SEC M5: 12.15.14 Edition

Posted by David Changas on December 15th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. Tennessee center Dominic Woodson left the Volunteers’ program over the weekend after having been held out of the team’s prior two games because of academic issues. Given that he had experienced some problems during his (only) freshman season at Memphis, his departure could not have come as much of a surprise for head coach Donnie Tyndall. Woodson often talked about turning things around, but after being declared immediately eligible to play in the fall, things never materialized for him. He averaged 12 minutes, 3.5 points and 2.0 rebounds per game in his four contests, but after the Volunteers pulled off an upset of No. 15 Butler in Knoxville on Sunday, this may be a clear case of addition by subtraction.
  2. One of the most impressive things John Calipari has done with his team this year is to keep everyone happy. Anyone who watches Kentucky play sees that all of the players appear to be having fun despite the fact that none averages more than 24 minutes per game. It’s therefore no surprise that, after the Wildcats’ loss of Alex Poythress for the season from an ACL injury, the Big Blue Nation rallied around him to provide emotional support. Just prior to tipoff of Saturday’s game against North Carolina, chants of “Al-ex Poy-thress!” from the Rupp Arena crowd showed the fans’ support for the junior forward. The student-filled eRUPPtion Zone took it a step further, wearing “Roar for 22″ shirts, referencing Poythress’ number. While it’s been easy for fans to root for the Wildcats in Calipari’s six years at the school, family-oriented actions like these are the subtler part of the reason the nation’s best high schoolers flock to Lexington to play for Calipari.
  3. Auburn received word late last week that Trayvon Reed, who originally signed with Maryland but was not allowed to enroll there because of a July arrest relating to a misdemeanor second-degree assault of a police officer, is now eligible. The 7’2″ center played eight minutes – although he didn’t score or grab any rebounds – in Sunday’s 72-61 loss at Clemson. It is unlikely Reed will make much of an impact this year, and it remains to be seen where he fits into Bruce Pearl’s long-term plans, but for an undersized Auburn team, having the former four-star recruit on board can’t hurt. The loss to Clemson dropped Auburn to a 3-5 record on the season, and it looks like the rebuilding project Pearl inherited on the Plains will take some time.
  4. Alabama lost its second-leading scorerRicky Tarrant, after only eight minutes in Saturday’s 65-53 home win over Tennessee Tech. It does not appear that the junior point guard, who is in his first season at Alabama after transferring from Tulane, will miss much time, though, after leaving the game with cramps. Along with seniors Rodney Cooper and Levi Randolph, Tarrant (13.4 PPG) helps provide much of the Crimson Tide’s scoring punch. Alabama’s only losses have come to Iowa State in Kansas City and at Xavier, but it would like to have Tarrant back at 100 percent for what may be the toughest test of the non-conference schedule, a trip to Wichita State Tuesday.
  5. Thanks to 26 points from freshman guard Riley LaChance and 64 percent shooting from three-point range, Vanderbilt toppled Purdue, 81-71, on Saturday night in Nashville. The entertaining match-up was otherwise insignificant on the national scale, but anyone who follows either program closely might have thought it would have more meaning than the average non-conference game for Commodores’ head coach Kevin Stallings. According to the Purdue alumnus and Gene Keady protege, it was just another game, and the fact that it came against his alma mater meant very little. It is certainly not surprising that Stallings, who in his 16th season at Vanderbilt is the dean of SEC coaches, is not sentimental, but you might think it would have had a bit more meaning to him. “It’s not really [special]. It’s an important game because it’s our next one and we’re coming off a loss and it’s a game against a very good team,” he said before the game. Given the way his young team played, it’s hard to argue with how Stallings approached the contest.
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SEC Preview Post: Vanderbilt Commodores

Posted by David Changas on November 13th, 2014

The SEC microsite will preview each of the league teams over the next week, continuing today with Vanderbilt.

Vanderbilt Commodores

Strengths. In a league full of teams facing a lot of uncertainty, Vanderbilt is no exception. The return of sophomore forward Damian Jones, a preseason first-team all-SEC selection by the coaches, is something Kevin Stallings should be happy about. As a freshman, Jones averaged 11.3 points per game and led the team in rebounding, pulling down 5.7 caroms per contest. With a year of experience under his belt, Jones should blossom to fulfill the expectations that have been placed on him. While the backcourt is exceptionally young following last season’s dismissals of Kedren Johnson and Dai-Jon Parker, as well as the graduation of Kyle Fuller, Stallings is excited about freshman Shelton Mitchell, who looks to have the starting point guard spot locked down. Mitchell originally signed with Wake Forest but decided to re-open his recruitment when coach Jeff Bzdelik was fired. The Commodores are the beneficiaries, and the Oak Hill Academy product has impressed so far.

Kevin Stallings will need a big season from Damian Jones for Vanderbilt to be successful. (AP/Mark Zaleski)

Kevin Stallings will need a big season from Damian Jones for Vanderbilt to have success. (AP/Mark Zaleski)

Weaknesses. While Mitchell appears to be a real find and there is good young talent in the backcourt, there is also virtually no returning experience. Only walk-on Carter Josephs saw action last year, and Stallings would prefer that he does not have to do so again. Wade BaldwinMatthew Fisher-Davis and Riley LaChance were all Rivals 150 recruits, and all will have to contribute immediately. Up front, Vanderbilt returns senior center Josh Henderson, who was injured early last season with a torn ACL, as well as forwards James SiakamLuke Kornet and Shelby Moats, all of whom are limited and will struggle against the better frontcourts.

Toughest Non-Conference Test. The Commodores’ non-conference schedule is not terribly challenging this season. Stallings, knowing he would have a very young team certainly planned that. Vanderbilt does, however, face, Baylor in Nashville on December 4 as part of the Big 12/SEC Challenge. Road trips later in the month to Georgia Tech and St. Louis should also be good early tests for Stallings’ squad.

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One on One: An SEC Preview With Chris Dortch

Posted by Walker Carey on November 4th, 2014

RTC interviews one on one

Rush the Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you throughout the preseason with previews of each of the major conferences.

With the college basketball season nearly upon us, we thought it would be a good idea to gather some expert opinions on the nation’s major college basketball conferences. As part of our national preview with the SEC, RTC correspondent Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) recently had the pleasure of speaking with an SEC expert in Blue Ribbon College Yearbook editor Chris Dortch (@cdortch).

Rush the Court: How good is Kentucky and what makes it that good? The Wildcats begin the season as the overwhelming favorite to win the SEC title. Do you expect them to win both the conference title and the national title?

Chris Dortch: It would not surprise me at all if Kentucky wins both the SEC title and the national title. I think the team is so good that you can rank both its first five and its second five in the Top 25. The team has nine McDonald’s All-Americans and more talent than I can remember any team in the SEC possibly ever having. Having said that, the Wildcats do have a weakness or two. They have to prove that, other than Aaron Harrison, they have someone who can make outside shots. If they cannot do that, teams are going to try to pack it in the lane and negate their size and dribble-drive. I have said this a few times on some radio shows: If Kentucky shoots 35 percent or better from the three-point line for the season, I think the Wildcats will be undefeated going into the Final Four.

It's Gators and Wildcats at the Top of the SEC, Again

It’s Gators and Wildcats at the Top of the SEC, Again

RTC: Florida’s personnel losses are notable with Scottie Wilbekin, Patric Young, Casey Prather and Will Yeguete all moving on from Gainesville. However, Billy Donovan’s squad seems primed to have another impressive season. What is it about this year’s Gators that will make them a force to be reckoned with in the conference?

Dortch: I think Florida has some experienced personnel and some young guys who I believe are ready to step. Someone like Kasey Hill, who understudied Wilbekin last season, seems poised to take over the point guard position. I think Michael Frazier is one of the best shooters in the country and he is ready to take the next step in his development. Dorian Finney-Smith, who was eligible last season after transferring from Virginia Tech, is so versatile that he was used at the point a few times. He is going to be a guy who is going to be asked to do a lot more than he was last year. There are also a couple transfers who will help. Jon Horford comes over as a fifth-year eligible from Michigan and Alex Murphy comes over from Duke. I think those two will help fortify the team’s front line.

RTC: Arkansas is still waiting on its breakthrough campaign in the Mike Anderson era. With a talented team featuring star big man Bobby Portis, will this finally be the season that the Razorbacks find a way back to the NCAA Tournament?

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Assessing the SEC Coaching Hot Seat

Posted by David Changas on October 29th, 2014

As the college basketball season approaches, it’s time to assess how much pressure, or lack thereof, is on each of the SEC’s 14 coaches.

The Seat is ICE COLD

  • Billy Donovan (Florida) and John Calipari (Kentucky). It is hard to imagine two seats being any cooler than these two. The only way either leaves his current post is voluntarily for a high-profile and higher-paying job in the NBA. While that may still be a threat for both, Calipari would appear to be the more likely option to eventually take that route. Donovan, who remarkably is now entering his 19th season at Florida, does not appear to be headed anywhere, although he has flirted with — and once even took the Orlando Magic gig — several times in his tenure. For now, though, the two kings of the SEC are firmly entrenched at their respective schools and appear to be primed to dominate the league for the foreseeable future.
  • Bruce Pearl (Auburn). The Auburn administration did what many thought was unthinkable in March: It made Auburn basketball relevant again. The school’s hiring of Pearl was not just a home run; it was a grand slam, as the former Tennessee coach will have the Tigers playing at a high level within two to three years. He has already started recruiting well  – his 2015 class is currently No. 10 in Rivals.com‘s most recent ratings — and once his system is in place with the right parts, the rest of the SEC will be on notice.
Auburn is happy to have Bruce Pearl back in the SEC. (athlonsports.com)

Auburn is happy to have Bruce Pearl back in the SEC. (athlonsports.com)

  • Donnie Tyndall (Tennessee). Tyndall takes over a program that went to the Sweet Sixteen last season and was one controversial call away from having a chance to play for a Final Four berth. However, it is no secret that former head coach Cuonzo Martin was not beloved in Knoxville, and Tyndall’s engaging personality seems to be a better fit for the school. The Vols will certainly struggle this year and maybe a couple more after that, but Tyndall will get a pass in the short term to bring in players who fit his more frenetic system.

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SEC M5: 02.28.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 28th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. Chris Mannix’s NBA Big Board 4.0 has three SEC players on it, all of them Wildcats. None of the three, however, has the last name of Harrison. Mannix has Julius Randle at #4, James Young at #14 and Willie Cauley-Stein at #15. He writes that Cauley-Stein has the tools to be a solid defensive presence but his “lack of consistency is alarming.” This makes me wonder whether it would make sense for him to hold back on the NBA yet again? Cauley-Stein will always have a place in the league, at least for a few years; his seven-foot frame and athleticism virtually guarantee that. While going in the middle of the first round is attractive, if he were to stay another year and show a bit more consistency and development, he could potentially crack the lottery in a weaker draft class. That could be a decision worth several million dollars, but there’s also risk associated with it. In a somewhat smaller role, his rebounding and shooting percentages are down, and a similar setback next season could start to raise serious questions about his commitment. The point is that Cauley-Stein should at least consider hanging around Lexington another year. Again.
  2. LSU has gone over a week without a bad loss, and that’s an accomplishment in the SEC’s middle class. Their RPI is still too high (#66) to seriously be in the NCAA Tournament discussion, and as Brian pointed out yesterday on Twitter, Tennessee is the best bet for a third SEC bid. Still, LSU has a potential ace in its pocket. If the Tigers can somehow, someway, win at Florida this weekend, they’ll vault themselves right into the picture. It’s not likely, but LSU did play a great game at Rupp Arena last weekend and Florida hasn’t blown many teams away recently. Jarell Martin continuing the improvement he showed against Texas A&M could go a long way in LSU pulling off the upset. The freshman scored 20 points in part by tweaking his shooting form by going straight up more often and not falling back. “We had to double on Johnny O’Bryant so much that Jarell was just spotting up and shooting threes,” Billy Kennedy said. “He’s a McDonald’s All-American and played like it.” That’s the encouraging thing about LSU making a late run: The Tigers don’t lack for talent.
  3. Ole Miss will be without Derrick Millinghaus for the foreseeable future, as the sophomore guard has been suspended indefinitely. This caps off a disappointing season for Millinghaus. Despite getting six more minutes per game this season his usage rate has been virtually identical to what it was as a freshman. His PER (9.0) and true shooting percentage (37.7%) have both sharply declined, and his results have been especially poor lately. In the last three games he’s played 39 minutes, and scored five points on seven shots. Millinghaus has the ability to put up points, but is the type of player that needs a high volume of shots to do so. That simply isn’t a good fit alongside Marshall Henderson. But Henderson will be gone next season, and Millinghaus (if whatever spawned this suspension doesn’t linger) could be a candidate to replace some of those shots and points. In short, this suspension doesn’t hurt the Rebels much the rest of the way, but Millinghaus can still be a big part of their future.
  4. Matt Norlander has an interesting look at Billy Donovan’s career that is steeped in historical nuggets. Donovan will almost certainly get to 500 wins before he turns 50 and he has a legitimate chance to become only the sixth coach with three or more national titles. He definitely already gets recognized as a great coach, but Donovan seems to always slip through the cracks when the “elite coaches” discussion gets going. That’s obviously not a scientific statement, just based off a feeling. If Florida were to win the title this year, what would there be left for Donovan to prove? Putting together two completely different championship teams just about does it. To connect this team to the Al Horford/Joakim Noah teams, you need to go back to when these seniors were freshmen playing with Chandler Parsons and Nick Calathes, who played with Walter Hodge and Mareese Speights when they were freshmen. That’s a lot of good recruiting and coaching. Would winning this year be enough for Donovan to finally make a (permanent) jump to the NBA? On a non-Donovan note, Norlander also mentioned Adolph Rupp’s “Cy Young-like unbreakable record” of being the fastest coach to reach 500 wins, in only 583 games. No matter in what era the achievement was reached, that is insanity.
  5. If you want to be called an idiot, just walk up to Kevin Stallings and suggest that Cuonzo Martin should be fired. The Vanderbilt coach went on the offensive to protect his in-state counterpart. “Hopefully, the powers that be over at Tennessee will tune those idiots out and give [Martin] the kind of time he deserves to do the job he needs to do,” Stallings said. This is an admirable coaching fraternity defense, but also goes deeper as Stallings and Martin both come from the Gene Keady-Purdue tree. On Wednesday we wrote about the growing calls for Bruce Pearl around the Tennessee program. And this makes sense, especially if Martin misses the NCAA tournament this year. It’s a difficult situation to really get a handle on because it is unique. Martin may be a good coach: he comes from a good coaching tree and did build a winning program at Missouri State, and you can’t always establish yourself in three years. But the pressure is ratcheted up on Martin with the fan favorite and uber successful Pearl still living in Knoxville and being visible on ESPN.
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Despite Attrition, Vanderbilt Finding Surprising Success in SEC

Posted by David Changas on February 6th, 2014

Expectations for Vanderbilt were relatively low coming into the season, as the Commodores were predicted by most to finish in the bottom half of the SEC. A team beleaguered by defections and suspensions in the offseason started the year with an inexperienced nine-man rotation, but the loss of Josh Henderson to a torn ACL and leading scorer Eric McClellan to dismissal appeared to spell doom for the Commodores as they embarked upon conference play. Using a seven-man group that has forced starting guards Kyle Fuller and Dai-Jon Parker along with forward Rod Odom to essentially play with no rest, Vanderbilt’s start in the SEC went largely as expected with home losses to Kentucky and Ole Miss contributing to a 1-4 record. But after the Ole Miss loss, the Commodores went to Texas A&M and Georgia and grabbed wins, following that up with a home win over Mississippi State last weekend. On Wednesday night, they extended their winning streak to four after edging Tennessee, 64-60, to surprisingly move a game to 5-4 at the halfway mark of SEC play. With Arkansas coming to Nashville on Saturday, the Commodores have a realistic shot of adding to their current hot streak.

Vandy Continues to Surprise (S. Myers/Tennessean)

Vandy Continues to Surprise (S. Myers/Tennessean)

While Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings has endured his share of criticism for underachieving with several upper echelon SEC squads, the job he has done with this year’s team has drawn rave reviews. Included among the seven players who are part of the rotation are slender freshman Luke Kornet, who would have been a natural candidate to redshirt under different circumstances, and forward Shelby Moats, who logs just over 10 minutes per game. Fortunately for Stallings, he is especially able to rely upon the underrated Odom, who has stepped his game up to an all-SEC level.

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SEC M5: 01.27.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 27th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. Florida has been a saving grace for the SEC this season, and its defense could lead the Gators all the way to the final weekend of the NCAA TournamentSI.com‘s Michael Beller outlined the reasons Florida has frustrated teams this year so much on offense. “What is it that the Gators do so well defensively? First, they generally force their opponents into tough two-point shots. Teams have shot 41.4 percent on two-pointers against Florida this season, which ranks ninth-best in the country. Second, they take the ball away with aplomb, forcing turnovers on 21.9 percent of their opponents’ possessions. In other words, they don’t allow many easy buckets, and create transition opportunities for themselves by turning over their opponents on a regular basis.” Florida flustered Tennessee’s Jordan McRae into one of the worst shooting days of his career on Saturday, holding him to 1-of-15 shooting from the field. Not only do they have the ability to shut down perimeter players, but their frontcourt is incredibly versatile. Patric Young has the size to match up with other low post bruisers, while Will Yeguete and Dorian-Finney Smith are quick enough to stay with stretch fours and still contribute on the glass.
  2. We’re far enough into the season where a weakness narrative has emerged for each of the nation’s elite freshmen, and one of the knocks on Kentucky’s Julius Randle is his relatively short wingspanSBNation’s Jonathan Tjarks described Randle as being “built like a Tyrannosauras Rex: all torso and no arms.” CBSSports.com‘s Matt Moore wrote a great defense of Randle’s offensive game, with a ton of GIFs that show his creativity in finding ways to score. Moore likes the freshman forward’s touch around rim, muscular frame, and driving potential, thinking that there’s a chance he could be “a natural at finding ways to score,” much like Zach Randolph. At this point most NBA general managers probably view Randle as a clear cut below Jabari Parker, Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins given his athletic “limitations,” and the effect they have on his long-term potential. But unlike Wiggins, and to a lesser extent, Embiid, the player he will ultimately become isn’t a mystery. Your favorite NBA team probably isn’t winning a championship with Randle as its best player. However, he’s got a refined offensive skill set and enough potential that he could become a key cog in a perpetual playoff team.
  3. Is Marshall Henderson‘s game evolving? The easy answer is no, as the senior launched 12 three-pointers in the Rebels’ win over Mississippi State over the weekend. But while only two of those threes went down, Henderson still scored 19 points by attacking the basket seemingly more than any other game this season. Sinking treys or not, he helped Ole Miss avoid a potential trap game with one of its toughest games of the SEC season looming Wednesday night in Knoxville. That was the fourth straight win for Andy Kennedy’s team, and they went into halftime with an 11-point lead. The Rebels seem dialed in, but the schedule begins to pick up with that trip to Tennessee followed by games against Kentucky and Missouri in the following week.
  4. Alabama flipped its 2013-14 script on Saturday and actually came out on the winning end of a close game. The Tide gave up a 19-point lead against LSU, and it looked like it’d be another close loss for Anthony Grant but a late Shannon Hale three saved the day for Alabama, much to his relief. “It was a tough, physical battle,” Grant said. “For our guys to step up in the end, the last four minutes, I thought we showed grit and heart and courage and all the things we’ve been looking for all year.” The Tide are still playing hard, which is a good sign for a team with more talent than its 9-10 record would suggest. Hale might also be a bright spot for Grant, as the big man has shown the ability to shoot from distance (36% 3FG), which should fit well alongside Retin Obasohan over the next few years. Hale also showed some play-making abilities against LSU: He had six assists after recording just 16 total in his previous 18 games.
  5. Kevin Stallings‘ team is hovering just above .500 and is only a few games removed from a 23-point loss to LSU. Nonetheless, the Vanderbilt coach needs to be lauded for how his team has overcome its roster pitfalls. The Commodores went on the road and beat Texas A&M Saturday, getting a big performance from James Siakam. At Anchor of Gold, RTC’s very own Christian D’Andrea wrote, “The shorthanded ‘Dores lost Damian Jones to fouls in 24 minutes and battled through below-average showings from Rod Odom and Dai-Jon Parker on Saturday. Fortunately, Siakam was able to put together a huge showing in the paint and at the free throw line to lead his team to victory.” The roster crunch could turn out to be a big boost for Vanderbilt next season and beyond. Stallings won’t reap the benefits of the increased minutes for seniors Odom and Kyle Fuller, but the rest of the team has the opportunity for games like Siakam’s in College Station — opportunities that may not have been there under normal circumstances. In terms of this season, Vanderbilt has only been non-competitive in one SEC game (LSU), and owns a quality win over Missouri as well as the road win in College Station. That’s not bad considering Stallings has to play multiple players 40 minutes a game.
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SEC M5: 01.10.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on January 10th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. No Marshall Henderson for Ole MissNo problem, but just barely. The Rebels held off Auburn, but it was a close game throughout and Ole Miss weathered a stretch in which they only scored two points in seven minutes. Overall, Andy Kennedy must be encouraged the Rebels won a game in which Henderson was out and Jarvis Summers was merely pedestrian offensively (14 points on 6 of 17 from the field). Aaron Jones has emerged as one of the better shot blockers in the SEC, and had five blocks against the Tigers, including a key swat with under a minute left. Chris Denson shouldered the offense for Auburn with KT Harrell in foul trouble, and must have made Henderson jealous by putting up 25 shots.
  2. Vanderbilt will be without its leading scorer the rest of the season after sophomore guard Eric McClellan was dismissed for the spring semester. McClellan has a February court date for a misdemeanor charge of theft under $500. In a statement, the sophomore said his goal is to eventually return to the Vanderbilt program. There may be few other options for McClellan, who already transferred once and now carries extra baggage with him. Obviously any criminal charge is a bad one, but luckily for McClellan this doesn’t appear to be a deal breaker when it comes to playing again. Kevin Stallings clearly has a difficult coaching job ahead of him with only seven scholarship players. One positive is that the Commodores did play hard in their first game without McClellan on Tuesday night in Tuscaloosa.
  3.  CBSSports.com’s list of the “30 games to watch in conference play” includes three from our beloved SEC, the highest ranked of which is the March 8 bout between Kentucky and Florida. This game could certainly be the deciding game in the regular season conference race. It will also have a more-defined story line after the initial February 15th game between the two teams (also on the list). In a big league with an unbalanced schedule it’s a treat these teams play twice this season. The final SEC game is the January 25th match up between Florida and Tennessee. This comes at the end of a difficult streak for the Vols, who play at Kentucky and against Arkansas immediately before traveling to Gainesville. Tennessee by default currently occupies the darkhorse position for the regular season crown after their road win against LSU and Missouri’s embarrassing home loss to Georgia.
  4. This week’s statistical nugget from SI.com‘s Luke Winn deals with Florida, who he has at #10 in his latest power rankings. Winn writes about Florida’s dominant defensive first half Wednesday against South Carolina. “The Gamecocks had one point and seven turnovers in their first 10 possessions, and they didn’t get their turnover percentage under 50 until the 25th possession.” Billy Donovan has this Gators’ team playing solid defense, like he often does. Florida has the 57th best effective field goal defense in the country. Dominant defensive first halves have also been the norm: they’re allowing 25.1 points in the first halves of games, the fifth best mark in the nation. Finally, every regular in the Donovan’s rotation has a defensive rating of 93 or less.
  5. Speaking of Florida regulars, Damontre Harris may yet be one of them in future. As impossible as it may have seemed a few weeks ago, the South Carolina transfer who Donovan essentially said would never play at Florida, may work his way onto next year’s team. “We traded some texts over the Christmas break and he realized that he had made a big mistake,” Donovan said. “He wants to work his way back on the team. It’s going to be similar to Scottie Wilbekin’s situation in that he has to meet some terms and conditions. Can he make it? I don’t know, but if he does it will be a great comeback story.” Harris could be an important addition to next year’s Gator team, if he does what Donovan needs him to. Florida will lose Patric Young and Will Yeguete to graduation and there will be a playing time available in the front court. Harris posted a 10.7% block rate during his sophomore year at South Carolina and a shot-blocking presence like that would be warmly welcomed in any lineup.
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Three Thoughts from Vanderbilt’s Win over Georgia Tech

Posted by David Changas on December 21st, 2013

David Changas is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Saturday’s Vanderbilt-Georgia Tech game in Nashville.

Vanderbilt moved to 7-3 on Saturday with a 76-63 home win over struggling Georgia Tech. The loss dropped the Yellow Jackets to 8-4. Here are three thoughts from courtside.

Kevin Stallings Got a Solid Win over an ACC Team Today (AP/Wade Payne)

Kevin Stallings Got a Solid Win over an ACC Team Today (AP/Wade Payne)

  1. A game of runs.  Georgia Tech was clearly in control, leading 31-17 with 6:02 left in the first half. The Yellow Jackets had taken the less-than-capacity crowd out of the game and looked to be poised to run away with it. From that point, however, Vanderbilt scored 39 of the next 49 points over a span of 16:37, and it was the Commodores who won this one going away.”I thought the key to the game was the last seven minutes of the first half,” Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. “When you get down [big] and you’re coming off two games in a row where you hadn’t played well, things can go a lot of different ways.” Given Georgia Tech’s balance and experience, and Vanderbilt’s lack thereof, it was a surprising turnaround. After November losses to Dayton, Ole Miss, and St. John’s, the Yellow Jackets had built some momentum with three straight wins, but could not build on it in their first of four straight road contests. Fifth-year senior center Daniel Miller scored 11 points in the game’s first 10 minutes and appeared to ready for a big night, but finished with only 16 points and essentially was a non-factor the rest of the way. Georgia Tech’s failure to take advantage of Vanderbilt’s relatively thin interior – the Commodores recently lost starting center Josh Henderson for the season – was surprising, especially given its early success. Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory was disappointed in Miller’s supporting cast of Robert Carter and Kammeon Holsey. “Daniel was tremendous. We need to get some other guys to step up.” Read the rest of this entry »
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SEC M5: 12.03.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on December 3rd, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. Florida lost a thriller to Connecticut in Storrs on Monday night, but the Gators may have lost a lot more when Scottie Wilbekin turned his ankle with about four minutes remaining. Wilbekin did not return to the game, but the Gators continued to battle down the stretch. Patric Young became the focal point of the offense; Michael Frazier executed a go-ahead layup with under 20 seconds; and Casey Prather played excellent defense on Shabazz Napier. All in all, the Gators did enough in the final moments to win the game, but a tip out off a bad shot led to Napier sinking the Gators with under a second left. This is the second excruciating, short-handed loss on the road for Florida in a game where they played well enough to beat a good team. Still, the season goes on and their chances at a deep run in March remain unaffected. More concerning for Billy Donovan is the health of Wilbekin. With Kasey Hill already dealing with an injured ankle of his own, Donovan may need to pull a rabbit out of his hat at the point guard position. Expect a lot of forward Dorian Finney-Smith, who has shown he can be trusted with the ball.
  2. Vanderbilt hung around against Texas last night despite not shooting well at all, but the Commodores weren’t able to capitalize on a rash of missed Texas free throws in the second half. Unfortunately a stumble by Rod Odom came at the worst time, and Vanderbilt wasn’t able to get up a potential game-tying three with under 30 seconds left. The Commodores now have three losses on the season, but they have competed in each of them. They took Butler to overtime and were tied with Providence in the final moments, so Kevin Stallings has to be encouraged by this. Darrin Horn pointed it on the ESPN broadcast: Eric McClellan needs to abandon the three and drive to the basket more often. His combination of speed and size (6’4”) make him an ideal slasher, and the three just hasn’t been his friend this season (16%). Despite going 5-of-14 in this game, he was still able to score 22 points because of 11 made free throws — he can tighten this up and be more efficient if he takes fewer threes and focuses on getting to the rim.
  3. SI.com‘s Seth Davis liked what he saw out of Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon during the Battle 4 Atlantis, particularly the way the offense ran through Maymon at times. But he did not like Tennessee’s three-point showing. “‘The Vols were 3-for-21 from three-point range in the loss to UTEP, 2-of-14 against Xavier and 4-of-11 vs. Wake Forest. Martin promised me that ‘we’re a better three-point shooting team than we showed,’ but until we see evidence, the Vols can expect to see a lot of sagging defenses.” Therein lies the problem. If Jordan McRae and Robert Hubbs struggle from three, the Volunteers will be unable to take advantage of the inevitable double teams their big men will face. Maymon has shown he’s a capable passer, but it’s moot if the open shots don’t fall.
  4. The arrow is pointing down for Texas A&M after a rough Feast Week. The Aggies left the comfort of College Station for the first time this season, and immediately dropped games to Missouri State and SMU. While both were close contests, it’s not good to lose multiple games to non-established mid-majors. Billy Kennedy needs at least enough wins to make the NIT to save his job. He had built some momentum with a 6-0 start, but now upcoming non-conference games against Houston, Oklahoma and North Texas look like potential losses. The Aggies could use more out of senior guard Fabyon Harris. He’s shooting well this season (62%) but has only gotten to double figures twice. He should be able to shoulder more of a scoring load for this team.
  5. Casey Prather and Craig Sword were named co-SEC Players of the Week. Prather had 27 against Jacksonville and 19 against Florida State, as the senior has continued his evolution into a go-to scorer. People who predicted he’d score at this rate are the same ones that had Auburn and Missouri battling for the SEC championship before the football season began. Sword, on the other hand, scored 24 against Loyola (Chicago) and 12 against Jackson State. More importantly, he scored the winning points in both games, allowing the Bulldogs to avoid disaster twice. Sword committed only four turnovers in the two games combined, including just one in 35 minutes against Loyola. He’s struggled mightily in this area during his career, so maybe this is a sign he’s becoming better with the ball.
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A Better Outlook for Vanderbilt?

Posted by David Changas on November 22nd, 2013

It was a summer to forget for Kevin Stallings. After finishing a relatively disappointing 2012-13 campaign with a run to the SEC Tournament semifinals, there was reason for some optimism heading into the offseason. Then Kevin Bright left to play professionally in Germany. And Sheldon Jeter transferred. And, in the biggest blow to this season’s prospects, star point guard and team leader Kedren Johnson was suspended from school. Without those three key contributors, many wrote off the Commodores’ chances for anything but a disastrous season. Picked to finish 10th by the SEC media, the prediction was only that high because the four teams predicted to finish behind them – Georgia, South Carolina, Mississippi State, and Auburn – are in more dire straits. While the losses of Bright and Jeter hurt — both were expected to be major contributors — Johnson’s departure appeared disastrous. The rising junior would have been an all-SEC selection and was the team’s on-court leader and go-to scorer. With his departures, the Commodores returned only 35 PPG from last season and appeared to be a roster full of complementary players.

Kevin Stallings  (AP/Wade Payne)

Kevin Stallings May Have Some Tricks Up His Sleeve This Year (AP/Wade Payne)

Despite all that happened over the summer and a general expectation of a finish near the bottom of the SEC, Stallings remained optimistic about his team’s prospects during the preseason. And while it’s far too early to say that this team will exceed its low expectations, there are signs Stallings wasn’t just engaging in coach-speak when he talked up his squad. Heading into Friday’s game with Providence at the Paradise Jam, the Commodores sit at 2-1 with home victories over Georgia State and Lipscomb, and an overtime loss at Butler on Tuesday – a game in which they fought back from a 14-point second half deficit to force the extra frame. While the team’s defense appears to have fallen off somewhat (ranking 122nd, down from 51st nationally), the offense, according to Ken Pomeroy, is much improved (177th to 65th). The team heads to the Virgin Islands with a chance to build some necessary confidence against quality competition.

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SEC M5: 10.24.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on October 24th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. The hype is so great around Kentucky that it seems newsworthy when someone doesn’t pick the Wildcats to win the SEC. Five voters in the preseason SEC media poll picked Florida to win the league, and one of them was former Wildcats assistant coach Joe Dean Jr. Dean likes Florida’s veteran edge, and anticipates two great games between the teams this season. Kentucky cruised to the SEC regular season crown in 2011-12 with a six-game lead, and Florida won last season with a two-game margin that was never really in doubt. Having both programs at the level they are expected to be at this season should make for a tighter race. This isn’t to say Tennessee, LSU or another school won’t be in contention too. Dean also had an interesting take on the potential risk of John Calipari adding Kentucky high school stars Dominique Hawkins and Derek Willis to the class: “When I was there, there was a train of thought with Kentucky high school players that if you were going to bring them to Kentucky, they had to be capable of starting at Kentucky at some point in their career. If they were not, then the fan base in Maysville, Paducah, Danville, Pikeville would be upset because they think those kids are the greatest thing in the world.”
  2. Several national college basketball voices have highlighted the drastic difference in penalties handed out to Frank Haith and Bruce Pearl for what appears to be similar misconduct (lying to NCAA investigators). No one will likely ever know what happened in those respective meetings with the NCAA, and it’s possible Haith’s behavior wasn’t as comparatively bad as Pearl’s. Still, there’s no denying that Haith’s five-game suspension looks golden compared to Pearl’s multi-year show-cause penalty and subsequent absence from the sport. But Haith might not be totally free and clear of this scandal once he returns to the Tigers’ bench. His record at Missouri is excellent but he has yet to win an NCAA tournament game, and the lingering stigma of a #15 seed (Norfolk State) over a #2 seed is hard to escape. Haith is by no means on the hot seat, but if his teams continue to disappoint in postseason play, the Miami scandal could resurface as ammunition for boosters and fans that want him gone.
  3. Jarnell Stokes is taking to heart the feedback he received from the NBA Undergraduate Advisory Committee after last season. “It wasn’t anything like you’re too short to play in the NBA or you just don’t have skills,” Stokes said. “They were basically saying you have to be able to run the floor better and find different ways to score, be able to show you can shoot the ball and improve my overall skills.” DraftExpress has Stokes as a late first round pick in its current 2014 mock draft. Like all coaches who have pro prospects on their teams, Cuonzo Martin faces the difficult situation of allowing his players to showcase the skills and development NBA scouts want to see while keeping with the overall team scheme. This is a fine line coaches must deal with since the statement “I can help get you to the next level” is undoubtedly a common refrain on recruiting visits.
  4. Julian Terrell will return to Vanderbilt to serve as the director of video operations on Kevin Stallings’ staff. Terrell played at Vanderbilt from 2002-06 and was a member of the Commodores’ 2004 Sweet Sixteen team. Since then he’s made numerous stops playing abroad. Kentucky video coordinator Tim Asher said that five SEC schools still don’t have positions dedicated to video operations, instead relegating these duties to graduate assistants. Given its importance to scouting, it seems almost irresponsible to not have a full-time staff member doing this type of work nowadays. One would think teams would want every possible advantage, and video wouldn’t seem to be the philosophical jump advanced metrics is for some coaches. However, this could also represent a budget issue for some schools.
  5. Kentucky and UTEP are set to play at Maryland in 2016 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1966 NCAA championship game between the two schools (UTEP was Texas Western at the time). The 1966 game, also the focus of the 2006 movie Glory Road, was historically significant because Texas Western started five African-American players versus the Wildcats, representing the first all-black team to play in a championship game. If it all works out, the game may even take place on Martin Luther King Day three seasons from now. Kudos to both schools for putting this game together; it’s a well-deserved homage to a college basketball game that transcended the sport. Pat Riley (a Kentucky forward in 1966) is the most famous person to have played in that game, so it’ll be interesting to see if he gets involved.
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