As Kentucky Takes Aim at History, Wildcats Have Everyone’s Attention

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 9th, 2015

It’s not that Kentucky’s perfect regular season was never in doubt, because it often was. It took three overtime periods to dispatch the Wildcats’ first two SEC opponents (Mississippi and Texas A&M). LSU was a Keith Hornsby three away from ending the perfect season (ask Arkansas how that can turn out). And just earlier this week, Georgia had the ‘Cats on the ropes, leading by nine points in Athens with under 10 minutes to play. Kentucky was tested time and time again this season, yet the Wildcats found a way to outscore their opponents 31 times without fail. Fill in your own superlative here, because it’s been a truly historic run: No power conference team has completed a perfect regular season since Indiana did the trick on its way to a national title in 1976.

Kentucky's History-Making Season Continued Saturday. Up Next: The SEC Tournament. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Kentucky’s History-Making Season Continued Saturday. Up Next: The SEC Tournament. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Bids at perfection in college basketball – and in all sports, for that matter — are so often accompanied by a burdensome tension. As the wins pile up, the looming specter of history can turn the games into an exercise in survival. Kentucky has somehow avoided this transformation. No matter how sturdy the challenger or dire the circumstances, the Wildcats have steadfastly maintained control of their season. John Calipari has cultivated a respect for the process rarely found among groups of 18- to 20-year olds. Accordingly, Kentucky has yet to flinch in the face of a challenge — his team has never lost trust in either its coach or the plan. Lately, amid the discussion of Kentucky’s postseason chances, a tired cliché has been making the rounds. Some pundits have said, “the only team that can beat Kentucky is Kentucky.” If missing jump shots is somehow beating yourself, then sure, Kentucky might end up “beating itself.” But anyone familiar with the team’s entire of body of work within this 31-0 regular season will be quick to tell you that, more than anything else, these young Wildcats have always shown up. Expecting a deviation from that standard is silly, particularly when you consider the considerable motivational talents of Calipari.

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SEC M5: 03.09.15 Edition

Posted by David Changas on March 9th, 2015

SEC_morning5

  1. Where else could we start this M5 besides the Bluegrass State, now that Kentucky has become the first major conference team to go undefeated in the regular season since Indiana in 1976? Now that John Calipari’s team has completed the task – something that was a mere formality after the Wildcats’ comeback win at Georgia on Tuesday – there is much reflection on what got them here. As Kentucky.com‘s John Clay opined the biggest aspect of the Wildcats’ run was the lack of selfishness among players. While that may be a bit of self-fulfilling prophecy – would it be discussed if the Wildcats had a blemish or two on their record? – there is no question that what Calipari did to get buy-in from the bevy of McDonald’s all-Americans that comprise his roster is impressive. Now, the obvious question is whether his team can finish the job and cut down the nets on April 6. If it can’t, that won’t make what it has accomplished thus far meaningless, but winning it all is necessary to make this run historical.
  2. As evidence of the selflessness Kentucky displayed, that junior center Willie Cauley-Stein could be named a finalist for the Wooden Award is proof positive that statistics do not tell the story with this team. Cauley-Stein averages a mere 8.9 points and 6.4 rebounds while playing 25 minutes per contest, numbers that ordinarily would disqualify him from consideration for such a player-of-the-year award. But it’s nice to see someone who is such an important part of a great team get recognized, in a sport that often pays too much attention to stats. And it says a lot about Cauley-Stein that a player who ranks 44th in the SEC in scoring and eighth in rebounding could be included on this list, and that no one could reasonably argue against his inclusion.
  3. Going into Saturday’s action, there was a lot to be decided as far as the SEC Tournament bracket was concerned, and there were a few surprises that changed things around. The bracket is now set, and Georgia and LSU received the final two double-byes, to go along with those held by Kentucky and Arkansas. The Tigers’ stunning win at Arkansas, coupled with Ole Miss’s and Texas A&M’s home losses to Vanderbilt and Alabama, respectively, will force those bubble teams to play Thursday. For the Aggies, the loss is doubly painful. A win not only would have gotten them the 3-seed and the double-bye, with the loss, they play Thursday, and are stuck on Kentucky’s side of the bracket.
  4. Speaking of the Tigers, Aggies, and Rebels, they all now find themselves squarely on the bubble, according to, among others, ESPN’s Eamonn Brennan. In addition to Saturday’s loss to Alabama, the Aggies also lost at Florida last week. To say they could have ill-afforded either, given their position, is accurate. LSU has to feel much better about its position after the Arkansas game, as a win like that is a resume booster that will pay huge dividends with the selection committee. For Ole Miss, a win against a resurgent Vanderbilt team might have sealed the deal, but the Rebels will now have to get something done in Nashville to feel good about where they stand. At the end of the day, there do not appear to be enough wins available at the SEC Tournament to think that all three of these clubs will make the Big Dance, but there is little doubt that Texas A&M now has the most work to do, and likely will get a chance to beat LSU for a third time on Friday, in what could end up being a de facto play-in game.
  5. LSU’s win at Arkansas, under any circumstance, would have been impressive. Given that the Tigers were coming off an inexplicable and embarrassing 15-point home loss to Tennessee on Wednesday, expecting a win certainly would have been foolish. But when you consider that they did it without likely all-conference forward Jordan Mickey, who Johnny Jones decided to rest after he injured his shoulder late in the Tennessee game, you likely are even more dumbfounded. In hindsight, Jones’s decision seems like a stroke of brilliance: give your ailing star rest before the SEC and (hopefully) NCAA Tournament runs, and play a game that the committee will not penalize you for losing. In this case, Jones got the bonus of a surprising win that may just be enough to get his up-and-down team into the Field of 68.
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SEC Stock Watch: 03.06.15 Edition

Posted by David Changas on March 6th, 2015

We have reached the end of the regular season in the SEC, and this is our final look at who is trending up, down, and who is flat. This is SEC Stock Watch.

Trending Up

  • Upsets over Bubble Teams. First, it was Florida beating Texas A&M at home, handing the Aggies a crucial loss as they seek to secure an NCAA Tournament bid. Then, on Wednesday, Tennessee went into Baton Rouge and beat LSU by 15 points. This was the same group of Tigers that led the Vols by 27 points at the half in Knoxville 18 days earlier. Neither of these underdogs had as much to play for as their opponents, and they both deserve credit for not quitting. But for the Aggies and especially the Tigers, they will have to sweat these and other losses on Selection Sunday.
Kentucky will almost certainly enter the Big Dance 34-0 (cbssports.com)

John Calipari and Kentucky will almost certainly enter the Big Dance 34-0 (cbssports.com)

  • Undefeated Kentucky. It is a mere formality now that the Wildcats will finish the regular season a remarkable 31-0 when they dispatch Florida on Saturday in Lexington (the term “Senior Day” doesn’t mean much there, so we have forgone its use). Many would argue that it’s a formality that the Wildcats will finish the deal and run through the SEC Tournament next week in Nashville to finish 34-0 going into the NCAA Tournament. Given the way they have dominated league play, that is very likely.
  • Comebacks. Kentucky trailed Georgia by nine points with less than eight minutes to play on Tuesday in Athens. The Wildcats then turned the burners on and put away a game Bulldogs team. Last night, on senior night in Columbia, South Carolina overcame a 20-point first half deficit to take an 11-point lead of its own with less than six minutes to play. Arkansas then finished the game on an 18-3 run to steal the win. The Kentucky comeback was unsurprising, but the Razorbacks’ effort is further evidence that Mike Anderson’s team has turned a corner from its old disappointing ways.

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SEC M5: 03.06.15 Edition

Posted by David Changas on March 6th, 2015

SEC_morning5

  1. As we predicted, none of Kentucky’s freshmen have been in the running for major national awards because their time is so split up. You can see this play out in CBSSports.com’s Freshman of the Year watch, where Karl-Anthony Towns was just now the first Kentucky player to crack the top five with the regular season winding down. It certainly makes sense, even if his numbers are bottled up by only getting 20.2 minutes per game, Towns has been the driving force behind Kentucky’s offense at times this season. He scored seven of the Wildcats last ten points in closing out their win over Georgia, overpowering the Bulldogs at the rim for two late layups. Judging by outward appearances, the lack of individual awards-attention hasn’t been an issue. Besides, statistics won’t mean a thing when the NBA draft rolls around in June.
  2.  Is there a team out there that can actually finish the job against Kentucky? Rob Dauster wrote about the keys to beating the Wildcats, which he said include avoiding paint domination, forcing long jumpers over the top of the defense and scoring early or late in the shot clock. He thinks six teams have what it takes to knock Kentucky off if certain things go their way: Virginia, Wisconsin, Duke, Arizona, Gonzaga and Villanova. A matchup with any of the six would be a dream for the college basketball fan, but most compelling could be either Wisconsin (rematch of last year’s national semifinal) or Gonzaga (Kyle Wiltjer’s redemption).
  3. Near the end of a Knoxville News Sentinel’s article on the Kevin Stallings controversy is the following line about Donnie Tyndall’s opinion of the 30-second shot clock that will be used in the NIT and CBI: “He said he feels the shorter shot clock will force bad shots and increase the advantage of team’s with elite players.” This is an interesting thought, regardless of what you think of the merits of the shorter shot clock, because it comes from the head coach of a major program in a talent-rich state. Based on his logic, he would seem to benefit more than most. Either he still has the Morehead State/Southern Miss mindset, or John Calipari is that frightening to opposing SEC coaches.
  4. LSU did not make life easy on itself. The Tigers had taken care business the last few weeks, but got outscored by 15 points in the second half en route to a 78-63 loss to Tennessee in Baton Rouge. The Vols sit at #91 in the RPI, making this unequivocally a bad loss on LSU’s resume. Despite overall solid play lately, there are some red flags for the Tigers. Jordan Mickey has averaged just 11 points and five rebounds per game over the last five games. While this is a good line for the majority of players, a thin LSU team needs its star to shine to reach their ceiling. To make things worse, the sophomore got hurt late in the game and could be limited against Arkansas. Josh Gray also continued to struggle against the Vols (11 minutes, three points, one turnover) and it’s asking a lot for freshman Jalyn Patterson to completely replace his minutes.
  5. The Vols may have picked up the win and snapped a five-game losing streak because Tyndall returned to intense, “old school” practices. No matter how they did it, the victory was fairly significant. The Vols were just 3-9 over the 12 games going into the LSU game, and could have folded on the road against a team in desperate need of a win. Instead, Josh Richardson and Armani Moore turned in great offensive performances and led a blistering Vols’ attack (52.4 field goal percentage). The win keeps Tennessee in the hunt for an NIT bid (15-14, 7-10), and is another part of the over-achieving culture Tyndall has begun to establish this season.
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Morning Five: 03.04.15 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on March 4th, 2015

morning5

  1. In a reminder that no program is immune from scandal, news came out on Monday morning that Rasheed Sulaimon, the only player ever dismissed by Mike Krzyzewski during his time at Duke, had been accused of sexual assault by two female students and that athletic department officials knew of the allegations in March 2014 (10 months before his dismissal). Neither of the women was willing to press charges reportedly for fear of a backlash similar to what Jameis Winston’s accuser experienced. Duke released a statement that essentially saying that federal law prevented it from discussing the case, which is about what we expected them to say while Krzyzewski offered three “no comment”s on a conference call. Duke has also said that the school and athletic department officials have done all that is required of them, which is technically true although they do seem to be using very broad definitions of laws and requirements as a means to not discuss the case. Plenty of people will be quick to attack Duke and Krzyzewski, but they are placed in a difficult situation. Should they have kicked Sulaimon off the team based on allegations from women who did not press charges or should they just let him play? The reported crimes if true are obviously horrific, but it is not much better to brand someone with the label of having sexually assaulted two women if he did not. As we have said before, this case will individually garner quite a bit of attention, but the bigger issue is the culture surrounding sexual assault that leads to women being afraid to press charges.
  2. With its win over West Virginia last night Kansas won the Big 12 regular season title for the 11th consecutive season. The Jayhawks were helped out by Iowa State’s comeback victory (or Oklahoma’s collapse) on Monday that gave them at least a share, but last night’s victory gave them the outright title. The streak, which is approaching the 13 straight Pac-8/-10 titles that John Wooden’s UCLA teams won from 1967 to 1979 (they also picked up a few national titles during that stretch) is probably underappreciated nationally even if basketball writers continue to mention it. While most casual fans remember seasons by what happens in the NCAA Tournament, the consistent excellence that Kansas has shown over the past 11 regular seasons is probably even more remarkable.
  3. With the season winding down many are focusing on Kentucky‘s place in history, but as John Gasaway notes in his Tuesday Truths there are several other teams having historic seasons. The most obvious of these is Virginia, which is in the midst of a historic 2-year run in the ACC, and if not for Duke scoring on 14 of its final 15 possessions in their comeback win (probably the most improbable run of the season) they would also be unbeaten. There are plenty of interesting figures in here including some teams who have put up better seasons statistically than you might suspect. Even if you aren’t someone who is into “numbers” it is an interesting and fairly simple look at how dominant certain teams have been.
  4. The idea of moving back the start of the college basketball season in order to allow it to start without having to compete with the college football is hardly a new one, but we are always surprised to see the visceral backlash it creates. While we love March Madness moving it back by a month (or more) would not necessarily make it worse. The idea of doing it to allow for more studying by student-athletes or to improve attendance by players leaving for the NBA Draft seems to be a much smaller factor especially since many of these players are on year-round academic plans and a relatively percent are actually involved in the NBA Draft process. The biggest issue involved in moving the NCAA Tournament back a month would be that it would no longer benefit from having little competition from other sports as it does in March. Instead it would be going up against The Masters, NBA Playoffs, and to a lesser degree spring training. If you want to use that as a rationale against moving the college basketball season back, we would be willing to hear that argument, but we don’t buy the idea of sticking to the current schedule just because of tradition.
  5. One of the many criticisms of the NCAA is how it preaches about the education of student-athletes and punishes them for poor academic performance, but typically lets schools slide when they try to circumvent the rules for their own gain. To that end the NCAA has put together a group of 20 college administrators to craft a proposal about how the NCAA should respond to such situations. This probably won’t (and shouldn’t) affect cases that are currently being investigated, but it should provide a warning to schools that they cannot manipulate their academic system just to improve their on-field performance. The actual enforcement of such a policy will be tricky because schools have a lot more to fight back against the NCAA than an individual student-athlete will, but this is at least a start.
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The SEC Week That Was: Volume IX

Posted by Greg Mitchell on March 3rd, 2015

For the next three weeks or so, we’ll run down a few weekly superlatives from league play, take a look at how conference teams look in the eyes of the NCAA Tournament selection committee, and anything else that merits discussion. Here is Volume IX, including games from February 24 to March 1.

Team of the Week: With all due respect to undefeated Kentucky (which won its highest-profile SEC game by beating Arkansas), this week’s award goes to LSU. The Tigers avoided a black mark by picking up a road win at Auburn, and then added a top 50 RPI win by knocking off Ole Miss at home. The win over the Rebels also gave LSU the tie-breaker for conference tournament seeding purposes if the two teams are still knotted at the end of the week. The question for the Tigers, at least in terms of how high their ceiling is, was always going to be how well the roster developed around big men Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin. Depth hasn’t arrived and Josh Gray has struggled his way into Johnny Jones’ doghouse, as he hasn’t logged more than 21 minutes over the last five games. But Jones seems to have found a five-man lineup that he likes and is having success with. Tim Quarterman recorded only the seventh triple double in program history, and first since Shaq did the trick in 1992, against Ole Miss. This was an indicative of the all-purpose role he’s played all year. Jalyn Patterson has also stuffed the stat sheet all season (nine points, five assists, four rebounds against the Rebels) and has clearly improved throughout the year and earned Jones’ trust as a freshman. Along with Keith Hornsby, the Tigers have three solid parts to plug alongside their two stars and a team that is athletic, defends well and is deadly in transition. The concern is that Jones has still played fast (seventh highest adjusted temp according to KenPom) despite the thin rotation, and this could catch up to LSU, especially in a back-to-back game tournament setting. But the Tigers know what they are, and there’s something to be said for that at this time of year. Honorable mention goes to Missouri, which snapped its 13 game losing streak against Florida midweek. And let’s also say something for Vanderbilt, which picked up solid wins over Alabama and Tennessee and sits at a respectable 7-9 in SEC play.

Trey Lyles had a career week for Kentucky (collegebasketball.ap.org).

Trey Lyles had a career week for Kentucky (collegebasketball.ap.org).

Player of the Week. At this point in the season it doesn’t hurt to spread the love as much possible, so let’s split the award among three freshmen: Trey Lyles, Wade Baldwin IV and Namon Wright. Lyles had his finest week as a college player, at least in terms of scoring, with a career-high 18 points in back-to-back games. Often times this season defenses have been content with the Wildcat offense settling on two-point jump shots from Lyles, so it was encouraging that he scored those 36 points on an efficient 15-of-22 shooting. Baldwin has quietly had a strong freshman season, and this week put up 28 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists and just four turnovers while leading Vanderbilt to two wins. He’s a big, aggressive lead guard that should be fun to watch over the next few seasons, especially alongside Riley LaChance and the other young Commodores. Wright carried Missouri for much of its streak-busting win against Florida, dropping in a career-high 28 points and going six-for-eight from three. Besides a season-opening hot stretch from Teki Gill-Caesar, none of the Mizzou freshmen have shown the type of offensive explosion Wright did in that win over the Gators. Not to get greedy, but Quarterman deserves some more ink for his triple-double too.

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RTC Top 25: Week Fifteen

Posted by Walker Carey on March 2nd, 2015

The penultimate weekend of the college basketball regular season gave #1 Kentucky, #2 Virginia, #4 Villanova, #5 Arizona, #6 Wisconsin, and #9 Wichita State an opportunity to either a guaranteed a share of a conference title or the outright crown. Kentucky moved its record to 29-0 and earned the SEC regular season title on Saturday with a dominating 17-point home victory over #21 Arkansas. Virginia guaranteed itself at least a share of the ACC title with a Saturday matinee victory over Virginia Tech in Charlottesville. The Cavaliers will attempt to win the title outright for the second straight year, hitting the road this week for games at both Syracuse and #16 Louisville. Villanova rebounded from a seven-point halftime deficit at Xavier to earn its 10th consecutive win and clinch the outright Big East title for the second consecutive year. Arizona earned itself at least a share of the Pac-12 crown with one of the most impressive road victories of the season. The Wildcats went to #10 Utah and scored a thrilling 63-57 triumph on Saturday evening. Wisconsin wrapped up a share of the Big Ten title Sunday — aided tremendously by National Player of the Year candidate Frank Kaminsky’s season-high 31 points — with a home victory over Michigan State. Finally, Wichita State showed Saturday afternoon that it is still the class of the Missouri Valley with a 74-60 home win over #13 Northern Iowa. With just one week to go in the regular season, it will be intriguing to see if Virginia, Arizona, and Wisconsin can become the outright champions of their leagues as well as what will happen in the crazy Big 12 race.

This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump…

rtc25 w15

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SEC M5: It’s Finally March Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on March 2nd, 2015

SEC_morning5

  1. College Basketball Talk’s Rob Dauster had mostly good news for SEC basketball fans in his most recent Bubble Banter post. LSU, Georgia and Texas A&M all emerged from the weekend as bubble winners, with Ole Miss acting as the conference’s only loser (and just slightly, with a forgivable loss to the Tigers in Baton Rouge). The theme of the weekend for the Aggies and Bulldogs was to avoid the bad loss, and they both did so in beating Auburn and Missouri, respectively. A loss at home to the northern Tigers would have been especially devastating for a Georgia team which has already absorbed losses to Auburn and South Carolina in Stegeman Coliseum this year. LSU comes out the really big winner with a resume-enhancing win over the Rebels, earning the tiebreaker over Ole Miss in SEC Tournament seeding in the process.
  2. LSU got its big win in large part because Tim Quarterman did something no Tiger has done since Shaq was a slim and trim junior back in 1992: record a triple-double. Johnny Jones’ do-it-all, Swiss Army knife wing has been flirting with the distinction all season, and he finally picked it up on Saturday with 18 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds. He also did this while having to guard Ole Miss star Stefan Moody for large portions of the game. Quarterman may be one of the more underappreciated players in the SEC and the league’s most improved player (though Tennesee’s Armani Moore may have something to say about that). Given his all-around skill set and excellent length, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him eventually get a crack at the NBA; but he should stick around for four years to be a great college player that ends up on multiple LSU all-time lists.
  3. This is a bit dated, but Team Speed Kills has an interesting post that argues that what happens to Texas A&M on Selection Sunday will reveal the Selection Committee’s overall opinion on the SEC. The Aggies’ entire resume is based on a good conference run (11-5) that is filled with expected wins and understandable losses — with the one exception a 21-point loss in Tuscaloosa. If Texas A&M finds itself in a First Four game (or the NIT), it’ll be clear the Committee didn’t buy into an improved SEC this season. We’ve maintained all season that the league is in fact better than last year, but the lack of ranked teams has probably dampened that opinion somewhat on a national level. We’ll find out if this is indeed the case in a few weeks.
  4. Kentucky’s abundance of athletic players has led to countless exciting, momentum-swinging moments this season, and Saturday’s win over Arkansas was no exception with a first half Trey Lyles alley-oop and Willie Cauley-Stein block on an Alandise Harris dunk attempt steering the momentum. It was a powerful Karl-Anthony Towns dunk last Wednesday against Mississippi State that punctuated the Wildcats’ second half run that put the game out of reach. There’s no way to measure how valuable these moments actually are, but you have to wonder the psychological effect they have on the Wildcats’ withering opponents. Kentucky’s elite defense makes the team frustrating enough to play against, but those jarring plays, especially at Rupp Arena, have to add to the difficulty of playing the nation’s top-ranked team.
  5. The third time was the charm for Florida head coach Billy Donovan as he picked up his 500th win against Tennessee on Saturday. In a practical sense, it might not be a bad thing that the Gators waited until coming home from consecutive road losses to record the historic win since they are already out of the NCAA Tournament picture. Still, I’m sure Donovan would have preferred to pick up his 500th victory as soon as possible. The question now becomes how high of a win total is realistic for him, since he’s the second-youngest coach (at 49 years old) to reach the milestone in college basketball history (only Bob Knight was younger). Perhaps Florida’s struggles this year will help keep his competitive flame burning; the big question, however, is whether Donovan will again feel the pull to the NBA, and start looking for options at the next level.
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SEC M5: 02.25.15 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 25th, 2015

SEC_morning5

  1. I’m not ashamed to admit it: There are few things in my hoops world that I enjoy more than watching Willie Cauley-Stein move his feet. Observing a seven-footer glide across the perimeter in a defensive stance is art. Hyperbole aside, Cauley-Stein’s versatility is why NBCSports.com‘s Rob Dauster has him in the top five of his most recent Player of the Year rankings. By his logic, the junior should be the front-runner for the SEC POY award, but is he? My gut tells me that Arkansas’ Bobby Portis or LSU’s Jordan Mickey will get the honor based on their gaudier stats, but it probably should go to Cauley-Stein. As a team, Kentucky is on the verge of accomplishing something quite historic. Even if the Wildcats don’t run the table, their dominance has been the story of this year’s SEC and no one player captures that better than Cauley-Stein.
  2. As a point guard, Andrew Harrison is playing his best basketball of the season. The sophomore has averaged 4.4 assists and just 1.6 turnovers per game in his last eight outings, punctuated with nine assists and a single turnover on Saturday against Auburn. This uptick in production has coincided with a visit from his father, who also spent time with his brother Aaron last year before he caught fire in the NCAA Tournament. As good as Tyler Ulis has played this season, it must be reassuring to John Calipari that Andrew is playing so well too as the calendar nears March. He led the Wildcats to the championship game last year, and that kind of postseason experience is invaluable for a point guard.
  3. Stories about Memorial Gymnasium’s quirkiness at Vanderbilt are inevitable every year. But next year, those yarns will have a fresh angle. Vanderbilt is extending the coaching box up the sideline for the 2015-16 season, meaning that coaches won’t just be confined to the baseline as they have been in the past. Only head coaches will be allowed in the expanded box, so the solitary figure strolling up and down the sidelines above the first few rows of fans will be another unique part of the games at Vanderbilt. There will probably be some changes on the court for the Commodores next year too, at least from a win-loss perspective. There is a drastic disparity between the team’s KenPom (#47) and RPI (#117) ratings this season –eight of the Commodores’ 12 losses have come by four points or fewer, and Kevin Stallings’ group should be a much bigger threat next season if Damian Jones returns.
  4. The Macon Telegraph’s Seth Emerson has some interesting tidbits on Georgia’s NCAA Tournament resume as we enter the stretch run. We’ve also officially reached the point in the season when it’s not too early to talk about SEC Tournament seeding. Georgia stands at 8-6, nipping on the heels of 10-5 Texas A&M and 10-4 Ole Miss. Making up that difference in the standings to earn a double-bye will be difficult, but the Bulldogs have one thing going for them. They’ve already beaten Texas A&M and could sweep the Rebels with a win this evening, which would give Georgia the tiebreaker over both if it comes to that. That makes tonight’s game at the Tad Pad all the more important for a team looking to get back on the right track.
  5. One phrase is noticeably absent in SEC conversations right now: hot seat. Unless something strange occurs down the stretch, it doesn’t look like there will be a new SEC coach coming on board in 2015-16. Reviewing the hot seat scenario David Changas painted back in October, the two most at-risk coaches were Alabama’s Anthony Grant and Mississippi State’s Rick Ray, and both appear to be safe. Alabama has been somewhat disappointing given how well the Tide’s non-conference schedule went, but at 17-11 overall and 7-8 in the SEC it isn’t likely that Grant will lose his job. The same can be said for Ray, as Mississippi State has clearly improved during the season and will have a senior-laden team (Craig Sword, Fred Thomas, Gavin Ware) ready to roll next year. The hottest seat right now might actually belong to Kim Anderson, with Missouri trudging through a miserable season and current athletic director Mike Alden set to depart in August. But it’s ridiculous to think that the new administration would part ways with a native son after a clear rebuilding year.
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SEC Week That Was: Volume VIII

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 24th, 2015

For the next four weeks or so, we’ll run down a few weekly superlatives from league play, take a look at how conference teams look in the eyes of the NCAA Tournament selection committee, and anything else that merits discussion. Here is Volume VIII, including games from February 16-23.  

Team of the Week. At long last, we relent. When a program with the history that Kentucky has checks off its best start ever (27-0), the award practically gives itself. The Wildcats weathered a poor shooting night and game effort from Tennessee last week to still beat the Vols by 18 on the road, and then didn’t let up against Auburn over the weekend. Kentucky ran out to a 30-4 lead and battered the much smaller-Tigers throughout the game right where they were supposed to with a 44-24 rebounding advantage. There are so many things this Kentucky team does well, including the small things that can help stop an upset bid in its tracks. Kentucky belies its youth by taking great care of the ball, as there isn’t a player on the roster turning the ball over more than 1.9 times per game. The Wildcats also have been fairly strong at the free throw line this season, an area which had been a problem for some of Coach Cal’s elite teams. All four guards plus Karl-Anthony Towns are shooting better than 77.8 percent from the line. In a late-game situation where a foul is coming, a lineup of Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison, Tyler Ulis, Devin Booker and Towns provides cover from a lot of angles. Ole Miss and Arkansas also deserve mention here for picking up wins at the Hump against a confident Mississippi State team.

Stefan Moody has stepped right in and replaced Marshall Henderson at Ole Miss (orlandosentinel.com).

Stefan Moody has stepped right in and replaced Marshall Henderson at Ole Miss (orlandosentinel.com).

Player of the Week. We will mimic the conference’s choice this week and give it to Stefan Moody, who starred in the Rebels’ close wins over Mississippi State (29 points, six rebounds, four steals) and Tennessee (22 points, four rebounds, six steals). The high-octane JuCo transfer comparison to Marshall Henderson is cliched but unavoidable, and this week was no different as Moody put up 23 three-point attempts over both games. He connected on 14 of them, and should continue to have the green light with that kind of success rate. The lift Moody gets on his jumper is incredible, and allows him to be lethal even when the defense knows what is coming. For example, in the second half against Mississippi State, Moody hit threes on three straight possessions, rolling off the same off-ball screen action each time. Henderson and Moody are both exceptional long-range shooting talents, but it’s probably no coincidence that both exploded with the underrated Jarvis Summers running the show next to them. Honorable mention goes to Moody’s intrastate rival Craig Sword (34 points), who seems to be rounding into form as a diverse scoring threat after being sidelined with a back injury early in the year.

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Freeze Frame: Analyzing Kentucky’s Post Game

Posted by Brian Joyce on February 24th, 2015

Teams known for their defensive efficiency might not normally hang 110 points in conference play, but that’s exactly what Kentucky did when it met Bruce Pearl’s Auburn team on Saturday evening. Ken Pomeroy lists the Wildcats as the eighth most-efficient offense in the nation (118.4 points per 100 possessions), but that end of the floor has not consistently been the Wildcats’ calling card this season. John Calipari’s offense does, however, seem to be impvoing at just the right time. Kentucky’s 1.34 points per possession performance over the weekend was the third-best in SEC play for the Wildcats during the Calipari era (2010-15).

Most efficient games in SEC play during the John Calipari era.

Most efficient games in SEC play during the John Calipari era.

The Wildcats were good at just about every aspect of their game against Auburn, but Kentucky dominated the low post, with its 62 points in the paint tied for the most of any SEC team this season. In this edition of Freeze Frame, we will examine Kentucky’s post play to see how the bigs use screens on the low block to find and hold good post position.

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RTC Weekly Primer: Who Can Make a Run in March?

Posted by Henry Bushnell on February 24th, 2015

It happens every year. Every single year. Okay, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but more often than not, there comes a time in a college basketball season when the entire hoops world witnesses the birth of something. It can begin with a bang; but it can also begin innocuously. It can occur in plain sight; but it can also be the tree in the middle of a deserted forest. This birth, of course, is the preliminary stage of a postseason run. And the run, of course, is the one that in a few weeks time will be the talk of college basketball. Back in 2011, it was Shelvin Mack, Brad Stevens and Butler. In 2012, it was Lorenzo Brown and NC State. In 2013, it was very nearly Marshall Henderson and Ole Miss. A season ago, it was Jordan McRae and the upstart Tennessee Volunteers. NCAA Tournament runs usually don’t just appear out of thin air. Typically, there’s a backstory. In 2015, the time has come for those backstories to develop. Next month’s headlines will start formulating themselves right now.

Most Every Team is Looking For Its Butler Moment (USA Today Images)

Most Every Team is Looking For Its Butler Moment (USA Today Images)

Who will those headlines be written about this year? Who will be the team that sees everything come together at the right time? Who will be that team? It’s time to start considering some possibilities:

  • Georgetown – The Hoyas aren’t exactly in the same category as the Butlers and Ole Misses of years past, but they seem to be flying somewhat under the radar. Georgetown has the pieces to make a run. The Hoyas are a top-20 defensive team, boast an occasionally dominant post presence in senior center Josh Smith, and have a guard in D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera who can take over a game. After getting smoked by Villanova a couple weeks ago, they’ve now won three straight and have the week off to prepare for St. John’s in Madison Square Garden on Saturday. That’s the kind of win that could propel the Hoyas to a #4 or #5 seed and their first Sweet Sixteen (or better) run since 2007.
  • Indiana – Another team that is solidly in the NCAA Tournament, the Hoosiers certainly will never be considered a Cinderella story. But most projections have them as a #8 or #9 seed right now, meaning they aren’t being discussed as a legitimate contender either. This team has notable flaws in its personnel and it has a coach who many have questioned in recent years. But it’s also arguably got the most lethal backcourt in the country — just the type of thing that can carry a team on a surprising journey through March. The Hoosiers, which have struggled on the road but have been dynamite at home, travel to Northwestern on Wednesday night before a two-game home swing featuring Iowa and Michigan State. It’s really the perfect slate to build some March momentum.

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