Big East NCAA Tournament Capsules: Louisville Cardinals

Posted by Will Tucker on March 21st, 2013

Louisville notched wins against Memphis, Missouri and Kentucky in their nonconference schedule, and their only blemish before New Year’s Day came against Duke in the Bahamas with an injured Gorgui Dieng on the bench. After dropping three straight losses in Big East play, the Cardinals won their last 10 games through the Big East Tournament, going 6-1 against the league’s top six teams since their January loss to Georgetown.

(credit Brad Penner/USA TODAY)

Rick Pitino enters the Tournament with a deep rotation (credit Brad Penner/USA TODAY)

Region: Midwest 
Seed: No. 1
Record: 29-5 (14-4 Big East)
Matchup: v. North Carolina A&T in Lexington 

Key Player: Gorgui Dieng erases mistakes on the defensive end and facilitates the offense in the half court when opponents key on Louisville’s guards. He’s one of very few Cardinals who didn’t play out of his mind in the Big East Tournament, and he’s the player Rick Pitino can least afford to have struggle in the Big Dance. His unique skillset makes him as much, if not more, indispensible than Peyton Siva and Russ Smith. Dieng’s defense is almost always a known quantity, but it’s when he is forcing tightly packed defenses to respect his jump shot that Dieng makes Louisville’s set offense dynamic enough to sustain itself.

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The Official RTC Bracket: Midwest And West Regions

Posted by KDoyle on March 20th, 2013

RTC_final4_atlanta

We released the Official RTC Bracket for the South and East Regions earlier today — be sure to check that out if you need a refresher on our methodology for this exercise — and we’ll save you the fluff this time and cut right to the chase with the Midwest and West Regions. (note: our Final Four selections are after the analyses)

Midwest and West Regions

Quick Hitters From the Midwest Region

  • Advancing to Atlanta: #1 Louisville
  • Round of 64 Upset: #11 St. Mary’s over #6 Memphis
  • Later Round Upset: N/A
  • Three Most Disputed Games: #5 Oklahoma State over #12 Oregon, #11 St. Mary’s over #6 Memphis, #2 Duke over #3 Michigan State

Four Questions About the Midwest Region

Louisville is the odds-on favorite to not just advance out of the Midwest Region, but win the National Championship. Which team has the best chance at dashing Louisville’s title hopes?

Does Pitino Have Another One of These In His Immediate Future? (Getty Images)

Does Pitino Have Another One of These In His Immediate Future? (Getty Images)

Andrew Murawa: After giving the Cards the nod as the overall #1 seed, the selection committee certainly didn’t do them any more favors, dropping them in, what is to me, the toughest region in the bracket. Once they get out of the Round of 64 in this region, Rick Pitino’s club could be facing nothing but dangerous clubs, from the nation’s best rebounding team in Colorado State, to one of the nation’s hottest teams in Saint Louis, to possibly Michigan State or Duke in the Elite Eight. All of those teams can beat the Cards. But the team with the best chance is certainly the Blue Devils, a squad that has already beaten them this season, albeit without Gorgui Dieng.

The #8 vs. #9 game is usually a coin-flip type of game, but it is a 100% consensus that Colorado State beats Missouri. Are the Rams that much better than Missouri?

Zach Hayes: The Rams are by no means world-beaters, but the consensus opinion probably stems from their ability to compete where Missouri excels: on the boards. Colorado State ranks in the nation’s top two in both offensive and defensive rebounding, a glass-crashing tenacity which should work to negate the rebounding prowess of both Alex Oriakhi and Laurence Bowers. The confidence also resides in how shaky Missouri has been at the tail end of close games despite featuring an elite point guard in Phil Pressey. Most bracket prognosticators would rather go to war with a Rams team starting five seniors over Missouri’s constant unpredictability away from home, where their only scalps came against the dregs of the SEC.

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Rushed Reactions: Ole Miss 64, Missouri 62

Posted by David Changas on March 15th, 2013

rushedreactions

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

Three Takeaways:

Did Andy Kennedy Lock Up His First NCAA Berth at Ole Miss?

Did Andy Kennedy Lock Up His First NCAA Berth at Ole Miss?

  1. A Collapse Befitting Missouri. Missouri has had its trouble with closing out and giving away games throughout the season, but this one took the cake. The Tigers led by 14 in the second half and by 10 with 10 minutes to play. Somehow, they wilted down the stretch, even though Ole Miss never went on a particularly impressive run. With the game tied at 59 and less than a minute to play, Phil Pressey, whose late-game failures have been well chronicled, knocked down an open three from the top of the key to give the Tigers the lead. Derrick Millinghaus then tied the game with a three of his own with 31 seconds remaining. Missouri called timeout, and against the Ole Miss press, Laurence Bowers made an inexplicable pass towards no one in particular at mid-court, and Marshall Henderson got the ball.  After a timeout, Millinghaus hit a jumper with 1.1 seconds remaining to give the Rebels the win. 
  2. Millinghaus to the Rescue.  Early in the second half, Ole Miss point guard Jarvis Summers suffered an apparent concussion and was lost for the game. Rebels head coach Andy Kennedy turned to his backup, whom he referred to after the game as a “spot” player, and Millinghaus answered the call. In addition to knocking down the game-tying and game-winning shots, he didn’t turn the ball over, and played solid defense on Pressey. Without him, the Rebels would be going home. Now, to move on, they’ll need another strong performance from Millinghaus against Vanderbilt, as it’s unlikely Summers will be able to make a quick turnaround for tomorrow’s semifinal.  The diminutive freshman from New York stepped up in his team’s most important game of the season and at a time when it needed him most.
  3. Did Ole Miss Seal the Deal?  For most of the game, it looked like the Rebels would make yet another trip to the NIT, where they’ve been five of the past six years. Now, with another quality win on their resume – and their second over Missouri – a NCAA Tournament berth may be in the offing. Kennedy is convinced that his team has done enough. “No team in a BCS league has ever won 24 games and not made the NCAA Tournament,” he said.  The Rebels will be favored to advance to the championship game, and if they do, it’s reasonable to assume that they’ll punch their ticket to the Big Dance, especially given the failures of so many other teams who came into the week sitting on the bubble.  Even without a win over Vanderbilt tomorrow, Kennedy’s team’s chances to make the Big Dance drastically improved with this quality win, and the relief Kennedy felt after the game was evident in his mood.  

Star of the Game. Derrick Millinghaus.  While Henderson scored a game-high 27 points,  Ole Miss doesn’t win this game without Millinghaus’ heroic play. Tournament play often brings out the best in players in situations such as the one Ole Miss faced with Summers’ injury, and that was the case on Friday night.

Sights and Sounds.  After Kentucky filled Bridgestone Arena in the first game of the session, a letdown was to be expected for this game. But both teams had more fans that anticipated, and both sections were loud. In a league filled with apathetic fan bases, Missouri is a welcome addition, and the Tigers’ contingent trailed only those of Kentucky and Tennessee in terms of size.  Henderson’s taunting of the Missouri section late in the game got it particularly riled up.

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A Puncher’s Chance? Breaking Down the Teams Driving the 2013 SEC Tournament

Posted by Christian D'Andrea on March 11th, 2013

Christian D’Andrea is a SEC Microsite contributor and an editor at Anchor of Gold and Nashville Sports Hub. You can reach him on Twitter @TrainIsland.

The SEC Tournament is upon us, and thanks to the league’s new 14-team format, fans get a whole extra day of win-or-go-home basketball in the south. The 2012-13 season hasn’t been particularly kind to the SEC. The conference suffered through a plague of upset losses and a dearth of quality wins which led to speculation that Florida would be the league’s only representative at the NCAA Tournament.

That course has been corrected over the final three weeks of the season thanks to some big wins across the conference’s second tier, but there are still plenty of teams battling for postseason slots. Tennessee and Kentucky will be looking to one-up each other as they duel for what might the last at-large invitation to the Big Dance. Alabama and Ole Miss will look to re-enter the postseason conversation with legitimizing wins. Arkansas, Texas A&M, and Vanderbilt will try to rally hard and extend their seasons one day at a time.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the 14 teams that will be competing for conference honors when Wednesday rolls around.

The Prohibitive Favorite: Florida

 (Photo via John Raoux / AP)

Florida Seeks Another SEC Title in Nashville (Photo via John Raoux / AP)

Billy Donovan’s team hasn’t been perfect against a downtrodden conference, and that has cost the Gators a shot at a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Their best recourse for that will be to put together a dominant run in Nashville, and an easy Friday match-up against LSU or Georgia will give them the opportunity to get off on the right foot. Much like the rest of the season, this will be a high-risk, low-reward endeavor for Florida. They won’t face a top-50 opponent until a theoretical Sunday match-up in the title game. They’ll have to hold court and prove that they can reclaim the dominance that led them to a string of double-digit wins to open league play.

The Savvy Bet: Missouri 

Mizzou may have the richest depth of any team in the SEC, but Frank Haith’s squad has been vulnerable against the conference’s good and mid-level teams in 2013. The Tigers have struggled to play well as a team despite the wealth of experience on their roster, but they’ve been able to regroup (4-2 in their last six games) as the SEC Tournament approaches. Mizzou has the scoring, ball movement, and rebounding to push any opponent to the limit. Players like Alex Oriakhi, Laurence Bowers, and Phil Pressey can create mismatches against any team they face. Can they ratchet up the defense and come together as a cohesive unit when the pressure is on? The Tigers are just a #6 seed in the SEC bracket, but they have the potential to do so much more — especially with a relatively weak draw on the road to the conference championship game.

The At-Large Brawlers: Tennessee, Kentucky

Tennessee and Kentucky represent the conference’s best candidates for a third and possibly fourth NCAA Tournament bid, but it may be a case of one-or-the-other when it comes to the selection committee’s final bracket. Both of these teams proved that they can beat Florida over the past two weeks, but their victories came with the help of home court advantage. Now, they’ll have to prove that they can travel to a neutral court and roll that momentum into a season-sustaining run through the SEC Tournament. The Volunteers and Wildcats will be pitting their resumes against each other for a chance to make it to the Big Dance, and while either team can make a case for inclusion based on their regular season performances, another significant win would all but ensure their spot in one of the NCAA’s four regions.

Jordan McRae and Tennessee are the hottest team in the SEC. (USA Today)

Jordan McRae and Tennessee are the hottest team in the SEC. (USA Today)

The only way these two would meet in Nashville is in the SEC title game, and both teams would be likely locks for the 68-team filed at that point. Kentucky has the better collection of talent, but no team has been hotter over the past month than Tennessee. The Volunteers are at the tail end of an 8-1 run that rallied the team from CBI territory and on to the happy side of the bubble. However, they may have been pushed down to NIT status after Saturday’s UK win over the Gators and Middle Tennessee State’s surprising Sun Belt Tournament loss. Is there room for both of these teams in the NCAA bracket?

The Forgotten Bubble Contenders: Ole Miss, Alabama

Ole Miss and ‘Bama belonged in the previous group until late-season slumps effectively tanked their seasons. For the Rebels, February and March represented a precipitous fall from grace. Marshall Henderson and his teammates plummeted from a potential five-seed or better all the way off the NCAA Tournament bubble with a 6-6 record down the stretch that included losses to South Carolina and Mississippi State. Still, Henderson, Murphy Holloway, and Reginald Buckner could lead the third-seeded Rebels to a big weekend if they can regain their early-season magic.

The Crimson Tide didn’t have a bad spring, they just failed to produce any resume-defining wins. Anthony Grant’s team is solid across the court and strong enough to hang with the SEC’s best teams, but they’ve been unable to lock down an impressive top-50 victory in 2013. This rebuilding Alabama squad has the pieces in place for a big 2014 run, but they might not have the gas this week to get to the SEC title game and back to the bright side of the bubble.

Puncher’s Chances: Vanderbilt, Texas A&M, Arkansas, Georgia, LSU

The SEC Tournament occasionally fails to follow rhyme, reason, or tradition. Some years, a tornado hits the host arena and wills a 4-12 Georgia team to the Big Dance. In others, a Vanderbilt team that hadn’t known much beyond abject failure in the conference bracket wins their first postseason title since 1950. Five teams at the lower end of the Southeastern spectrum could end up adding to that legacy in 2013.

Vanderbilt, thanks in part to the emergence of freshman Sheldon Jeter, is finishing its season better than they started it. A team that can shoot from three-point range and play hard-nosed defense on the perimeter is always dangerous in tournament play, and that will give Kevin Stallings’ team a shot. Same goes for Texas A&M, a squad that could ride Elston Turner Jr.’s hot hand to a marquee match-up on Sunday.

Arkansas, with wins over Kentucky, Florida, and Missouri, may have the best resume of the group when it comes to the league’s third tier and a high-paced style that could wreak havoc in a four-day tournament setting. Georgia has been streaky all year and could be an upset of Florida away from an easy path to the SEC title game. Finally, LSU has been wholly unpredictable in 2013 and that volatility could result in a surprising run to a weekend match-up or a Thursday exit at the hands of Georgia.

Saving Money on Costly Weekend Hotels in Nashville: Mississippi State, Auburn, South Carolina

Frank Martin’s team has some young talent, but doesn’t have a path to a Friday game unless Bruce Ellington or Michael Carrera catch fire for the Gamecocks. Even with a big, slightly inexplicable win over Ole Miss, Mississippi State is still a rebuilding team with just seven scholarship players to count on in Nashville. Auburn held Alabama to just 37 points once and also beat Florida State this season, but that’s about it for bright spots in a season that’s ending on a 1-14 skid.

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After Saving the SEC’s Tourney Chances, What’s Next For Missouri?

Posted by DPerry on February 22nd, 2013

It’s no secret that the SEC is having a down year. From defending champ Kentucky suffering a 30-point loss at Tennessee to first-year head coach Rick Ray struggling through an 11-game losing streak and multiple suspensions, the evidence is overwhelming. SEC fans, however, were able to breathe a collective sigh of relief Tuesday night after Missouri’s victory over Florida, one of the most important results of the conference season.

Laurence Bowers

Laurence Bowers had 17 points and 10 rebounds in Missouri’s upset of Florida. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

If the Gators had been able to hold on to their 13-point second half lead, I’d probably be writing a piece about the very real possibility of the SEC sending only one team to the NCAA Tournament. According to the most recent projections from Joe Lunardi and Jerry Palm, only Florida, Missouri, and Ole Miss have résumés worthy of Tourney invites, with the latter two only just making the cut. A few more road losses would have sent Mizzou further down the “S-curve”, while the Rebels seem really committed to complete capitulation, having lost five of seven since this. Kentucky and Alabama could play their way in, but their margin for error is slim.

Yes, Missouri’s upset of Florida was the most direct route in virtually ensuring that the SEC wouldn’t join the likes of the Patriot League and the Summit League as one-bid conferences, but Frank Haith won’t be satisfied with a repeat of a first-round exit. Expectations were high in Columbia entering the season, and the Tigers have been largely disappointing. Can Mizzou use the home upset as a springboard for a late-season run?

If they can make these three improvements, don’t be surprised to see the Tigers carrying a lot of momentum into March:

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Missouri’s Road Struggles Are a Major Roadblock to Its Ultimate Success

Posted by Brian Joyce on February 11th, 2013

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.

It’s been a rough 2013 for the Missouri Tigers thus far. Just a little over a week into the new year, forward Laurence Bowers went down with a sprained MCL. Then, there were rumors that head coach Frank Haith would be hit by the NCAA with serious “unethical conduct” and “failure to to promote an atmosphere of compliance” charges from his previous time at Miami (FL). On the court, Missouri came into the SEC race as one of the favorites with just two losses, a neutral court defeat to Louisville, and an understandable overtime road loss to UCLA. Yet a little over halfway through league play, the Tigers are three games behind first place Florida in the conference standings. The year of 2013 strikes again.

Haith's Tigers need to figure out their road woes (ESPN).

Haith’s Tigers need to figure out their road woes (ESPN).

The Tigers haven’t won more than two games in a row in their first run through the SEC schedule, and coming into last Saturday’s game with Ole Miss, Mizzou stood at a pedestrian 5-4. But with Bowers back in the lineup, Missouri grabbed 22 offensive boards, shot over 50 percent from three, and clicked on its way to its second most efficient offensive game of the season with 1.34 points per possession, beating the Rebels by 19 points. The Tigers without question turned in an impressive performance, but before anyone gets too excited, remember that game was at Mizzou Arena. Missouri is now 14-0 at home and 6-0 in conference play. On the other hand, the Tigers have struggled mightily away from the friendly environs of Columbia. Even including games against middle-of-the-pack SEC teams such as LSU and Texas A&M, Missouri is 0-4 on the road and the last two losses even occurred with Bowers back in the lineup.

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SEC M5: 02.01.13 Edition

Posted by DPerry on February 1st, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. Frank Haith has had a rough month. Questions over his job security in the wake of violations at Miami have been festering, and his Missouri Tigers, previously ranked in the top 10, were in free fall after heavy losses to Ole Miss and Florida. But forward Laurence Bowers’ return would solve the latter problem at least, right? Wrong. Missouri lost to LSU in Baton Rouge, and Haith is not amused. “We have no toughness in the first half; we have no resolve,” Haith said. “It’s disappointing. It’s really extremely disappointing. Guys are tending to do their own thing when the game’s getting tight or there’s adversity.” Star point guard Phil Pressey, despite finally finding his scoring touch, should shoulder as much of the blame as anyone. The Wooden Award nominee has become a gunner from long-range, and missed a hurried effort (one of his 8 3-point misses on the night) late in the game when Missouri had been steadily coming back. “We (had been) driving the ball, and we needed to keep driving the ball,” Haith said, noting there was plenty of time left. “We said that in timeouts.” The Tigers are 0-4 in true road games this season.
  2. “They’re real good.” -Frank Martin. He was talking, of course, about Florida, right after his Gamecocks succumbed to a nearly 40-point loss at their hands. The Gators, sporting a 7-0 conference record with a point differential of over 28, are making a mockery of the SEC. They’ve beaten up on the bottom of the league, but the sheer dominance of their victories, not to mention the shellacking of 17th-ranked Missouri, indicates that weak opposition isn’t the only explanation for their success. Florida isn’t unbeatable, but their balanced offense (the nation’s 4th most efficient) is somewhat of a safeguard against an unexpected upset. Four players average more than 11.0 points a game, and a fifth (Scottie Wilbekin), was just named SEC Player of the Week. Even if the odds are defied and every Gator has an off shooting night, coach Billy Donovan can just fall back on the 2nd best defense in the country. Your move SEC.
  3. Tennessee will be likely be shorthanded for their trip to Fayetteville this weekend. Junior guard Trae Golden suffered an injury to his right hamstring late in the Volunteers victory over Vanderbilt and is unlikely to recover by Saturday. “It’s tough for our team,” Vols head coach Cuonzo Martin said. “I thought he had really been assertive (lately) with the ball. So it’s tough for our team, but more importantly, it’s tough for Trae. He wants to be out there. He’s upset about it. But we have to keep moving.” Hometown walk-on Brandon Lopez should be the next in line to pick up the slack for Golden. The early scouting report on him features a lot of the standard buzzwords for walk-ons, so any offensive output will be a bonus. Arkansas’ up-tempo style and the loss of Golden puts points at a premium, so the Volunteers will have to count on Jordan McRae rediscovering his shooting stroke and Jarnell Stokes continuing his recent offensive resurgence.
  4. As if having 12 of your shots blocked by one person wasn’t painful enough, the hits keep on coming for Ole Miss in the aftermath of their loss to Kentucky. Reserve forward Aaron Jones suffered a torn ACL while senior guard Nick Williams re-aggravated a foot injury. Jones is obviously done for the year, while there is no timetable for Willams’ return. This represents a serious blow to the Rebels’ depth, affording coach Andy Kennedy no game time to adjust his rotation before traveling to Gainesville this weekend. Freshman Derrick Millinghaus, who has seen his minutes dwindle since the start of conference play, should see more time, while classmate Terry Brutus seems like the best bet to contribute a few minutes in the paint.
  5. I said a few months ago that we wouldn’t mention this guy on this microsite again, but circumstances are forcing my hand. Big Blue Nation favorite and apparent troll Billy Gillispie will be in attendance for Kentucky’s trip to College Station this weekend. In response to Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy‘s invite, Gillispie said “Actually, I’m playing golf [in College Station] on Friday. I said, ‘Who are y’all playing Saturday?’ They said, ‘Kentucky,’ and so I said, ‘I think I’ll go.’ But it’s no big deal.” Kentucky players will be focused on stopping Aggie guard Elston Turner, who scored 40 in his trip to Rupp Arena, but Wildcat fans will certainly be paying attention to an individual on the sideline. Expect one of ESPN’s cameras to be attached to Billy, treatment usually reserved at Kentucky games for Ashley Judd.
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Morning Five: 01.30.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on January 30th, 2013

morning5

  1. For the NCAA, the Ed O’Bannon likeness case is the gift that keeps on taking. The latest procedural twist in the case — which will not even go to trial until 18 months from now — is that the players will have the right to make a legal claim against the billions in television revenue that the NCAA earns through the broadcasting of its football and basketball games. The plaintiffs are hoping to become certified as a class-action representation, which would allow every former and current NCAA athlete a slice of the pie if the case is eventually won on the merits. There’s a long way to go before that outcome, but by and large, the case has thus far been more favorable to the O’Bannon team than the suits in Indy.
  2. We may never get the original Magic Eight as its creator Grant Wahl abandoned us to write books about male underwear models, but there have been a number of individuals who have tried to fill the void including Luke Winn who received the Magic Eight ball in a care package from Grant two years ago. Peter Tiernan is trying to follow in those footsteps with his own formula for picking a champion. Looking back at data from the last 12 champions, he claims to have found eight key criteria a champion must have. Using his formula he has found eight teams that as of Tuesday morning meet those guidelines. Obviously the numbers from each of these teams can change over the next 45 days until we get to Selection Sunday (or is it technically the last Monday of the season?), but this could provide you with a good thing to keep in mind when you are filling out your brackets in March.
  3. We usually have to report injuries here so we enjoy being able to report that players are coming back from injuries. The biggest positive news on that front comes from Missouri where Laurence Bowers is expected to return to play possibly as early as tonight against LSU. Bowers has been out since January 8 with a sprained MCL and the Tigers have struggled in his absence going 3-2 including an embarrassing loss at Florida where it seemed like the entire team forgot to get on the plane to Gainesville. Missouri will need Bowers to be back at 100% if they are going to challenge Florida’s control in the SEC this season. Fortunately the Tigers have a relatively easy stretch (ok, you could say that about the entire SEC schedule) to get Bowers back to form before they get another shot at the Gators on February 19 in Mizzou Arena.
  4. Michigan also got some good news yesterday when it was announced that Jordan Morgan had a sprained ankle after x-rays on his right ankle did not reveal any fractures. This is obviously big news for the Wolverines with their showdown in Bloomington on Saturday night looming. Morgan will be particularly important against the Hoosiers because he would be matched up against Tyler Zeller, who would be a tough match-up even if he has had a relatively disappointing sophomore season. Before that game, the Wolverines play against Northwestern tonight, but we don’t have much information coming out of Ann Arbor except for this insightful analysis: “If he can play, he’ll play. But if he’s still hurt, he won’t.”
  5. The news for Louisville was more mixed as they announced that Wayne Blackshear will be returning from a shoulder injury to play against Marquette on Sunday, but Kevin Ware will “not be coming back anytime soon” from his suspension. We still are not sure why Ware has been suspended and schools are so secretive with this information that it could be pretty much anything. Blackshear’s return is more important for a team that has been more offensively challenged that usual in the past week, but it would be short-sighted to dismiss the contributions of Ware who has played 15.3 minutes per game. At this point Louisville could use all the help it can get to right their sinking ship.
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Handicapping the SEC POY Race Heading Into February

Posted by Christian D'Andrea on January 29th, 2013

Christian D’Andrea is a microsite contributor and an editor at Anchor of Gold and Nashville Sports Hub. You can complain about his terrible oddsmaking in the comments, or find him on Twitter @TrainIsland.

The first three weeks of conference play have come and gone in the SEC, and we’ve uncovered some revelations about the league. Ole Miss, for example, showed that a weak non-conference schedule camouflaged an emerging team. Florida, who hasn’t played a league game that it hasn’t won by 17 points or more, is every bit the beast they were expected to be. Missouri and Kentucky, on the other hand, have struggled despite talented rosters. What’s less clear is who the best player in the conference is. Several athletes have stepped up this year, some big men like Nerlens Noel and Reginald Buckner to guards like Phil Pressey and Kenny Boynton. They’ll all have their chance to join legends like Shaquille O’Neal, Charles Barkley, Bernard King, and Dan Langhi in earning SEC Player of the Year honors. So far, a surprising player leads the pack as January winds to a close. Ole Miss is 6-0 in conference play, and a big part of that revival has been thanks to Marshall Henderson’s shooting. He’s not the only one with his eyes on the SEC POY hardware, though. Let’s take a look at who is gunning for league honors, and where their odds stand nearly 20 games into the season.

The Frontrunners

As If Enough Hadn't Been Written About Him Already This Week... (AP)

As If Enough Hadn’t Been Written About Him Already This Week… (AP)

  • Marshall Henderson, Ole Miss (5:1 odds to win POY)  – Well this is certainly surprising – at least to people not named Marshall Henderson. Henderson has been the catalyst behind Ole Miss’ surprising season by leading his team in scoring and swagger. The cocksure shooter has willed Mississippi to a 6-0 start in conference play. He leads the SEC in scoring and his shooting touch has pulled the Rebels out of tight games against Auburn, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt. Henderson has plenty of negatives, though. He’s shooting less than 40 percent from the field and a big function of his game is having players like Reginald Buckner and Murphy Holloway up front to clean up his mess. He’s also an unreliable passer who averages more turnovers than assists from the backcourt. Still, he’s been the focal point of Mississippi’s 2013 revival, and his scoring and ability to come up big in the clutch have made him the POY front-runner as January winds down.

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SEC M5: 01.21.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 21st, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. Ole Miss‘ win over Arkansas gives the Rebels a 4-0 beginning to SEC play marking its best conference start since the 1936-37 season. That’s 76 years since the Rebels have began this well in league games. It may feel like it’s been about the same length of time since Andy Kennedy’s club has been to an NCAA Tournament (never under Kennedy; the last time was 2002), and the Rebels are hoping to break that streak too. And while they’re at it, they may even try to break into the Top 25 rankings, a faraway land that Ole Miss hasn’t seen since 2001. The players sense that something special is brewing in Oxford as well. “Anybody can see it,” said senior Nick Williams. “It’s been a long time since we’ve been able to do something great here, and we understand what we need to do because me, Murphy (Holloway) and Reg (Buckner) — we have been here for a while and we’ve been so close for so long.” Could this finally be the year that Ole Miss breaks through?
  2. Florida’s 83-52 thrashing of Missouri on Saturday led to a number of questions. Is Florida that good? Yes, especially at home. Is Missouri that bad? I really hope not. Does Laurence Bowers really make that much of a difference? No. But it’s undeniable that the Tigers are on a downward spiral. They’ve lost two of their last three games, and dropped three of their last six. To make matters worse, guard Keion Bell adds that Missouri simply wasn’t prepared. “I just think that we, as a team, we underestimated the amount of pressure that their full-court press would put on us,” Bell said. “Although the coaching staff has embedded it in our brains throughout the whole week, we just didn’t take heed to the things that they were saying about Florida’s pressure, and we weren’t ready at the beginning of the game.” Missouri needs to regroup before things get worse, and perhaps listen to the coaching staff during its preparation. A softer upcoming schedule of South Carolina, Vanderbilt, at LSU, and Auburn should help.
  3. It was a homecoming of sorts for Mississippi State Bulldog Jalen Steele, who always dreamed of playing in Thompson-Boling Arena. Steele grew up in Knoxville as a Tennessee Mr. Basketball, but then-Volunteers head coach Bruce Pearl went for two recruits you may have heard of instead — Aaron Craft and Josh Selby. Even though his basketball career didn’t work out exactly as planned, Steele finally heard his name called in Thompson-Boling Arena on Saturday. “To hear my name called and it said ‘Knoxville,’ that felt good,” Steele said. Steele showed he was good enough to play with the Vols too, as he added 15 points in a losing effort for the Bulldogs. I imagine it was a surreal moment, even in defeat, for a player who has been through a lot in Starkville.
  4. When you’re playing as well as Florida is right now, four points probably won’t matter, but it might one day. Gators center Patric Young isn’t satisfied with his free throw shooting after a 4-of-8 performance against LSU. “It’s huge because I’m leaving points on the board whenever you miss free throws,” Young said. “You go 4 for 8, that’s four points that help you with your draft stock or your average on the year. I mean, it doesn’t really matter but when it comes down to the line in a game-winning situation, you need to be able to step up with confidence.” For the sake of his draft stock, Young hit the practice courts to shoot 500 free throws a day, and the hard work is paying off. He entered the Texas A&M game shooting 50 percent from the line, but went 4-of-5 against the Aggies and 1-of-1 against Missouri.
  5. Kentucky has struggled against quality teams this season, but John Calipari’s Wildcats have a surplus of NBA talent on the roster. However, during an ESPNU telecast of the Kentucky vs. Auburn game on Saturday night, Charles Barkley said none of the current Wildcats were ready for the NBA. “John Calipari’s a friend of mine. I love him as a friend. There ain’t one player on this Kentucky team who should go pro early. I hate the one-and-done rule in college basketball. Just ’cause there’s a rule does not mean you have to do it. Listen, Anthony Davis played well enough for him to go pro. … I wish some of these parents would talk to their kids.” Though Cal’s younger Cats will excel in the pro game one day, Chuck has a point for the here and now. Archie Goodwin is probably the most pro-ready of the three freshman Wildcats most likely to be selected in the first round. Nerlens Noel is ready defensively, but his offensive game has a ways to go. But Alex Poythress is the biggest question mark in terms of making the jump. He has tendencies to disappear for long stretches offensively, and did you see his defense on Elston Turner?  The issue is not just directed towards Kentucky’s freshmen but the entire college game. The one-and-done mentality has watered down the talent level, enabling and pushing players like Noel and Poythress who could both benefit from an extra year of development to make the jump after just one year.
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SEC M5: 01.14.13 Edition

Posted by DPerry on January 14th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  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

SEC_morning5

  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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