With Kentucky Loss, SEC Fan Apathy For Basketball Exposed Again

Posted by David Changas on March 16th, 2013

David Changas is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report while covering the SEC Tournament in Nashville this weekend.

You’ve heard the saying, “If you build it, they will come.” When it comes to Kentucky fans and the SEC Tournament, it goes more like this: “Wherever you hold it, they will come.” Everyone knows that the Wildcats have struggled all season with almost an entirely new team, and chances are, they will miss out on the NCAA Tournament. But if you happened to be in downtown Nashville Friday evening, you would think John Calipari’s team was a prime contender for the national championship. For Friday’s blowout loss to Vanderbilt, whose campus is two miles from Bridgestone Arena, the SEC Tournament drew its largest crowd of the weekend, and of the 18,000+ in attendance, at least 15,000 were part of the “Blue Mist,” the affectionate name given to Wildcat fans who take over whatever city the annual extravaganza is being held in. The Commodores would have felt more at home if the game had been in Rupp Arena, not that it was evident from their play.

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Kentucky’s surprising ouster from this tournament was not only bad for the Nashville Chamber of Commerce, which was looking forward to a St. Patrick’s Day weekend with thousands of Wildcat fans in town, but it once again brought to light an embarrassing issue for the SEC.  Bridgestone Arena had plenty of empty seats for Saturday’s semifinals, and Sunday’s championship likely will be no different.  Mike Slive has made more money for this league since he took over as commissioner in 2002 than you can count. He’s overseen expansion into Texas and Missouri, massive television contracts, and rumor has it that he’s on the verge of announcing the formation of the SEC Network, expected to launch in August 2014.  But make no mistake: That money has been made because of football. It is the cash cow of college sports in every league, but there’s no question that the pigskin is more important to the SEC than any other. And there’s no clearer of example of that than the conference’s dominance of the BCS, which it was won seven consecutive times.

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Rushed Reactions: Vanderbilt 64, Kentucky 48

Posted by David Changas on March 15th, 2013

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David Changas is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after the Vanderbilt-Kentucky game at the SEC Tournament in Nashville this evening.

Three Key Takeaways:

Vandy Took It to the Wildcats Friday Night

Vandy Took It to the Wildcats Friday Night

  1. Bubble Trouble.  With all of the losses fellow bubble-dwellers have suffered, the path to the NCAA Tournament was clear for Kentucky. Most assumed the Wildcats would clinch a bid with a win over Vanderbilt, which came into the contest with an overall record of 15-16. Instead, they add another loss to a sub-top-100 team (the Commodores currently sit at No. 118 in the RPI). So instead of advancing to play either Missouri or Ole Miss, the Wildcats severely damaged their position with the Selection Committee. They must now wait and see what the committee will do, and whether their resume is enough to earn a bid to the Big Dance. Since Nerlens Noel went out with a season-ending injury, Kentucky is now 4-4, and a blowout loss to a heretofore mediocre Vanderbilt squad coupled with ugly losses at Tennessee, Arkansas, and Georgia, may make it easy for the committee to conclude that the Wildcats don’t deserve a selection. Kentucky looked like anything but an NCAA Tournament team Friday night, trailing Vanderbilt from the outset and falling behind by 20 early in the second half.  The Wildcats looked listless on the offensive end and allowed Vanderbilt to control the game. The Commodores looked like the only NCAA Tournament-worthy squad in this contest.
  2. A Harrow-ing Tale. To figure out what has plagued Kentucky throughout this up-and-down, frustrating campaign, one need look no further than the play it has gotten from the point guard position. In the past John Calipari’s teams have had superb point guard play, from Derrick Rose to John Wall to Brandon Knight to Marquis Teague, but this team hasn’t gotten that. That glaring weakness was especially evident Friday, as Ryan Harrow was nothing short of atrocious. He went 2-of-15 from the field and turned the ball over four times, killing any chance Kentucky had of winning this game. Harrow has shown signs of what brought him so much acclaim when he transferred from NC State, but overall, has not played up to Calipari’s standards. If Kentucky doesn’t make the NCAA Tournament, it can look no further than Harrow’s play for a reason why.
  3. Can Vanderbilt Steal a Bid? According to Commodore coach Kevin Stallings, his team is back to .500 for the first time “in about five months.” It may not have been that long, but it has been an uphill climb for his club. This was a team from which very little was expected, and Stallings said after the game that he couldn’t be more satisfied with the way his club has improved. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been as proud of a team as I am of this one,” he said.  The question for his club now becomes whether it can break through and steal a bid to the NCAA Tournament. After dismantling Kentucky, he likes how his club is playing, and what seemed like an impossibility just a few short weeks ago now is something to at least think about. The Commodores will face either Missouri or Ole Miss in tomorrow’s second semifinal. They were dismantled in Columbia in January, but would have beaten Ole Miss but for a 35-footer by Marshall Henderson that sent the game to overtime before the Rebels prevailed.  To just be in this position is quite an accomplishment, and anyone who has followed this team knows Stallings has done one of his best coaching jobs this season.

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SEC M5: 03.04.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on March 4th, 2013

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  1. Free throws haven’t been a source of pride for the Florida Gators of late, but success at the charity stripe sealed the win for Billy Donovan’s squad against Alabama on Saturday. Alabama coach Anthony Grant admitted Florida’s newfound confidence at the line made the game plan difficult to execute. “We weren’t able to take away the free-throw line today,” said Grant. “In the second half, their whole thing was to drive the ball and to attack the rim, and they had success with it. Twenty-two points at the free-throw line at home is going to be awfully hard to overcome.” The Gators shot just 68.2 percent from the line coming into the game, but were 22 of 26 (84.6 percent) on Saturday afternoon.
  2. Senior guard Kenny Boynton has 1,927 points in a Florida uniform, but he has had to work very hard for every point lately. “Guys project how a guy is playing or not playing based on whether or not the ball is going in the basket and certainly here the last few games he hasn’t made the number of shots that he has made,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “He had a stretch there to start the year where he really wasn’t shooting the ball, and then he went on a tear for a little bit and maybe here lately, he’s not.” In the month of February, Boynton averaged under 10 points per game and shot just 24 percent from three-point range. Boynton hasn’t scored 20 points or more since a January 12 game against LSU. If Florida is going to make a deep run into March, it will need its senior guard to return to form.
  3. One thing a coach never wants to admit is that his team got out-hustled, but that is exactly what Kentucky coach John Calipari said after Saturday’s loss to Arkansas. “We weren’t as tough as them, we didn’t play as hard as them and they wanted the game more than us, and that team usually wins,” Calipari said. A huge key to the game was turnovers. The Wildcats turned the ball over 19 times because of the Razorbacks’ press and general hectic pressure.  “We tried to make the game as chaotic as we could,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. “That was the difference in the game.” Not that a loss is ever acceptable or needed, but this was exceptionally bad timing for Kentucky as the Cats are in hot pursuit of an NCAA Tournament bid. A less than impressive showing did some damage to the Kentucky’s case, but there’s still time with a game at Georgia on Thursday and a home date with Florida on Saturday.
  4. Saturday was a big win for the Razorbacks. They are guaranteed a .500 record in SEC play for the first time since 2008. They beat Kentucky for the first time since 2011 in a hard fought overtime win. But Saturday was big for Arkansas because Kentucky is still a rivalry game, and one in which Razorback fans circle on the calendar with a strong desire to walk out victorious. As Doc Harper of Arkansas Expats writes, “there’s a part of me that always wants to beat Kentucky because of the wars of the early/mid 90s, so today was incredibly sweet.” This type of history and animosity makes the SEC better, and one can only hope that Kentucky takes a potential rematch in Nashville in a couple of weeks a little personal.
  5. Sometimes teams don’t necessarily need to excel to win, but they might just need to make fewer mistakes than their opponents. That’s exactly what the Commodores did in their win over the Auburn Tigers on Saturday. “We’re very happy to get a very ugly road win,” Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. “I don’t know if both teams had really bad offense, and I certainly don’t want to speak for their side, but it didn’t feel like either side played very well tonight for me.”  In the SEC, victories no the road are very hard to come by. Prior to their win on Saturday, the Commodores had just two road victories in the SEC. Neither of the wins were against top-tier SEC competition as they had beaten cellar-dwellers South Carolina and Mississippi State. Overall, Vanderbilt is turning the corner at the right time with four victories in its last five games.
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SEC M5: 02.11.13 Edition

Posted by DPerry on February 11th, 2013

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  1. Missouri took advantage of some hot shooting in the first half to wrap up a much needed win over the weekend against Ole Miss. The Tigers’ starting backcourt combined for 57 points, but Alex Oriakhi was the headlining story. The low post force had his most productive game of the season with 22 point, 18 boards, and 1 melee instigation. Oriakhi was immediately hit with a flagrant, and Reginald Buckner was ejected in the aftermath after throwing a punch. A Twitter exchange between the two schools’ SB Nation sites proclaimed that a rivalry had just been created, which, unless I’m mistaken, is legally binding. Rebels and Tigers, let the hate commence.
  2. Missouri proved their home mettle again this weekend with their resounding win over Ole Miss, but every positive in Columbia just highlights the Tigers’ astounding road troubles. Why can’t a team with talent in spades beat up a weak SEC? “That is the $50-million question,” says Frank Haith. He’d be wise to find an answer soon, as Missouri finishes with five of eight on the road. The thought of a disappointed Tigers team on Selection Sunday hadn’t even crossed my mind through the first few months of the season, but several more road losses (in addition to a likely home defeat to Florida) would likely leave the Tigers on the outside looking in come March 17th.
  3. On the topic of winless road teams, Arkansas celebrated their massive win over Florida in the most Arkansas way possible: being dismantled by Vanderbilt. The Razorbacks, who had 37 points by the third TV timeout against the Gators, scored their 37th point at 11:44 of the second half. “You have to give credit to Vanderbilt, but when you go on the road you have to make shots,” said Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson.  “When you are on the road, you have to match your opponents’ intensity.” The Commodores, no stranger to offensive meltdowns, were pretty impressive on that end of the floor. Kevin Stallings‘ team shot 50% from the floor and spread shots around nicely, with five players tallying at least eight points.
  4. The Wildcat bench stole the spotlight in Saturday’s win over Auburn, but a tough outing for Archie Goodwin is raising some concerns in the Bluegrass State. Kentucky‘s leading scorer played a season-low 17 minutes, scoring only 3 points on 1-6 shooting. “I’m trying to get Archie to zone in on his team, what he’s got to do for his team and get out of how he’s playing because then you can’t make a shot, you’re afraid to make a play because you’re afraid you are going to screw up, versus I’m playing for the team, I know what the team needs me to do, they need me to drive,” stream of consciousness expert John Calipari told reporters. Goodwin has practically eliminated the 3-point shot from his offensive arsenal (a great decision), but he seems to oscillate on his commitment to attacking the basket.
  5. One of the league’s greenest teams will be without their most experienced players for a while, as Mississippi State’s Jalen Steele has been suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules. Coach Rick Ray has declined to give further details after announcing the decision before the Bulldogs’ trip to Florida over the weekend. After starting 2-0 in SEC play, Mississippi State has lost 8 straight by a margin of 21 points per game.
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SEC M5: 02.07.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on February 7th, 2013

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  1.  Coach John Calipari expressed his excitement about the return of Willie Cauley-Stein because of the intangibles he brings to the team. “Willie Cauley-Stein was unbelievable,” Calipari said. “He just added energy.” He didn’t just bring energy though. It also helps that the seven foot center added 13 points and six rebounds in the home win over South Carolina. Kentucky desperately needed Cauley-Stein’s defensive rebounding abilities as the Cats slipped to eighth in the SEC in conference only defensive rebounding percentage. With the big guy back in the lineup alongside Nerlens Noel, the Wildcats controlled the boards against the Gamecocks on Tuesday night with almost 80 percent of the available defensive rebounds.
  2. Tennessee guard Jordan McRae maintains that the Vols still believe in their abilities despite a 3-5 start to conference play going into Wednesday night’s clash with Georgia. “Our confidence is still way up,” McRae said. “We still have a ways to go in the SEC, so it’s not over for us.” It was around this time last year when a struggling UT team won eight of its last nine to work its way into the NCAA Tournament bubble conversation. Ultimately, the Vols didn’t make it into the Big Dance, but they built confidence heading into this season. Cuonzo Martin’s squad is in desperate need of a turnaround again this February, but it just doesn’t seem like that momentum swing is on the horizon this time around.
  3. While the state of Mississippi turned its attention to college football National Signing Day, Andy Kennedy and company were focused on trying to break Ole Miss’ two game losing streak. The road to redemption began Wednesday night against rival Mississippi State. “We’re on a two-game losing streak and whether it’s the Mississippi State Bulldogs or the Los Angeles Lakers that comes in here on Wednesday, we got to stop this,” Kennedy said. “We’ve put too much work into this.” The Rebels need to establish a consistent scorer to go along with guard Marshall Henderson. Until that point, Ole Miss’ fate will continue to depend entirely on Henderson’s streaky shot.
  4. Don’t look now, but Georgia entered play Wednesday night on a three game winning streak and winner of four of its last five games. Tennessee’s coach Cuonzo Martin spoke before the teams played on Wednesday night to say he thought the Bulldogs were beginning to click. “They changed some lineups, and now I think they have the right lineup more than anything,” Martin said. “They have not changed what they do. Their system and style is still the same, and their guys are playing with a level of confidence.” Georgia coach Mark Fox went small to attempt to find some offense to surround guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. The tactic appears to be working as the 1.18 points per possession Georgia managed on Saturday against South Carolina was the highest mark it has achieved all season.
  5. Vanderbilt has left the building. That’s the way it felt at least during the last seven minutes of the Commodores’ loss to Alabama on Saturday. The way the game ended seemed to anger easily frustrated coach Kevin Stallings. “It’s hard for me to stay positive anyway because I’m naturally slanted negatively, which is probably my quality that I hate the most,” Stallings said. “I don’t lose sight of the big picture. … The big picture looks good to me. The immediate picture doesn’t look worth a crap.” The immediate picture had the ‘Dores on a three game losing streak entering Wednesday’s game with LSU.
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SEC M5: 01.24.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 24th, 2013

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  1. What is wrong with Kentucky? That’s the question on everyone’s mind following a 59-55 loss at Alabama. The success of similar John Calipari coached teams make this situation even more baffling. For whatever reason, Calipari made past freshmen look like upperclassmen with years of experience, but his magic wand isn’t working on this new crop of players in Lexington. The inconsistency in play this season should at least create more of an appreciation of the tremendous coaching job Calipari and his staff completed over each of the past three seasons. As ESPN’s Eammon Brennan points out, “each new UK game seems to bring with it new obstacles.” That’s the challenge of a team filled with freshmen. Calipari made it look easy in year’s past, but now we’re seeing the flip side of what an inexperienced team can look like.
  2. Calipari was fairly clear in his assessment of the reason the Cats lost the game on Tuesday night. “Our guard play was not near their guard play,” Calipari said. “It just wasn’t. We reverted back to just throwing it to Kyle Wiltjer in the post to try to keep the game close to give us a chance to win.” Kentucky’s guards, Ryan Harrow and Archie Goodwin, combined for just 13 points on five of 22 shooting. “We played not to lose, which young guys do on the road at times,” Coach Cal said. Kentucky has six road games on the schedule remaining in SEC play. In five true road games so far this season, the Cats are just 2-3, spelling trouble for the remainder of the season.
  3. Kevin Stallings typically doesn’t play freshmen in his system, but this season he has no other choice. After losing six players, three of whom went to the NBA, Stallings is going a little deeper on the bench to find role players to make the Commodores competitive. And now he’s found a freshman in Sheldon Jeter, whom he trusts enough to place in the starting lineup. “Sheldon wants to get better,” Stallings said. “And he does have some talent. He does have some ability to make shots and finish plays around the rim. And for a team that’s challenged sometimes offensively like we are, that’s a good thing.” It was important for Vanderbilt to find a third offensive option to take some of the load off of Kedren Johnson and Kyle Fuller, and Jeter may be that guy.
  4.  Trevor Lacey was just one of eight from the field Tuesday night, before a drive to the lane with 4:26 left in the game and Alabama clinging to a one point lead over Kentucky. He made the layup, but went down to the floor with a leg injury that would sideline him for the remainder of the close win over the Wildcats. “I think he’s fine,” said Alabama coach Anthony Grant, who came onto the court to check on the sophomore guard. “He’s got cramps in both calves. He was obviously unavailable to finish the game, but I think he’ll be fine.” Lacey’s three point shooting has been a significant area of improvement for the sophomore guard. He had made a three in all but three games prior to Tuesday, but was 0-3 against Kentucky, adding to that total.
  5. South Carolina had an opportunity to win a big one at Missouri on Tuesday night, but failed to capitalize on its chances. When asked about a free throw discrepancy that gave Missouri 36 free throws as compared to the Gamecocks’ 17 attempts, coach Frank Martin said, “I ain’t going there. You ask me to talk about the economy, I’ll give you whatever you want. I’ll give you my opinions on whatever.” Martin added, “Don’t make me go there because it won’t be good for me, my school. Definitely my wife will be (angry) at me because you know what comes after I go there.” Martin’s team gave up a 13 point second half lead, but it sounds like he has some strong opinions on how that occurred.
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SEC M5: 01.14.13 Edition

Posted by DPerry on January 14th, 2013

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  1. The defending national champions are squarely on the bubble. That realization hit the Kentucky faithful hard this weekend as the Wildcats dropped their fifth game of the season in a home loss to Texas A&M. The idea that John Calipari’s team wouldn’t be invited to this year’s tournament scarcely cross the minds of college basketball fans going in to season, but through the first half of the season, Kentucky’s season-opening win over Maryland is their only RPI Top 100 victory. “It’s still early January. It’s going to be another month before this team comes together,” Calipari said Saturday. “I just hope we are winning enough games as we learn to do this.” He may be out of luck. There’s a lot of basketball to be played, but with the SEC’s lack of quality, there are very few opportunities for quality wins left on the schedule.
  2. Texas A&M’s Elston Turner has deservedly been admitted to the  unofficial pantheon of “Cat Killers”. He can’t claim the top spot (the belongs to David Robinson and his 45 points way back in ’87), but I can’t imagine that the Aggie senior would be too bummed about finishing behind the Admiral. Maybe he can just settle for National Player of the Week. Singing the praises of a guy who just dropped 40 points in one of college basketball’s most hallowed venues is tough to do without sounding overly obvious. But I’ll try. He simply couldn’t miss. Opponents know that stopping Turner is practically synonymous with stopping Texas A&M, and Kentucky’s collection of athletes still couldn’t him. He made 14 field goals on 19 attempts, and while I haven’t found an official stat for so-called daggers, Turner had plenty of those as well. The Aggies are peaking at the right time, and will hope to carry that momentum through to their home date with Florida this week.
  3. In addition to being charged with creating a gameplan to stop Turner, Billy Donovan will be dealing with another injury to a contributor leading up to Florida’s trip to College Station. Casey Prather suffered a lower leg injury in the Gator’s blowout of LSU over the weekend, and the junior swingman is  facing an indefinite (quickly becoming college basketball’s new buzzword) stretch on the sideline. “That is what they are saying right now— a high ankle sprain,” said Donovan. “Those things are tough to come back from and they’re a long healing process if that’s what it is.” Prather joins Mike Rosario (suffering from a high ankle sprain as well) on the trainers table, and while neither injury appears to be season-ending, Florida’s depth in the short term will clearly be taking a huge hit. Erik Murphy’s return against LSU couldn’t have come at a better time, but a six-man rotation isn’t conducive with the brand of basketball Donovan wants to play.
  4. Does Missouri really need Laurence Bowers? I can’t imagine that anyone was actually asking that question, but the answer is a resounding yes. The 10th-ranked Tigers were run off the floor in Oxford over the weekend, unable to overcome the loss of their primary frontcourt scoring option. Point guard Phil Pressey finished with as many turnovers as he had assists, stifled by an offense that struggled mightily for creativity and inspiration. Jabari Brown, Earnest Ross, and Pressey combined to miss 13 3-pointers, several of which were forced because of the newly-reinstalled 4-guard offense’s inability to cope with the Ole Miss pressure defense. “I don’t think they ever got in an offensive rhythm and that’s a tribute to how much effort our guys had defensively,” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy told reporters.
  5. Vanderbilt’s Kevin Stallings doesn’t strike me as coach who would admit to believing in moral victories, but last week’s close call against Kentucky was undoubtedly an improvement for his young team. Any momentum from that effort, however, was quickly extinguished as the Commodores failed to compete against Arkansas, totaling only 33 points for second time this season. The Commodores turned the ball over 25 times and barely reached double digits in made field goals. Stallings wasn’t in the mood to dig for a silver lining. “Well, there’s not a lot to say,” he told reporters. “We got our tails whipped, and I was real disappointed in our play in just about every way.” The Dores’ unfortunately doesn’t have a lot of time for adjustment as Ole Miss visits Tuesday night, Vandy’s third game in six days.
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SEC M5: 01.11.13 Edition

Posted by DPerry on January 11th, 2013

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  1. Kentucky escaped with a 60-58 win over Vanderbilt Thursday night, the Wildcats’ first true road win of the season. The victory wasn’t without controversy however, as Nerlens Noel’s short jumper with 17.3 seconds clearly should have been called a shot-clock violation, leaving Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings incensed and ESPN’s Bobby Knight perplexed. Despite their continued troubles shooting from long range, Kentucky looked to be in top form in the first half, coasting to a double-figure lead at the break. A different team came out of the locker room after halftime, though, appearing passive on the offensive end as Vanderbilt switched to a zone. “They outworked us,” John Calipari said. “They beat us to 50-50 balls, they beat us to rebounds. We were lucky to win the game.”
  2. As it was the only SEC game of the night, I’ll keep rolling on Kentucky-Vanderbilt. The Wildcat offense had an abysmal second half, but the defense wasn’t far behind. The Commodores put up 34 points after the break, or one more than they managed in 40 minutes against Marist. The culprit on the UK side isn’t tough to identify. “You can sit here and sugarcoat it, but you all watched it,” Calipari said. “They went at Kyle [Wiltjer] every single possession I had him in the game. Every single possession.” The shockingly slow stretch forward only provides value on the offensive end, but making only a single field goal in 14 minutes isn’t the type of production that will keep him on the floor. His minutes have been steadily declining throughout the season, and Wiltjer may find himself struggling to stay in the rotation sooner rather than later.
  3. The Los Angeles Athletic Club released its 25 finalists for the Wooden Award, and, as you might have guessed, the SEC’s representation isn’t overly impressive. The conference earned only two nominations, trailing each of the other power conference except for the Pac-12 (completely snubbed). The nominations both come from the same team: Laurence Bowers and Phil Pressey. The Missouri power forward and point guard are deservedly included, and there shouldn’t be much of an argument from the rest of the league that anyone else should have been there. Florida is a well-rounded team without a true standout star, and none of the talented Kentucky freshman have shown the required consistency to be on the short list.
  4. In its first game since receiving confirmation that Jeronne Maymon will miss the entire season with injury, Tennessee had a chance to make an impression as the Vols opened conference play against Ole Miss. The Rebels pack some punch on both ends of the court, but if the Volunteers still consider themselves to be contenders for an NCAA at-large bid, this was the type of home game they needed to win. Of course, Mississippi dominated the game from start to finish, out-rebounding the Vols by 10 boards and leaving Cuonzo Martin’s squad with more questions than answers. Junior guard Jordan McRae and his 26 points were the lone bright spot for the home team, but he realizes how much his team will miss their most experienced big man. “I told Jeronne after the game that if we could just find one guy to get the rebounds he always got,” McRae told Mark Wiedmer of the Times Free Press. “Because he seemed to get every rebound last year.” How can they fix it? Said McRae, “”Well, there isn’t anybody like Jeronne.”
  5. A home win over South Carolina is rarely cause for celebration, but for Mississippi State, dubbed a “public embarrassment” by coach Rick Ray earlier in the week following a loss to Alabama A&M, opening up conference play on a positive note is quite a surprise. “Great to get the first win in SEC. For most of our guys, it’s the first time they’ve experienced SEC basketball,” Ray told reporters after Wednesday’s victory. Mississippi State took advantage of 24 South Carolina turnovers (they rank in the bottom 10 nationally in turnover percentage), as the Gamecocks couldn’t find an answer for the Bulldogs’ 1-3-1 zone. Fred Thomas and Tyson Cunningham were especially impressive on the defensive end, combining for eight steals while forcing USC’s Bruce Ellington into nine turnovers.
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SEC M5: 01.10.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 10th, 2013

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  1. Alabama lost its SEC opener in a difficult contest on the road at Missouri to the tune of 84-68, but there were several aspects of the game of which the Tide had improved from an 8-5 start to the season. However, was rebounding actually improved as the article suggests? Missouri is leading the nation in rebounds per game and is second in rebounding margin, but advanced statistics tell a more in-depth story. Missouri is a strong offensive rebounding club (42.3 percent for seventh in the nation), but only a moderate defensive rebounding team (opponents grab 29.0 percent, which is 68th in the nation). In Tuesday’s game, the Crimson Tide grabbed 29 percent of available offensive rebounds, which is exactly on par with Missouri’s average and below Alabama’s previous average (33 percent). Anthony Grant’s club, however, grabbed a strong 82 percent of defensive rebounds, which is exemplary considering the Tide’s previous average and the Tigers’ strength on the offensive glass. Rebounding statistics do not adequately describe both sides of the ball, but advanced statistics can describe more of what occurred. Alabama’s offensive rebounding on Tuesday was mediocre, but defensive rebounding represented a major improvement for the Crimson Tide.
  2. Many SEC teams believe they have a chance to make a run at a championship, but one team isn’t mincing words. The Florida Gators are confident heading into SEC play. “I think we’re right up there at the top,” senior guard Kenny Boynton said when asked about UF’s chances in the expanded conference. “I think there are some great teams in the SEC. Honestly, I think Kentucky is a good team despite their record, I think we’ve got to respect them as a team, but overall I think if we do the right things we’re at the top and we can win it.” And Florida didn’t disappoint in its first game on Wednesday night, as the Gators blew out Georgia 77-44 in Gainesville.
  3. John Calipari isn’t done recruiting the class of 2013, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t working ahead. Five-star point guard Tyus Jones (class of 2014) is taking an unofficial visit to Kentucky over the weekend while the Cats take on Texas A&M at Rupp Arena. Adam Zagoria caught up with the number one point guard’s high school coach who confirmed the news. Jones is currently looking at UNC, Duke, Kansas, and Kentucky, Baylor, Minnesota, Michigan State, and Ohio State as his list of possible schools.
  4. Texas A&M opened up conference play on Wednesday night against Arkansas, and the Aggies were excited to begin play in their inaugural year in the SEC. “Obviously, like everybody, it’s conference time. There’s a buzz,” A&M coach Billy Kennedy said. “There’s a level of enthusiasm for us, especially with this being our first game in the SEC.” The Aggies are fitting in quite nicely in the conference with an embarrassing loss to Southern in the non-conference schedule, but when the nerves wear off and the Razorbacks leave College Station, the Aggies will head to Rupp Arena to take on Kentucky.
  5. Kevin Stallings conferred with Kentucky coach Calipari about Thursday’s meeting in Nashville between the Cats and the ‘Dores. “I think they only have a couple of guys that even played in that game, just like us,” Stallings said. “So I would say that it’s probably wise for everyone to move on because there’s nothing any of us can do about what happened. I’m still mad about the two games they beat us. I thought we had a chance to win all three.” Sound familiar? That’s because that is almost the exact same statement Calpari made about the game. After wading through the coachspeak remains the potential for a quality game. Memorial Gym is always a tough environment, and Kentucky’s freshmen haven’t fared well in true road games thus far.
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SEC Freshmen Report: Volume I

Posted by CNguon on December 21st, 2012

Christian D’Andrea is an SEC microsite contributor. He can be reached on Twitter @anchorofgold.

The SEC has always been home to some of the NCAA’s most talented newcomers. Much of that has to do with Kentucky’s one-and-done superstars, but Lexington’s five-star recruits aren’t the only players making an impact for Southeastern Conference teams. Several under-the-radar prospects – and some of them big names – are starting to get the feel for the NCAA game and bringing value to their programs early in their careers. As a result, teams like South Carolina and Auburn can put a little extra confidence behind their rebuilding efforts.

Nerlens Noel,

Nerlens Noel (Ken), Michael Carrera (SC) and Negus Webster-Chan (Missou) are just three of many freshmen making an impact this season in the SEC East

So who should SEC basketball fans be looking out for with conference play looming? Every week, we’ll look at how the best freshmen in the SEC have performed in their inaugural seasons. We’ll break the league down football-style into East and West divisions to provide an in-depth look at the young guns that may end up dotting all-SEC teams for years to come. This week, we’ll start with the East by introducing you to the most talented first-year players that the conference has to offer. While a team led by newcomers has carried Kentucky through an up-and-down first two months, teams like South Carolina, Vanderbilt, and Missouri are also leaning on rookies to carry them to the postseason. Here’s a breakdown on those fresh faces in the (former) SEC East and how they’ve impacted their teams so far.

SEC East

uk freshmen

Kentucky: Kentucky, a team replacing all of its starters in 2012-13, has easily gotten the strongest return from its freshman play-makers this winter. Nerlens Noel has been as good as advertised, and Willie Cauley-Stein has shown a combination of size and skill that suggests that he’d be a starter for almost any other team in the SEC this winter. The two have combined for 18 points, 14 rebounds, and nearly six blocks per game as the Wildcats’ primary big men. Archie Goodwin and Alex Poythress have carried the ‘Cats offensively. Both have shown well-rounded offensive play, while Poythress in particular has shown some defensive chops that could make him a nightmare matchup (a 7’1” wingspan and the size and strength to cover both forward positions) as the season wears on. However, both have struggled with turnovers early in the year, and their talent hasn’t been enough to cover up UK’s relative inexperience in three early losses. Kentucky may have gotten off to an unexpected start thanks to those losses, but they’re also playing on a steeper learning curve than most teams in the SEC. The development of their freshman class will be one of the conference’s biggest stories to watch once league play unfolds.

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SEC Power Rankings: Week Four

Posted by DPerry on December 14th, 2012

Every week, the SEC microsite will post a composite power ranking list for the league’s performances coupled with a short commentary justifying each team’s specific ranking. Here are Week Four’s SEC Power Rankings (all statistics via TeamRankings).

The Gators Are the Class of the SEC (Photo via John Raoux / AP)

The Gators Are the Class of the SEC (Photo via John Raoux / AP)

  1. Florida- There’s not a lot missing from the Gators’ resume. They’ve beaten every opponent by double figures, while playing the nation’s 13th toughest schedule. As of the release of last week’s rankings, however, they hadn’t had the chance to prove their mettle in a true road game, a situation in which they struggled last season (losing their first four). After their trip to Tallahassee last week, consider that mettle proven. The Gators embarrassed rival Florida State in a 72-47 win, holding the Seminoles to only 15 first-half points. Florida’s ability to win away from the O-Dome will be crucial over the rest of the season. In addition to this Saturday’s trip to Arizona, the Gators will have road games at Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee, and Kentucky, all among the more hostile environments in the SEC.
  2. Missouri- Do I have to put a team here? There’s a massive gap between Florida and the rest of the conference, but the Tigers are the choice at #2. Missouri hasn’t been tested against quality competition since they left the Bahamas, but their performances against smaller conference foes have been far from convincing. A nasty little habit of starting slow has been their biggest problem. The Tigers trailed Southeast Missouri State by 10 at the half, and only held a three-point advantage over Tennessee State after 20 minutes. In fact, Mizzou ranks 101st nationally in first half scoring margin, at only +3.1 points. Big second half scoring outputs have saved Frank Haith’s team, but with Brandon Paul and the Fighting Illini looming next week, another slow start may be too much to overcome.
  3. Kentucky- After consecutive losses to Notre Dame and Baylor, the Wildcats made history when they dropped out of the rankings from the #8 spot, receiving only 186 votes, the largest single-week drop in AP poll history. Kentucky proceeded to easily handle its next two opponents in Samford and Portland, but somehow fell even further in the next AP poll, garnering only 44 votes. I’m not claiming that the Wildcats deserve to be ranked, but why would they lose ground after two convincing victories? It appears that quite a few voters realized a week too late that they were allowed to leave Kentucky off their ballots. Read the rest of this entry »
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SEC M5: 12.11.12 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on December 11th, 2012

  1. The Kentucky players haven’t quite bought into John Calipari’s system yet, but they’re certainly trying to become a top 10 team. “Definitely,” freshman center Nerlens Noel said. “We’ve definitely got the potential. We’ve got the players, the pieces, the coaching staff. We’ve got all the great tools. We’ve just got to work on some things and really bring it all together.” But if anybody has the credibility to get first year players to buy in, it’s Calipari. Perhaps last year’s success is part of what is hindering this year’s version of the Wildcats? “We’re trying to uphold expectations we shouldn’t have had,” freshman Willie Cauley-Stein said. “We’re not last year’s team.” He’s right about that. The 2012-13 team is more 2010-11 than 2011-12, and that team was possibly a play away from being Cal’s first championship team.
  2. Jarvis Summers is crucial to Ole Miss‘ success this year. The Rebels lost their first game of the season on Saturday to Middle Tennessee State, in part because Summers sat the last 13 minutes of the first half in foul trouble. While he was on the bench, his backups committed seven of Ole Miss’ 18 turnovers. “They just took the ball,” coach Andy Kennedy said. “Like what happens sometimes when you play your big brother. They just took your ball.” Summers returned to play 17 minutes in the second half, but it just wasn’t enough. He finished the game with just seven points and four assists, but Kennedy recognized his impact on the game by allowing Summers to play through four fouls with over six minutes left in the game.
  3. Florida is getting some much needed rest before one of its biggest games of the year against Arizona. “Playing as many games as we’ve played this early against some really good quality opponents I think guys get mentally drained,” coach Billy Donovan said. “So I think we’ll probably need some time to regroup before we go out west.” The Gators have 10 days between games, allowing some time to recover from injuries as well. Senior forward Erik Murphy hasn’t been 100 percent after a hip pointer injury, and of course final exams are mixed in for the student-athletes. “This a good group,” Donovan said. “They’ve worked hard. We’ve had to individually battle through our own adversity as a team.” So far this year, 13 points is the closest margin any team has come to the Gators.
  4. Missouri is also preparing for one of its biggest games of the year, but this one is for bragging rights above all else. Missouri is already circling a December 22 date with Illinois, which is one of the hottest teams in the country right now. The author makes the case that the Tigers need this win for RPI purposes because of the weak standing of the SEC relative to the Big 12 from which coach Frank Haith and the Tigers migrated. I tend to disagree. Yes, the SEC is weak at the bottom, but teams like Kentucky (with a current RPI of #95) or Tennessee (#132) won’t stay that low for long. Regardless, the match-up with the Illini is important in the bigger picture for Haith and company, but don’t expect the top half of the SEC to be a hindrance to RPI standings in the long run.
  5. Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings had a unique perspective regarding Vandy guard Kyle Fuller’s honor as SEC player of the week for his outstanding performance against Xavier. Fuller scored all 12 of Vanderbilt’s points during the overtime period, leading the Commodores to a surprising victory. “That’s awesome for him and almost embarrassing for the rest of us,” Stallings said. “Good for Kyle. He made some huge plays.” Fuller came up huge in the road victory with 25 points on 8-of-16 shooting, along with five assists, four rebounds, and three steals. You have to sort of agree with Stallings on this one, however. Vandy desperately needed someone not named Kedren Johnson to step up on the offensive end. Johnson’s field goal attempts have been in double figures in every game this season, and until the return of Dai-Jon Parker, the Commodores can’t continue to rely that heavily on Johnson for all of their scoring.
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