).

Dorian Finney-Smith and Florida made a bold statement against West Virginia (smokingmusket.com).

Trending UpFlorida‘s likelihood of returning to the NCAA Tournament. The Gators’ resume previously lacked a marquee win but that problem was solved by convincingly beating West Virginia at home on Saturday. KeVaughn Allen is also on the upswing, as he has been for most of his freshman season. The freshman is becoming the most important part of Florida’s offense and looked comfortable beyond his years against the Mountaineers’ unrelenting pressure. If he continues his scoring tear, he and Dorian Finney-Smith could be enough to keep Florida afloat on the nights when the team’s shots aren’t falling.

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Six Takeaways From the Big 12/SEC Challenge

Posted by Andrew Gripshover on February 1st, 2016

The Big 12 backed up its best league in college basketball label on Saturday with a 7-3 victory over the SEC to clinch a third straight Big 12/SEC Challenge victory. While there were a number of close games, all of the Big 12 home teams held serve and, of the three road losses, one was in overtime and the other was a back-and-forth affair until the final few minutes. The interesting takeaway from the event is its timing during the last weekend in January — stuck in the midst of conference play, it represents more than an early season measuring stick but it’s not quite the postseason either. Here’s a look at some of the fallout for several of the participating teams.

Kentucky and Kansas Played a Classic in Lawrence Saturday Night (USA Today Images)

Kentucky and Kansas Played a Classic in Lawrence Saturday Night (USA Today Images)

  • Kansas and Kentucky’s Seeding Implications. First of all, let’s do this on campus every second and third year. It was a refreshing break for this overtime matchup to take place outside of the sanitized Champions Classic in mid-November and it completely delivered. Everyone already knows the Wayne Selden (33 points on 12-of-20 shooting) and Tyler Ulis (26 points, eight assists, but two key turnovers down the stretch) angles, so let’s look at this from a bracketing perspective. Kansas will stay in the #1 seed hunt (its resume is shockingly identical to that of Iowa) but with Oklahoma currently profiling as the top overall seed, the Jayhawks will likely need to beat out the Sooners for one or both of the Big 12 titles. Kentucky remains somewhere between its dominant #1 seed and middling bubble team years, but they’ve been trending more in the direction of the former than the latter over the last couple of weeks. John Calipari won’t care about that after leading for most of the second half of Saturday night’s game, but his team couldn’t hold on down the stretch of regulation nor withstand foul trouble in the extra session.

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SEC 3-Point Shot: Big 12/SEC Challenge Takeaways

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 1st, 2016

Saturday gave us a break from league play for the Big 12/SEC Challenge. Here are three takeaways from a fun day of college basketball in which the SEC faced off with arguably the best conference in the country.

  1. Open Look: Hey Big 12, let’s do it again? Let’s be honest, sometimes it’s not easy being an SEC basketball fan. How many times can you be expected to generate excitement for a “showcase” game between two unranked teams? This event between the two power conferences was something fresh and each time slot seemed to have an exciting game. ESPN was not shy about marketing it all week long and the push seemed to work (based on an admittedly unscientific peek at social media). Heck, Arkansas’ Dusty Hannahs even found himself trending on Twitter during the afternoon. The attendance and atmosphere in SEC venues was good; even Auburn was near capacity for an uninspiring Oklahoma State team. Here’s hoping the two leagues get together and keep this format — playing the challenge in the middle of conference play — for years to come.Screenshot 2016-01-31 at 3.14.01 PM
  2. Over the Close Out: This was a good day for the SEC. A quick look at the overall record (3-7 is definitively not good) might suggest otherwise, but it’s hard to walk away from Saturday’s action and not be happy about the SEC’s performance. The league was a Tyler Ulis mishandle and Tim Quarterman drive away from washing out the challenge at 5-5 and plucking off wins against the Big 12’s two heavyweights. Kentucky and LSU are developing in their own ways, so to play well against great competition shows that things for both teams are heading in the right direction. Meanwhile, Florida (#22) and Texas A&M (#7) backed up their lofty KenPom ratings by taking care of business at home. Losses in either of those games would have opened the door for questions like “how good are they?” We also need to consider that the SEC didn’t necessarily bring its biggest guns to the fight. Swapping in South Carolina and Alabama for Auburn and Tennessee might have resulted in two more wins (we’ll ignore that Missouri and Mississippi State were also left sitting at the table). Read the rest of this entry »
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Big 12-SEC Challenge: What Should You Know About The SEC?

Posted by Chris Stone on January 29th, 2016

With the Big 12-SEC Challenge taking place on Saturday, we teamed up with our sister microsite to get caught with what’s going on in the SEC. Joining us for this one is SEC microsite writer Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell).

  • There are quite a few matchups in the Challenge and plenty of them have NCAA Tournament implications. What SEC team needs a win the most?
Greg: The SEC needs as many wins as it can get Saturday to help its always-sagging basketball reputation. But that’s a cop out. Vanderbilt is probably the pick. The Commodores (more to come below) are the league’s most disappointing team and came up empty during the non-conference season for a marquee win. Beating Florida on Tuesday was the best win they can offer so far, and that’s not going to cut it. Great wins are few and far between in the SEC, so a road win against Texas is quite an opportunity. LSU is clearly in a similar spot with a lackluster non-conference and the #1 team coming to Baton Rouge, but the Tigers have generated a little more positive momentum in league play.
hield-simmons

Buddy Hield and Ben Simmons will face off in Baton Rouge on Saturday. (Photo Credits: USA Today Sports)

  • Two blue bloods are having trouble finding significant roles for their highly touted big men. Kansas has Cheick Diallo and Kentucky has Skal Labissiere. What’s keeping Labissiere from playing a bigger role for the Wildcats? 
Greg: Labissiere simply isn’t strong enough right now. He’s struggled to establish position in the post and routinely gets bodied out on the glass. Part of this might be that the “prep school” – or whatever you would like to call it – he spent last season at was reportedly playing glorified church league games and it stunted his development. But he’s 19 years old and also playing in a country he wasn’t born in. Like Diallo, sometimes these guys can’t always be Anthony Davis or Karl-Anthony Towns. Labissiere still has plenty of potential and could even develop into a more important piece this season as he’s used more as a spot-up shooter.

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