- Midnight Madness is a fun and exciting way to kick off the college basketball season, but the madness is over. It’s time to begin focusing on some real basketball. Following the ceremonial bash, the defending national champion Kentucky Wildcats jumped right in with two-a-day practices. And so far, coach John Calipari likes what he sees from his young team. He especially liked the effort of one of his new guys because he was willing to offer up a prediction on the season — freshman forward Alex Poythress will be a major benefactor from any missed shots. “Alex is going to be the best offensive rebounder in the country,” Calipari said. “They’re going to end up having to put two guys on him.” That’s a scary thought considering how effective the Wildcats were cleaning up the offensive glass last season.
- It is not unreasonable to think Calipari could go with a twin towers approach to find additional playing time for his two freshmen centers, Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein, but would he really consider adding a third big man such as Kyle Wiltjer or Poythress in that same lineup? If it means additional wins, of course he would. In his first three seasons at the helm in Lexington, Calipari hasn’t been afraid to alter his team’s play based on strength. “Literally, we don’t know how we’re going to play yet,” Calipari said. “And that’s the disadvantage. You have all these teams that know how they’re going to play. They have the same team back. They’re just going to touch up. They added a couple of guys to see if they can get better, and then they build that base. Well, we have no base.” We suppose that is a disadvantage, but so is not playing with a team full of NBA players like most of Kentucky’s opponents.
- Missouri coach Frank Haith opens up the new season with several questions about whether or not his Tigers can repeat the success they have found in the Big 12. One advantage Haith will miss is the outside shooting of departed long distance threats Marcus Denmon and Kim English. Having a consistent three-point shooter like Denmon and English helps point guard Phil Pressey attack and find the open man. “I don’t know that we have great shooters,” Haith said. “But we have guys that are really good shooters, and I think we’ll be a team that can really attack and get to the free-throw line.” However, it remains to be seen as to what degree and how often opposing defenses will sag off their man on the perimeter to clog up the middle making driving to the lane that much more difficult for Pressey and company.
- Florida coach Billy Donovan is pleased with his team’s effort, and he has named a starting point guard for the Gators. For now. Junior Scottie Wilbekin has Donovan’s full confidence for the starting nod. “I feel good about him,” Donovan said. “He’s a junior in college now. Even though a lot was made when he first came coming out of high school and bypassing his senior year of high school, certainly that was a huge jump for him, but I think he proved he could really handle that as a freshman. He got a chance to back up Erving Walker. So I think Scottie has shown a lot of improvement, he’s gotten better. I’ve got a lot of confidence in him because of the things that he can do.” Donovan also pointed out that Wilbekin is the Gators’ second most effective three-point shooter behind forward Erik Murphy. For all this praise, Wilbekin averaged just 2.6 points and 1.6 assists per game last season.
- Despite a surprising run in conference play to finish at 10-6, Tennessee point guard Trae Golden is not satisfied with what his team has accomplished. The Vols are ready to move past a second round NIT defeat to Middle Tennessee State, and Golden will be a big reason for their success. “I see a lot of confidence in him now,” said Tennessee assistant coach Tracy Webster. “He understands what he needs to do and what we’re looking for him to do. He knows that he can play, but now he understands that it’s his job to make everyone else around him better.” A telling stat was recounted in the story — in Tennessee’s 18 victories, Golden accounted for 99 assists with just 52 turnovers. However, in the 14 losses, Golden distributed just 55 assists to 46 turnovers. Golden, along with Mizzou’s Pressey, lead a pack of talented point guards in the conference. It is sure to be a big season for both the 6’1″ guard and his team of Volunteers.
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.