SEC Team Capsules: Middle Tier (#9-#5)

Posted by Keith Hatfield on November 7th, 2016

Every league has teams that are more talented than those fighting to stay out of the cellar yet not quite poised to challenge for a spot at the top of the standings. Some of the squads situated in that position are rising programs looking to take another step forward. Some are programs rebooting to attempt to recapture past success. What they all have in common is the goal of getting into the conference’s upper echelon and contention for an NCAA Tournament bid. On Friday, we published capsules on the SEC’s bottom tier of teams (#14-#10). Today we tackle the middle tier.

AT A GLANCE

#9 Alabama Crimson Tide

Avery Johnson has a long way to go to get anywhere near Nick Saban, but he has Alabama basketball headed in the right direction (Credit: AL.com)

Avery Johnson has a long way to go to get anywhere near Nick Saban, but he has Alabama basketball headed in the right direction (Credit: AL.com)

  • 2015-16 overall record (SEC) 18-15 (8-10)
  • Key Returnee: Shannon Hale 10.8 PPG, 2.9 RPG
  • Key Newcomer: Braxton Key 6’8″ forward
  • Team Analysis: Avery Johnson’s initial season has to be viewed as a success. Energy was restored to the program and the team was surprisingly in contention for an NCAA Tournament bid down the home stretch. The loss of Retin Obasohan makes a repeat of last season’s performance, however, a tall task. The return of Shannon Hale and the presence of a healthy Dazon Ingram gives the Tide a nucleus upon which to build. Johnson will have to coax significant production from freshman Braxton Key and Memphis transfer Nick King to match or surpass last season’s record.
  • Burning Question: Can Avery Johnson maintain the early momentum he has created in Tuscaloosa? Avery Johnson has rekindled interest in basketball at Alabama — no small feat at a football-mad school. His first team performed better than expected and he has significantly elevated the program’s profile on the recruiting trail. The trick now is to maintain the interest that has been manufactured and continue to improve the roster’s talent level. Early indications from the classes of ’17 and ’18 indicate the recruiting piece will be covered. Making Coleman Coliseum a winter destination for the Tide faithful will be much easier if Johnson continues to haul in quality talent.

#8 Ole Miss Rebels

  • 2015-16 overall record (SEC) 20-12 (10-8)
  • Key Returnee: Sebastian Saiz 11.7 PPG., 8.7 RPG
  • Key Newcomer: Deandre Burnett 6’2″ guard
  • Team Analysis: Andy Kennedy‘s program has been a model of consistency for several years. The Rebels are perennial 20-plus game winners and find themselves entrenched in the top half of the conference. With the departure of all-SEC star Stefan Moody, though, meeting those standards might be difficult this season. Sebastian Saiz provides some inside punch and transfer Cullen Neal will bring some experience in the backcourt, but the development of Donte Fitzpatrick-Dorsey will be a key to this team’s success.
  • Burning Question: Can Andy Kennedy strike jump-shooting gold again? It seems as if Ole Miss is always able to find a gunslinger through the transfer market. Over the last four seasons, Rebel transfers such as Marshall Henderson and Stefan Moody lit up scoreboards across the SEC. Kennedy now turns to Deandre Burnett in the hopes of capturing similar magic. While 20 points per night might be a bit ambitious, 15 PPG from Burnett would go a long way toward pushing the Rebels’ win total near its customary number of 20 or more.

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ACC Burning Questions: Pittsburgh Panthers

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 27th, 2016

This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage.

Burning Question: Who will replace James Robinson as Pittsburgh’s point guard?

Before departing for his alma mater TCU, Jamie Dixon put together a solid 13-year run as Pittsburgh‘s head coach, taking the Panthers to 11 NCAA Tournament appearances along the way. The best years of Dixon’s tenure occurred in the Big East, with two Sweet Sixteens (2004, 2007) and an Elite Eight (2009) coming on his watch. Since joining the ACC in 2013, the program has experienced a slight but notable drop in both wins and recruiting. But that doesn’t mean that new head coach Kevin Stallings has a complete rebuilding job awaiting him in Pittsburgh. The squad he inherits has plenty of talent and experience returning at all but one position. Unfortunately, that one deficiency is at perhaps the most crucial spot on the floor — point guard. With no obvious choice to replace James Robinson — a four-year starter with an outstanding 3.4 assist/turnover ratio in his career — to whom is Stallings going to give the keys to the Panthers’ offense?

Kevin Stallings claps for the Pitt band as he arrives at his introductory news conference as the new head coach for the Pittsburgh basketball team on Monday, March 28, 2016, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

Kevin Stallings has a veteran team to clap for as the new coach for Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

A look at Pittsburgh’s roster reveals several players listed as guards, including three newcomers. The lone holdover to see much backcourt duty is 6’5″ sophomore Damon Wilson. Wilson arrived at school as a four-star wing, but Stallings’ hope is that he can further develop the point guard skills he showed in limited minutes last year backing up Robinson. Among the incoming guards, three-star freshman Justice Kithcart is the only one viewed as someone with the potential to run a high-major college offense. Crisshawn Clark and Jonathan Milligan each sat out last year after starting their careers in junior college, but both are more highly regarded as natural scorers than distributors. They join an already deep wing core that features veteran Chris Jones, a starter in nine games last year, and talented redshirt sophomore Cameron Johnson — a 37.5 percent three-point shooter. Of course, none of the options available sound like a solution to the problem at hand — replacing Robinson. Based on comments made in the preseason, it appears that Stallings will try a position switch to solve his point guard dilemma. Read the rest of this entry »

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Top Quotes and Moments from ACC Operation Basketball

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 27th, 2016

Coaches, players and members of the media all gathered in Charlotte on Wednesday for the 2016 edition of ACC Operation Basketball. It was a long day for all and a fun day for most. We camped out in Salon I in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel and witnessed press conferences for all 15 coaches – yes, after staying home last year Rick Pitino came too. We also heard from 30 players — two from each school — and observed commissioner John Swofford’s ‘State of the League’ address. What follows are a smattering of some of our favorite quotes and quips from the day.

PLAYERS

Virginia basketball player London Perrantes answers a question during the 2016 ACC Men’s Operation Basketball in Charlotte, N.C., Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016. (Photo by Nell Redmond, theACC.com)

Virginia basketball player London Perrantes answers a question during the 2016 ACC Men’s Operation Basketball in Charlotte, N.C., Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016. (Photo by Nell Redmond, theACC.com)

One of the interesting parts of the morning session was hearing various players’ responses when asked to describe their head coaches.

  • Steve Vasturia, Notre Dame – On Mike Brey: “He brings energy to practice every single day. He keeps the guys loose, which I think is really a benefit for us, and helps us play loose on the court.”
  • Sheldon Jeter, Pittsburgh – On his impressions from his reunion meeting with Kevin Stallings: “It was just kind of like the same stuff I did my first time meeting him at Vanderbilt. A very genuine guy. Very truthful.”
  • Matt Jones, Duke – On the annual adaptability of Mike Krzyzewski: “It’s been different each year. Coach K does a really good job of figuring out what guys respond to and how well they respond to it.”

Of course there were some light-hearted moments as well, and here are three player comments that brought laughter to the room.

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Five ACC Storylines to Watch this Offseason

Posted by Matt Patton on April 11th, 2016

With the long offseason ahead of us, let’s take a look at five key ACC storylines to keep an eye on over the summer.

  1. NCAA Sanctions: After investigations that surrounded both programs in different ways this season, there should finally be some closure for Louisville and North Carolina. Louisville is still trying to get in front of NCAA sanctions by self-imposing its own (in addition to this year’s postseason ban, the program also recently added recruiting penalties). This strategy has worked well for other schools, but predicting eventual NCAA punishments is an exercise in futility. North Carolina is the more interesting case — the Tar Heels may not receive any sanctions or they may get the book thrown at them. What remains unclear is whether there will be administrative fallout from either scandal. I would not be shocked if Rick Pitino ends up stepping down from his post — especially if the NCAA deems the Cardinals’ self-imposed penalties insufficient. But I would be shocked if Roy Williams did.

    Rick Pitino may be in for a stressful offseason. (photo: Getty Images)

    Rick Pitino may be in for a stressful offseason. (photo: Getty Images)

  2. Coaching Carousel: This is a slow year for the ACC in terms of coaching turnover. Pittsburgh lost Jamie Dixon to his alma mater, TCU, and Georgia Tech fired Brian Gregory. The Yellow Jackets were initially spurned by Duke associate head coach Jeff Capel and Bryce Drew (who went to Vanderbilt instead), and after reports that Cal’s Cuonzo Martin was their top candidate, athletic director Mike Bobinski hired Josh Pastner away from Memphis. Pastner is far from a sure thing in this spot, but he should be able to put more talented teams on the floor. Whether those teams will have more success than what Gregory mustered (two teams with winning records; no NCAA Tournament appearances) remains to be seen. In Pittsburgh, many fans were upset with the hiring of Kevin Stallings away from Vanderbilt (ironically, the response from Commodores’ fans mirrored Dayton fans after Georgia Tech hired Gregory). Stallings will have his work cut out for him in the Steel City, but he was a solid coach with several very good teams in Nashville. Like Jamie Dixon, he may have stuck around the same place a little too long, but there’s no reason to think he won’t do reasonably well there. Read the rest of this entry »
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Why Each SEC team Will Advance to the Second Weekend… and Why They Won’t

Posted by Brian Joyce on March 15th, 2016

After watching five teams head to the Big Dance a year ago (including one eventual Final Four participant), the SEC managed just three bids in a disappointing 2015-16 campaign. Honestly, the league was lucky to get to three. While some teams have to feel pretty good about where they landed (Texas A&M is a #3 seed?!), others should feel happy to be invited (welcome Vanderbilt!), and still others can rest comfortably knowing that the committee didn’t have the option to send them to Alaska to face the Golden State Warriors (Hey Kentucky, Des Moines, Iowa, is supposed to be nice this time of year). Now that the brackets are set, will the SEC continue to disappoint, or might we see one of these three teams still standing in the Sweet Sixteen? Here are some quick reasons why each team will advance to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, and some equally compelling reasons why they won’t:

Kentucky's offensive efficiency under coach John Calipari

Kentucky’s offensive efficiency under coach John Calipari.

Kentucky

Why the Wildcats will advance to the second weekend: Kentucky’s backcourt is playing very well on offense right now, moving the Wildcats into the top spot for offensive efficiency nationally over the weekend. Tyler Ulis has the ability to carry the team for stretches on his 5’9” frame, but with the added marksmanship of shooting guard Jamal Murray and a front line that provide spot duty, the Wildcats are scoring better than any other team in the John Calipari era. In the first two games of the SEC Tournament, Kentucky scored at the second and third most efficient clips per 100 possessions of his tenure. The last time the Cats met up with possible Second Round opponent Indiana in the 2012 NCAA Tournament, it was a high scoring affair — Kentucky should feel comfortable in entering into a shootout with any team in the nation.

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SEC Stock Watch: 02.05.16 Edition

Posted by David Changas on February 5th, 2016

As we reach the halfway point of conference play, we take a look at which teams, players, and coaches we should buy and sell. This is our latest stock watch.

Buy: Vanderbilt Making the NCAA Tournament. The Commodores’ resounding win over Texas A&M Thursday night was a huge step in the right direction, but Kevin Stallings‘ team is still on the outside of the bubble at this point. They finally looked like the team everyone expected at the beginning of the season, however, and we think they will use that performance as a springboard to securing a bid. They will be favored in their next five games, and should be able to build more confidence for a tough stretch run.

Sell: Kentucky Exiting the Big Dance Early. Sure, the Wildcats looked bad in blowing a 21-point lead to Tennessee on Tuesday, but they also took Kansas to overtime and arguably should have beaten the Jayhawks at Phog Allen. They will have to get more consistent production from the post, but with Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray growing comfortable together in the backcourt, we’re not betting against a relatively deep run for John Calipari‘s team.

Kevin Stallings

Kevin Stallings and Vanderbilt got a big win Thursday night. (AP)

Buy: Kevin Punter Earning First-Team All-SEC Honors. The senior guard plays for a team that almost certainly will finish the season in the bottom third of the league, which is ordinarily a tough position from which to earn first-team all-conference honors. But Punter has been fantastic on a team with little offensive balance. He currently is second in the league in scoring (23.1 PPG) and is shooting 38.5 percent from three-point range. He’s shown remarkable improvement from his junior campaign, when he averaged just over ten points per contest. If he keeps up this level of play, Punter has a strong chance to make the all-SEC first team. Read the rest of this entry »

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Freeze Frame: Searching for Vanderbilt’s Defense

Posted by Brian Joyce on December 10th, 2015

Longtime followers of SEC basketball have come to expect a solid offense from Vanderbilt in most years, but perhaps not a particularly stout defense. Still, Kevin Stallings’ team entered Wednesday night’s clash with Dayton boasting the 16th-best adjusted defensive efficiency in the country, but it certainly didn’t look that way during the game – Vanderbilt gave up 1.06 points per possession to the Flyers. The Commodores’ best defense was not on display last night, but Vandy will need to perform as efficiently as the numbers suggest to reach its goals for this season.

Kevin Stallings needs more consistency on defense to win big games (AP/Bill Kostroun)

Kevin Stallings needs more consistency on defense to win big games. (AP/Bill Kostroun)

This Vanderbilt team is definitely good, but just how good is the burning question. The Commodores had some chances against both Kansas and Baylor, but fell just short in their two contests with the Big 12 clubs. Against Dayton, despite a seemingly commanding 16-point lead in the first half, Vanderbilt gave up far too many points in the paint and made too many mental mistakes to come away with a key non-conference win. The only way to escape this all too familiar scene is by the defense living up to its billing. In this edition of Freeze Frame, we focus on the positive aspects of Vanderbilt’s defense to analyze what the Commodores should do to avoid another meltdown.

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Despite Loss, Vanderbilt Can Learn From Maui Experience

Posted by David Changas on November 27th, 2015

After thrashing St. John’s and Wake Forest in its first two games at this week’s Maui Invitational, Vanderbilt was not able to finish the deal against #5 Kansas in the championship game, falling 70-63. The #19 Commodores, a team that generally has no problem scoring but is somewhat prone to struggling on the defensive end, held the Jayhawks in check for the first half, leading 30-26 at the break. However, defensive shortcomings allowed Kansas to ride a 62.5 percent shooting second half en route to the school’s second championship in Maui. The Commodores helped things along with a woeful 6-of-27 (22.2%) performance from three-point range, and there was no way Kevin Stallings’ team was going to leave the islands with a trophy without a better offensive performance.

Damian Jones and Vanderbilt can take a lot of good from Maui (Bosley Jarrett/Vanderbilt Hustler).

Damian Jones and Vanderbilt can take a lot of good from Maui. (Bosley Jarrett/Vanderbilt Hustler)

Despite the disappointment of not becoming the first SEC team to win the Maui Invitational since 1993 (Kentucky), Vanderbilt’s loss to Kansas should provide Stallings some valuable lessons as the season progresses. First of all, it is highly unlikely that the Commodores will again be so futile on the offensive end. The Commodores came into the game shooting over 42 percent from beyond the arc, so it’s doubtful that one cold shooting performance signals a long-term problem. Where the Vanderbilt coach should be concerned, however, is on the defensive end. The Commodores allowed Kansas guard Wayne Selden, Jr., to completely go off on them, as the junior guard matched his career high with 25 points and almost single-handedly kept the Jayhawks in the game in the first half. Fellow guard Devonte’ Graham scored 12 points of his own as the two Jayhawks’ guards combined to go 7-of-11 from deep. Read the rest of this entry »

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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: 01.05.15 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 5th, 2015

SEC_morning5

  1. South Carolina’s win over Iowa State in Brooklyn on Saturday was significant for several reasons. First, it was easily the biggest victory of Frank Martin’s tenure in Columbia, and, second, it was a boost for the conference’s reputation as a whole. Remember the last time time the SEC put a league representative in front of the Cyclones? Needless to say that it didn’t end well. But as Garnet and Black Attack writes, it was also an important victory because the Gamecocks have so few chances left on the schedule for another marquee win. Two cracks at Kentucky could be the extent of it, but now South Carolina doesn’t necessarily need to win one of those two games to get some national attention. A good conference record (e.g., 11-7) even without a Kentucky win could be enough to garner some late season NCAA Tournament chatter — since the Gamecocks’ resume is now buoyed by the victory over Iowa State.
  2. With the Carolina win on our minds, is the SEC quietly improving? While only one team is currently ranked, the Lexington Herald-Leader’s Jerry Tipton writes that, “10 SEC teams are in the top 104, six in the top 53 and four (UK, Georgia, LSU and Arkansas) in the top 28 of the RPI.” RPI, especially at this time of year, isn’t necessarily the best barometer, but if nothing else this suggests that the depth of the league is better than it was last year. Take Georgia and Alabama, for example. Neither might be viable NCAA Tournament teams, but both have shown enough fight against other major conference opponents that they won’t be pushovers either. This quiet league-wide improvement is also taking place as Florida undergoes an understandable rebuilding period, which should be encouraging to conference fans as a whole.
  3. Vanderbilt’s double-overtime win over Yale on Saturday may not have been pretty, but it pushed the Commodores’ non-conference record to 10-3, representing great progress over recent seasons. Kevin Stallings’ team should be fun to watch grow throughout SEC play, and their future promise screams from the box score, as all five players who reached double figures against Yale are either sophomores (Damian Jones, Luke Kornet) or freshmen (Riley Lachance, Shelton Mitchell, Matthew Fisher-Davis). A January 10 visit to Fayetteville will be a good test to determine how Kevin Stallings’ young team handles one of the league’s toughest environments.
  4. LSU got a late Christmas present late last week when five-star guard Antonio Blakeney committed to the Tigers. It has already been written on all corners of the Internet, but LSU will be overflowing with talent next season if Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey stick around with Blakeney and super-prospect Ben Simmons arriving on campus. But even if Mickey and Martin both leave for the NBA, the Tigers would still be able to field a competitive, NCAA Tournament-caliber team given how Josh Gray, Keith Hornsby and Tim Quarterman have grown this season. Gray and Hornsby have been a complementary three-point shooting backcourt and Quarterman has been a unique, jack-of-all trades swingman. In this worst-case scenario for LSU, the team’s two new elite prospects would still be entering a team with a solid foundation.
  5. Missouri has had a frustrating season, and conference play could be much more difficult should Teki Gill-Caesar miss any time. The freshman, who has averaged 11.5 points per game this season, left the Tigers’ recent win over Lipscomb in the first half with a back injury and did not return. Kim Anderson said afterward that he wasn’t sure how serious his injury actually is. Gill-Caesar’s scoring has dipped recently as defenses focus their attention on him, but he’s a key piece to a team that showed some promise in close losses to Illinois and Oklahoma State. Missouri has an opportunity against a surging LSU team to open league play on Thursday night, but the Tigers from Columbia will be hard-pressed to win that game if Gill-Caesar is on the bench.
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