SEC M5: 12.07.12 Edition

Posted by DPerry on December 7th, 2012

  1. Thursday night was a light one for SEC basketball, but the one game on the schedule did not disappoint. Vanderbilt traveled north to take on Xavier and was able to pull out a 66-64 overtime victory in Cincinnati. Earlier in the week, coach Kevin Stallings told media that he needed his team to be more aggressive. “I don’t know that people are trying to define their roles anymore,” he said. “I think that we just have to have guys that are aggressive.” Kyle Fuller was listening. The junior guard scored a career-high 25 points on 8-16 shooting. His resolute play also earned him 10 trips to the line. Xavier, implementing an entirely new starting lineup this season (like Vandy), isn’t as good as they have been in recent seasons, but a road win against a top 100 team (according to Ken Pomeroy) is exactly what the struggling Commodores needed.
  2. Breaking news: This year’s Kentucky team isn’t as impressive as the 2011-12 Wildcats. Beyond the clear disparity in talent, the current players’ commitment to their workouts has been called in to question. However, Willie Cauley-Stein (who has apparently become the spokesman for this freshman class despite being its least important player) believes that his team is starting to turn it around. “There are four of us in the gym and it carried over. Before it was one guy in the gym. It was Archie. Then Julius was in there. Then Alex was in there. Then I was in there,” Cauley-Stein said. “Now it is just collective and everybody is going to start going in there.” Kentucky’s apparently poor work ethic might have gone undetected if they hadn’t put in such a spiritless display last week against Notre Dame. John Calipari’s team has three cupcake home games over the next few weeks as a warm-up for the trip to Louisville on December 29.
  3. Alabama dropped its second straight game this week (at home against Dayton), leading coach Anthony Grant to question his team’s toughness. The words seem pretty harsh for a team that’s started its season brightly, but with the Crimson Tide giving up 81 points (the most they’ve allowed in a home defeat in Grant’s tenure), it’s tough to blame him. “At some point as a basketball player, as a team, you have to have a toughness about you,” he said. “Whether that’s something that can be developed, we’ll find out.” The Flyers made eight three-pointers in 19 attempts against Alabama, and shot almost 50% from the field overall. Point guard Kevin Dillard was the star, scoring 25 points and dishing out eight assists. A weak Alabama interior would be understandable given its lack of depth and injury troubles, but for a team so stacked on the perimeter, the Crimson Tide should be winning the backcourt battle almost every night.
  4. You couldn’t fault Missouri’s Negus Webster-Chan for being a little loud these days. The freshman came to Colombia without a lot of hype, but is now an unexpected starter for the 12th-ranked team in the country. That’s not his style though. “I was mostly quiet on the floor and let my game speak,” he told the News Tribune. “Coach likes his players to talk and I’m talking now.” Webster-Chan’s sub-30% field goal percentage indicates that he needs to work on his shot (or his shot selection), but he’s an energetic player who fits in a Tiger offense that has plenty of other scoring options around him.
  5. In what seems like a daily topic on the M5, let’s talk about another terrible SEC team at the bottom of the conference. Today’s “winner”: Auburn. The Auburn Villager‘s Griffin Gotta published an intelligent piece analyzing the Tigers’ struggles this season. He writes that coach Tony Barbee’s team has been in most of their games at the end, but aren’t able to execute in “winning time” (an expression I’ve only heard of in reference to the fantastic 30 for 30 documentary). Auburn ranks 323rd nationally in three-point defense, allowing opponents to shoot almost 40% from beyond the arc. In an end-of-game situation, allowing open long-range looks can let a trailing and desperate opponent back in to the game quickly and, when the Tigers are on the comeback trail, a conceded three can completely kill momentum.
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SEC M5: 12.03.12 Edition

Posted by DPerry on December 3rd, 2012

  1. Is Kentucky is a potential juggernaut just waiting for their kids to grow up or does this group have more serious flaws? The narrative is murky at best. Last week’s losses to Notre Dame and Baylor (the latter ending the nation’s longest home winning streak) made for the ugliest stretch of John Calipari’s tenure in Lexington, with questions over the Wildcats’ point guard play again playing a major role. Archie Goodwin saw most of the time at point, but he committed five turnovers and frequently looked out of control when attacking the basket. Ryan Harrow had a promising stretch toward the end of the game, providing fans with a minor positive talking point, but Calipari probably wouldn’t agree with that assessment, though. After being asked about the transfer point guard on Saturday, he said “We are happy he’s on the court. He was 1-for-9.”
  2. Last week’s biggest off-the-court news from SEC country came out of Columbia, Missouri, as senior guard Michael Dixon announced his intention to transfer. Dixon had not played this season because of a violation of team rules, the details of which had not be released, but it appears that allegations of forcible rape from two separate accusers (one in 2010) are driving the situation. Many questions remain, however, as Missouri officials aren’t eager to talk about Dixon’s departure. The circumstances surrounding the case may be drastically different, but the Dez Wells fiasco at Xavier is tough to ignore when considering Missouri’s actions. Over the summer, Wells was expelled from school for a similar accusation, although he was cleared of all criminal charges (and even earned an impassioned public defense from the local district attorney).
  3. Arkansas fans came out in droves to support their Razorbacks against Big East power Syracuse, leaving Jim Boeheim very impressed with the atmosphere in Bud Walton Arena. “This is a tough, tough place,” he told reporters. “You have to play 40 minutes. You have to play every minute. You make a couple of mistakes and they’re going to take it away from you.” BJ Young and Marshawn Powell combined for 44 points to give #6 Syracuse a scare, but a monster night off the bench from James Southerland ensured that there would be no upset in Fayetteville. The senior forward was unstoppable, scoring 35 points on a 9-13 effort from long range.
  4. Few can argue that Florida is the class of the SEC, but the battle for the position of conference cellar-dweller is a tight one, and Vanderbilt has a pretty compelling case. The Commodores have only two wins, and can point to a résumé-bolstering 17-point loss to the MAAC’s mighty Marist Red Foxes. Coach Kevin Stallings believes offensive deficiencies are to blame. “I thought the difference was their ability to generate more easy baskets than we could generate,” Stallings said after Saturday’s home loss to Villanova. “We didn’t run very crisp offense, and when we did run crisp offense, we missed quite a few open looks that we certainly could have made.” Against the Wildcats, Vanderbilt wasn’t shy about shooting from distance, putting up 26 attempts. They’ll have to make more than nine though to give themselves a chance to steal wins in conference.
  5. The 2012 SEC/Big East Challenge was tied at two apiece after the event’s opening night, but the Big East went on a tear on Friday and Saturday, finishing with a 9-3 edge. The SEC’s only victory on those two days came out of Oxford, Mississippi, as Marshall Henderson continued his blistering pace to start his Ole Miss career. The JuCo transfer has transformed the Rebel offense, providing deadly outside shooting for a team that desperately needed it. Henderson is averaging almost four made three-pointers per game, while the entire Ole Miss team averaged only 4.4 makes last season. The senior frontcourt duo of Murphy Holloway and Reginald Buckner were expected to be one of the league’s strongest, but Henderson’s presence diversifies the offense, which will make the Rebels much tougher to defend when conference play rolls around.
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SEC M5: 11.26.12 Edition

Posted by KAlmekinder on November 26th, 2012

  1. It probably seems just yesterday for Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings when the Commodores won their first SEC Tournament title in 60 years, or that’s how he would like to remember it. With the departures of all of the starters of that title-winning team, Vanderbilt knew years of rebuilding would be ahead but probably did not expect starting from the ground up. In Friday night’s game versus Marist, a team that has been averaging only 55 points per game this season, the ‘Dores recorded their lowest offensive result since the shot clock era began — 33 points. Stallings was quoted regarding the loss that his guys “are so uptight and have a lack of self-confidence right now.”  Still under indefinite suspension from the team, heralded sophomore guard Dai-Jon Parker was unable to contribute in the Marist loss. Vanderbilt rebounded nicely to beat UTEP on Sunday to close out its participation in the Old Spice Classic, but regardless of the team’s mindset or current suspensions, Stallings now knows how far they have fallen (and how far they have to go) since their league championship in New Orleans last March.
  2. Speaking of suspensions, Missouri‘s Michael Dixon continues to ride the pine for a rules violation until he can show improvement to coach Frank Haith and the rest of his teammates. His support from the bench hasn’t kept him from tweeting his rage about the situation, though. The Columbia (MO) Tribune‘s Steve Walentik reported that Dixon quickly tweeted (and even more quickly deleted said tweet) his innocence after the team’s loss to Louisville in the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament over the weekend. Walentik describes the situation with Dixon, Haith, and the university as pending, and none of the specifics have been released by anyone associated with the university. Meanwhile, former Mizzou guard Kim English, now with the NBA’s Detroit Pistons, defended his former teammate, also on Twitter, by calling out the university’s student committee board ‘a joke’ and believes Dixon’s chances for reinstatement are good and lie with the university chancellor.
  3. The mystery surrounding Kentucky point guard Ryan Harrow’s situation has ceased. Harrow, who practiced Sunday with the team in Lexington, left the squad due to an illness after the Wildcats’ opening-season win versus Maryland and was forced to tend to “a family situation over the holiday break” as soon as he began his recovery. A healthy Harrow back in the lineup alleviates some of the point guard duties for starting shooting guard Archie Goodwin, who played the lead role in Harrow’s absence, and backup point guard Jarrod Polson, as UK prepares for its match-up versus Notre Dame in the SEC/Big East Challenge on Thursday.
  4. In only his two years in Knoxville, Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin has quickly saved what could have been a disastrous next half-decade or more for the Volunteer basketball program. How has he done it? Not only through his tough-minded defense, game planning, and hard work, but also by dreaming big. Brendan Quinn writes a brilliant piece about the struggles Martin faced as he grew up in the drug-laden projects of East St. Louis, Illinois, while his mother, Sandra, encouraged him to “dream big” and act on all the great opportunities life presents. It is this upbringing that Martin has used to not only achieve his personal and professional dreams, but also a reminder to stay humble throughout the more difficult times in his career.
  5. We all gripe and offer our opinions as to certain things should be changed, whether it’s the BCS football system, the current political situation, or just a problem in your local community. But, what about college basketball? An interesting article written by Will Blythe at The New Republic discusses how college basketball has become a ‘dumpster fire’ and how four changes (one-and-done rule, AAU circuit, fouls, and basketball minor leagues) could return the game to the state where it once was from the 1960s to the 1990s. Blythe’s argument is that the coaches and players have lost the loyalty and school spirit that they once had in the game’s “heyday” and these four changes would help restore some of the luster to college basketball across the nation.
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SEC M5: 11.23.12 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on November 23rd, 2012

  1. The Gators continue to roll, but something else rolled on Tuesday in Florida’s 58 -40 win over Savannah State — Kenny Boynton’s ankle. Boynton turned his ankle in the second half, tried to return to play, and eventually had to be helped off the court after just five points in 24 minutes. According to coach Billy Donovan, Boynton “was capable of going back into the game. We held him out.” Donovan added that he didn’t anticipate his senior guard would miss any additional time. That’s positive news for the Gators, as Boynton has increased his shooting percentages (he currently has an effective field goal percentage of 58.1%) and offensive efficiency rating (127.3, but be sure to read the small sample size oath).
  2. In quite a change of events from recent years and even earlier this year in its first exhibition game, Florida is relying on its defense to win games. “We’re getting better,” Donovan said. “I think the one thing I tried to do in the offseason was really show and display what and how teams scored against us and what we were going to try to do to try to correct those things. It’s an everyday process, but I think those guys are committed and I think those guys are working hard.” Florida’s adjusted defensive efficiency ranks fourth in the nation and its effective field goal defense ranks second. And the Gators’ defense might have won them the game against Savannah State. “Our defense saved us because we were not very good at all on offense,” Donovan said. Right now, Florida appears more balanced than it has been in many years.
  3. Kentucky point guard Ryan Harrow appears to be feeling better, but now will be out one more game, this time with a family issue. Prior to UK’s victory over Morehead State, Calipari said Harrow “called (Tuesday) and said, ‘Coach, I got an issue that I’ve got to deal with, and my mom’s here. I’m going to go deal with it.’ ” Harrow has struggled this year, only amassing 10 minutes of play this season. When asked whether or not he thought Harrow was having difficulty adjusting to the high pressures of being the starting point guard, “I don’t think so,” Calipari said. “I don’t think it’s that. It might be some of it, but I don’t believe that. He was getting better. That’s the sad thing about it.” Kentucky would certainly like to see its starting point guard back. Harrow’s first game back could be next Thursday against Notre Dame.
  4. Vanderbilt went into its game with Davidson on Thursday with a laundry list of items to work on. “We just have to get better at everything,” Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. “Our post play in the game the other night was really bad. I mean, just from top to bottom — offensively, defensively, we fouled too much, we didn’t get picked up in transition, we made careless turnovers, we took bad shots. We just did a lot of things you do when you play poorly. It’s a process. These guys are young and eager and they want to do well, but sometimes they don’t know what to do or they don’t do the right thing.” The Commodores’ 48 points last Friday at Oregon was the fewest point total for the squad in more than nine years. Despite the loss to Davidson on Thursday, the ‘Dores limited turnovers to 12 but shot just 44.6 percent from the field.
  5. And finally we end with Frank Martin doing what Frank Martin does best. We are a little late on this, but it’s never too late to circle back around to one of Martin’s temper tantrums. Just wait until South Carolina jumps into conference play. We haven’t seen Martin mad yet.

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Happy Thanksgiving From the SEC Microsite

Posted by Brian Joyce on November 22nd, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at the SEC Microsite.

Happy Thanksgiving

 

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SEC M5: 11.15.12 Edition

Posted by DPerry on November 15th, 2012

  1. Preseason tournaments aren’t always just about the basketball, as teams travel to exciting destinations like Maui, Puerto Rico, or New York City. So is Anthony Grant planning anything fun for his team’s visit to the Big Apple for the 2KSports Classic this weekend? “Yes,” claims the Alabama coach. “We are going to play basketball.” The Crimson Tide are all business on this trip. Oregon State will be joining them at Madison Square Garden, and although the Beavers don’t have a history of scaring anyone, they appear to have their best team in years. The Pac-12 foe has a post game that can exploit Alabama’s interior weakness, but their lax perimeter defense should provide the Crimson Tide with plenty of open looks from deep. These contrasting strengths will produce some open-ended basketball. Maybe the Crimson Tide will even be allowed some off-the-court fun in the big city if they can take care of the Beavers Thursday night.
  2. I wrote yesterday that Florida’s offense could struggle against Wisconsin with star guard Kenny Boynton playing out of position, creating a mini-ballhandling crisis. The Gators did have trouble in taking care of the ball by committing 20 turnovers against the Badgers, but you don’t need to make the most of your possessions when you shoot as well as Florida did in its 74-56 win. Erik Murphy in particular put in a masterful performance — the senior forward, still recovering from an illness, shot a perfect 10-for-10 from the field for 24 points, not to mention the eight boards (four offensive) he tallied. Murphy’s offensive versatility was on full display against a Badger team that ranked 7th nationally in defensive efficiency last season. The Gators’ 62% field goal percentage clearly isn’t sustainable for the long haul of the season, but when suspended point guard Scottie Wilbekin regains his eligibility, the Florida offense has all the pieces to become a juggernaut.
  3. Kentucky’s vaunted 2013 recruiting class moved a few steps closer to becoming official yesterday, as Marcus Lee and Derek Willis signed national letters of intent. But the good news didn’t stop there. Aaron and Andrew Harrison, who had originally intended to wait until April to sign, will instead sign with the Wildcats before the end of signing period, according to the twins’ father, and James Young is expected to follow suit. While there was no reason to think that the Harrison twins were wavering in their decision to come to Lexington, Wildcat fans will love to see the pen hit paper. Kentucky’s 2013 recruiting class is already being touted as one of the best ever, and Calipari is still in the running for almost every other top uncommitted player.
  4. In AJ Ogilvy and Festus Ezeli, Kevin Stallings has become accustomed to having a reliable center patrolling the paint at Memorial Gym. He may have to do without that this season, but he won’t wait much longer than that after Damian Jones became Vanderbilt’s first 2013 commitment. The 6’9” defensive specialist from Baton Rouge spurned nearby LSU to sign with the Commodores. “I really like the coaches and players, and they have a really good work ethic,” Jones said when asked what attracted him to Vanderbilt. “That’s what I like and what I’m used to. Coach Stallings makes sure they work hard.” According to 247Sports recruiting analyst Jerry Meyer, Jones may not have the offensive skill set of Ogilvy or Ezeli, but he is an elite athlete who will be a dominant rebounder. Stallings doesn’t have a ton of talent in Nashville at the moment, but Jones makes for a great start in his efforts to fix that with his next recruiting class.
  5. Auburn will face several quality players in the conference season, but they might just have their toughest individual test of the year against Isaiah Canaan and Murray State tonight. Coach Tony Barbee isn’t taking the challenge lightly. “Murray State is a very talented team. The guys they have returning with Isaiah Canaan being a preseason first-team All-American and how great he was last year from the point guard position. He has the ability to score and get everyone involved.” Dexter Fields and Stacy Wilson join Canaan in a backcourt that will have a distinct advantage over the Tigers, so don’t be surprised if Barbee encourages his team to feed center Rob Chubb early and often. The 6’10″ senior will enjoy a height advantage over the Racers’ frontcourt, and has shown that he can score if his guards can find him in advantageous positions. With an off shooting night from Canaan and Barbee finding the right matchups to exploit, the Tigers could give themselves some momentum early in the season.
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Preseason SEC Power Rankings

Posted by KAlmekinder on November 7th, 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. This week the rankings are centered around the preseason expectations of each team, including the arrivals, departures, and results of their previous season. With the season officially underway on Friday, here’s your SEC preseason power rankings.

Kentucky tops the first Rush the Court: SEC power rankings (Washington Post)

  1. Kentucky – The playlist is set on repeat as long as Calipari is in Lexington; raw freshmen talent comes in, matures, performs at their highest peak in March, and gets drafted. Don’t expect this year’s squad to match last year’s numbers or expectations. However, Calipari will find a way to get these Cats to mature quickly and be in the hunt for their 48th SEC crown and another Final Four run.
  2. Florida – The Gators return quite a bit from their second Elite Eight run in as many seasons. Their expectations are to reach the Final Four for the first time since winning it all in 2007. While the veteran leadership of Kenny Boynton is a positive, the Gators must get more consistent play from several key role players, including Scottie Wilbekin and Mike Rosario, to reach their goals. The pieces are in place for another deep Gator run.
  3. Missouri –  The island of misfit transfers is located in Columbia, Missouri. Newcomers such as Earnest Ross (Auburn), Keion Bell (Pepperdine), Alex Oriahki (Connecticut), and Jabari Brown (Oregon) all come to Missouri to find a new and hopefully winning experience in the Tigers’ first year in the SEC. With preseason SEC Player of the Year Phil Pressey leading the backcourt as well as Laurence Bowers in the post, Missouri should not only come close to their success of last year but also vie for the school’s first Final Four appearance in history.
  4. Tennessee –  The Volunteers won nearly 20 games last year and earned a postseason NIT berth with first year head coach Cuonzo Martin. Adding freshman phenom forward Jarnell Stokes in January resulted in at least four more wins in the second half of the season. Martin’s defensive style of play, plus Stokes on the team for a full year and senior Jeronne Maymon guarding the post, should cause hopes for a darkhorse run at the SEC title. Read the rest of this entry »
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SEC M5: 10.25.12 Edition

Posted by DPerry on October 25th, 2012

  1. Kentucky took to the Rupp Arena floor Wednesday night for its annual Blue-White scrimmage. Over 12,000 fans were in attendance, with many more catching the action on Fox Sports Net. The new-look Wildcats put on a high-flying, high-scoring show, but coach John Calipari downplayed the performance. “Folks, let me just say this,” he told fans after the final buzzer, “thanks for being here tonight. Can you see how far we have to go?” This isn’t surprising of course, as Calipari downplaying his team’s level of quality before the season seems to be his modus operandi. Big performances from freshmen Archie Goodwin, Alex Poythress, and Nerlens Noel will dominate headlines, but the upperclassmen showed promise as well. Kyle Wiltjer displayed improved strength and dropped a pretty baby hook over Noel, while transfer Julius Mays showed a quick and accurate trigger from long range. Even Jon Hood, coming off a knee injury, looked energetic and shot the ball efficiently. If one of these older players can step into the leadership role vacated by Darius Miller, Kentucky may not be as far away as their coach believes.
  2. Attendence figures have been woeful for South Carolina over the past few seasons, but Frank Martin has designs on quickly changing that. In a meeting with members of the student body on Monday, the new Gamecock coach discussed ideas to increase fan interest. “I’ll make myself available for anything the students want,” he said. “I need you guys in that building.” Martin isn’t the type to shy away from a challenge. In 2007, he took over a Kansas State program that hadn’t been to the NCAA Tournament in over a decade and promptly led the Wildcats to four bids in six seasons. Turning around a moribund South Carolina program might be even tougher. The overall lack of talent on the roster makes an immediate reversal of fortunes unlikely, but Martin’s willingness to reach out to a jaded fanbase is a step in the right direction.
  3. Want to hear what your coach thinks about your team’s chances this season? Your questions will be answered today, as the league’s coaches gather in Hoover, Alabama, for SEC Media Day. The story from last year’s event was the unwavering confidence of Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings, who seemed to take issue with the fact that his team wasn’t being ranked ahead of the inexperienced Kentucky Wildcats. After losing every key contributor from a 25-win team, how will the Commodores’ coach react to this year’s 10th place prediction for his squad?
  4. New LSU coach Johnny Jones got a jump on the Media Day festivities when he addressed local media in Baton Rouge yesterday. “We have really been pleased with the last few days of practice,” said Jones. “Unfortunately, we have had a few players go down with injuries which are somewhat of a little setback. Hopefully, we will get them back on the floor in the near future within the next few days. That would be beneficial for us because of our lack of numbers.” Any hint of injury on an already thin squad is troubling news for LSU fans, since even a full-strength Tiger team won’t win many conference games this season. Jones will be counting on good fortune on the injury front to stay away from the bottom of the standings. If he runs into some bad luck, however, he can ask Andrew Del Piero for help finding practice bodies. A couple of those trombone players looked like they had some size.
  5. Details surrounding Billy Gillispie’s dismissal from Texas Tech continue to emerge, and they aren’t pretty. E-mails obtained by USA Today indicate that the former Kentucky coach regularly ignored practice time restrictions, most notably on one October weekend in 2011 when the team “practiced for 7 hours, 15 minutes on Saturday, and 6 hours, 30 minutes on Sunday”. His tenure in the SEC was an unmitigated disaster, and his failed campaign at Texas Tech only highlights how unfit Gillispie was to lead the league’s most prestigious program. It seems unlikely that another school will take a chance on him in the near future (if at all), so when the controversy over his improprieties in Lubbock fades away, we hope that you won’t have to read Gillispie’s name on this site for long, long time.
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Vanderbilt’s Answers Begin at Point Guard

Posted by Brian Joyce on October 17th, 2012

After a historic SEC Tournament championship run, Vanderbilt watched as three Commodores were selected on NBA Draft night. Though senior Brad Tinsley was not one of them, his departure left a monumental void at the point guard position. Tinsley, a frustrating player for ‘Dores’ fans at times, remained a steadying influence for Kevin Stallings’ club with 9.0 points, 4.1 assists, and 2.6 rebounds per game last season. His senior leadership anchored one of the best offensive squads in the conference, thus finding a suitable replacement will not come easily. The Commodores find themselves in a year of transition, and the question that will prove most crucial to Vanderbilt’s adjustment will be whether Stallings can find consistency and production at the point.

Is Kedren Johnson the answer for Vanderbilt? (Mark Humphrey/ AP)

The Commodores have two talented and eager options in the backcourt. Junior Kyle Fuller, coming off a disappointing sophomore campaign, has the skills to develop into a strong contributor. He is quick enough to penetrate the lane, and makes good decisions with the ball. Fuller has shown that he is capable but will need to provide more consistent effort to see extended minutes. He never scored more than five points all of last season, and also never seemed to get into his comfort zone on the court.

The likely candidate to begin the year as the starter is sophomore Kedren Johnson. Johnson has good size at 6’4″ and has shown flashes of becoming a solid long-term player for the ‘Dores. He averaged just 3.1 points per game last year, but worked his way into more consistent playing time late in the season. In fact, Johnson played double figure minutes in his last 11 games. It is clear that Stallings trusts Johnson with running the offense, but he will need a big step up from the young player this season. Vanderbilt needs a leader it can trust, and with the top six scorers gone from a championship team a season ago (and also 87.7 percent of the scoring), the ‘Dores might need Johnson to step into that role quicker than expected.

Brian Joyce is a writer for the SEC microsite and regular contributor for Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about SEC basketball at bjoyce_hoops.

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SEC Transition Basketball: Vanderbilt Commodores

Posted by Brian Joyce on July 10th, 2012

It’s hot out there, and to many of us, college basketball is the last thing on our minds. But here at the SEC Microsite, we’re going to be rolling out mid-summer resets of each of the (now) 14 basketball programs in our league. We’re calling it Transition Basketball, and you can expect we’ll cover three or four teams a week until we’re done. By that time, we’ll actually start to be turning the slight corner into the fall, and from there it’s a smooth slope down to Midnight Madness in mid-October. Today’s update: Vanderbilt.

State of the Program

The reigning SEC Tournament champions appeared to be on a promising streak preceding the Big Dance. After swatting the proverbial monkey off its back and defeating Harvard in the Round of 64 following three straight first round exits, it was heartache once again for Commodore fans as the team settled well short of expectations. With a trio of NBA level talent and an experienced hoard of role players, 2011-12 was supposed to be the year on which Vandy fans had been waiting. Turnovers, a reliance on the outside shot, and difficulty rebounding marred Kevin Stallings‘ club, and now Vandy looks to be heading into a rebuilding year unfortunately situated in one of the SEC’s strongest years in recent history.

John Jenkins is gone, and so are his NBA bound teammates, Festus Ezeli and Jeffery Taylor

With familiar names such as John Jenkins, Jeffery Taylor, and Festus Ezeli all gone, who does Stallings turn to now? In fact, his top six players in terms of minutes played are gone. The Commodores will rely heavily upon talented yet vastly inexperienced and untested players. The leading returning scorer for the 2012-13 ‘Dores averaged just over three points per game last season. To say there are some question marks about next season is an understatement. As Stallings pointed out in the SEC summer teleconference a few weeks ago, “It is certainly going to be a year of transition for our basketball program. Not one guy who is playing will have ever been in the role he will be assuming for next year’s squad.”  Vanderbilt certainly underperformed last season, but can it now exceed a lowered set of expectations in 2012-13?

Read the rest of this entry »

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SEC Weekly Five: 04.27.12 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on April 27th, 2012

 

  1. Surely you heard that number one recruit and flat top fashionista Nerlens Noel committed to the University of Kentucky, but what you may not know is that Noel and his fellow incoming freshmen are helping to recruit other top talent to Lexington. Noel has led the charge, via Twitter of all places, to recruit Anthony Bennett, another top player in the class of 2012, to join him in the front line in the 2012-13 version of the defending national champions. Bennett is deciding among Kentucky, UNLV and Florida, with many experts believing it is down to the Gators and the Wildcats. Kentucky saw a lot of scoring walk out the proverbial door to the NBA, and another stockpile of freshmen talent is a must for the Wildcats to consider defending its current title.
  2. Noel isn’t the only one recruiting for Kentucky. Wildcat coach John Calipari has hit the recruiting trail and he has been forced to be slightly more creative than he has been in the past. Cal is looking to add depth to the backcourt  with 6’5″ shooting guard Mislav Brzoja. Never heard of Brzoja? I told you Calipari was getting creative. Brzoja is a shooting extraordinaire who helped Croatia defeat the USA in the U-19 FIBA World Championships.
  3. While Kentucky is completely overhauling its roster after losing seven players, Vanderbilt is undergoing a similar process with far from the same results. The Commodores lost their top six scorers, three of whom expect to be drafted, but they haven’t replaced their big three with top talent.  The biggest disappointment for Vanderbilt and coach Kevin Stallings has to be when in-state talent Alex Poythress chose to play at Kentucky after Vanderbilt recruited him for almost four years. “The staff invested an enormous amount of time and effort into recruiting (Poythress)… that was the watershed event,” Nashville-based recruiting analyst Jerry Meyer said. “It’s safe to say it hasn’t been a good recruiting year for Vandy. Exactly why, I don’t know. Sometimes you get unlucky.” Like the Wildcats in Lexington, a lot of scoring leaves Vandy this spring, and it seems to be a much more difficult challenge to envision who will put the ball in the bucket in Nashville with John Jenkins, Jeffery Taylor and Festus Ezeli no longer on campus.
  4. New South Carolina coach Frank Martin insists he didn’t come to the Gamecocks simply to run away from his troubles at Kansas State, but rather because of his excitement to be part of the USC program. “I’m just telling you, (Gamecocks AD) Eric Hyman put his arms around me and it was hard for me not to feel the passion that he had for building the men’s basketball program,” Martin said. “I’ve never been through this before.” Martin inherits a team that finished last in the SEC, but he has taken little talent and done something with it before. Martin took over the Kansas State job on the heels of an NIT appearance and had the Wildcats in the Elite Eight within three years.
  5. Scheduling is always one of the joys of the college basketball offseason, and Indiana coach Tom Crean claims that Kentucky no longer wants to play the Hoosiers in a home-and-home series. Kentucky is pushing to move the series to neutral court sites again, possibly in Indianapolis and Louisville. After the heartbreaker suffered in Bloomington this past December, who can blame the Cats for wanting to change things? But one has to wonder how long top-tier programs can continue to avoid playing difficult games (or really any games) on the road? Kentucky is slowly limiting any true road games from its schedule, joining the likes of arch-nemesis Duke as teams that don’t typically play in hostile environments until conference play. That hasn’t exactly been a recipe for success for the Blue Devils. With Kentucky’s propensity for freshman-heavy rosters, doesn’t it make sense that Calipari would want to challenge his team on a rival’s home court to prepare for the rigors of March rather than take a guaranteed paycheck from an inferior opponent in a blowout win at Rupp?
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NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Third Round – Saturday

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 17th, 2012

RTC Region correspondents Brian Otskey (East), Kevin Doyle (South), and Andrew Murawa (West) contributed to this preview.

#1 Syracuse vs. #8 Kansas State – East Region Third Round (at Pittsburgh, PA) – 12:15 PM ET on CBS

Jim Boeheim's Team Appears Vulnerable: Will They Find Steady Footing?

You can make a case that Syracuse shouldn’t even be here after the officiating disaster at the end of its first game. However, the Orange survived and now are being questioned by many fans and commentators. A word of caution: Thursday’s game against UNC-Asheville may have been what Syracuse needed to get over the jitters of playing without Fab Melo. While that’s not likely to be a popular opinion, it may be enough to move Syracuse to at least the Sweet Sixteen. The Orange are not going to have an easy time with Kansas State’s physical defense but the big question mark is if the Wildcats can score enough to keep pace. Kansas State is actually somewhat vulnerable on the defensive glass and Syracuse did a nice job of offensive rebounding against Asheville. Obviously the Wildcats have a significant edge on their end of the floor when it comes to offensive rebounding but we actually like the matchups for Syracuse. The Orange have a lot more talent, are deeper and can pressure a Kansas State team that averages 14 turnovers per game. Syracuse won’t get out on the break often but all it needs is a couple stretches of turnovers and fast break points in order to create a cushion. Experience also matters and the Orange feature two seniors in Scoop Jardine and Kris Joseph while Kansas State has freshman Angel Rodriguez running its offense. Syracuse isn’t nearly as good without Melo but we think the Orange are good enough to advance past the Wildcats in this game.

The RTC Certified Pick: Syracuse.

#2 Ohio State vs. #7 Gonzaga – East Region Third Round (at Pittsburgh, PA) – 2:45 pm ET on CBS

There are a ton of fascinating matchups in this game. From Gonzaga’s front court guarding Jared Sullinger to the nation’s most efficient defensive team going up against a Gonzaga team that can certainly put up points. Aaron Craft is widely considered to be one of, if not the best perimeter defender in the nation. Thad Matta will count on his sophomore point guard to shut down Gonzaga freshman Kevin Pangos, an absolute sniper from the arc. Gonzaga shoots the ball very well as a team but Pangos is the guy who really provides the spark for this team. The Bulldogs demolished West Virginia on Thursday but facing Ohio State is going to be a totally different animal. Gonzaga does have the front court depth needed to double Sullinger and make it difficult for the big fella to score inside. The key to beating Ohio State is to make them take jumpers while frustrating Sullinger and Gonzaga can do that with its strong front line. However, foul trouble could become a major concern for the Zags if they’re not careful. A matchup on the wing between Elias Harris and Deshaun Thomas are also intriguing, as is Gonzaga’s ability to get to the foul line against a defense that is physical but doesn’t foul a lot. If the Bulldogs can’t get to the stripe that means Sullinger isn’t in foul trouble and they’re going to be forced to make shots against a really tough Buckeye defense. This is going to be a really fun game to watch between two very talented teams. In fact, it may be the best Saturday matchup on a day in which there will be many.

The RTC Certified Pick: Ohio State.

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