Three Takeaways from SEC Play: Two Elite Rebounders and Watch For Rod Odom

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 10th, 2014

Sometimes things go as planned (see Florida’s win over South Carolina), and sometimes they don’t (see Georgia upsetting ranked Missouri), but that’s the element that makes college basketball so intriguing. The SEC’s slate of games certainly brought some unpredictability this week, but also shed some light on things to come in the conference race. The SEC season is only one game old, but it’s never too early to speculate on trends that could affect the end result. Here are our three first-week takeaways that could ultimately impact the final SEC standings.

Mark Fox gets an emotional win to break Missouri's 26 game home winning streak. (AP photo)

Mark Fox gets an emotional win to break Missouri’s 26-game home winning streak. (AP photo)

1. Mark Fox and Georgia got an emotional overtime win over Missouri in large part because of a dominant effort on the boards. I was more than prepared to write a 2,000-word essay on the tremendous play of Nemanja Djurisic, but try as I might to shift the narrative to the hot shooting of the Bulldogs’ junior forward, the more pressing and lingering issue from this game was Missouri’s rebounding deficiency. The Tigers were outboarded on both ends, but if Frank Haith’s squad is going to settle on outside jumpers by its trio of heavy usage guards then they will need a better performance on the offensive glass from freshman Johnathan Williams. Missouri is more than a little thin in the frontcourt, so it will have to rely on the 6’9″ rookie to do better than his season low of two rebounds against the Bulldogs. Missouri simply can’t afford for him to pull a no-show on the glass. The good news is that Williams is more than capable of shouldering the load, considering that he is one of the best offensive rebounders in the country. Just how good is he? He’s one of only a handful of freshman  in the last seven years with an offensive rebounding percentage over 15 percent. And he’s in some pretty good company, as the table below exhibits.

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The RTC Interview Series: SEC Preview with Dave Baker, Barry Booker and Chris Dortch

Posted by WCarey on November 4th, 2013

Rush The Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you periodically throughout the offseason. If you have any specific interview requests or want us to interview you, shoot us an email at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

With the college basketball season nearly upon us, we thought it would be a good idea to gather some expert opinions on the nation’s major college basketball conferences. As part of our national preview of the SEC, we recently had the pleasure of speaking with three SEC experts in television analysts Dave Baker and Barry Booker, as well as Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook editor, Chris Dortch. (Ed. note – we spoke to each individual separately, but for the sake of expediency, combining their answers into a round table format made the most sense.)

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Booker, Baker and Dortch Shared Their SEC Thoughts With Us This Preseason

Rush the Court: How good is Kentucky and what makes it that good? Do you expect the Wildcats to win both the SEC and the national titles?

Dave Baker: A lot of folks think that Cal can be a little blustery at times. I think he’s actually pretty frank in his assessments. Last year, he thought they were gonna be better than they were. He thought they were gonna be a good team; he didn’t they they could be a great team. But he’s really got that swagger back this year. And this team is an incredibly talented team. People can debate whether, coming into their college careers, this is the best recruiting class of all-time, but I can tell you, just in the couple of practices I’ve seen, there has been a marked difference in terms of talent level, attitude and the way these guys are working together. There are some natural leaders that have come in this class. Based on what I’ve seen, his confidence is well-placed. With what their expectations are, they certainly believe they should be in the mix at the end of the year.

Barry Booker: Kentucky has everything it takes to be extremely good. It has elite talent all over the court. I think Kentucky is the surefire favorite in the SEC and I believe it has to be considered one of the top contenders to win the national title. This 2013 recruiting class is just one of the best we have seen – by all reports. It seems like every year, Kentucky gets some of the best recruits. In a year like this, where Kentucky has an outstanding class and it has players like Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein returning, it would be hard to see the Wildcats not being a top-notch team. It is amazing what John Calipari is doing in bringing in that top flight talent to replace top flight talent every year.

Chris Dortch: This historically great recruiting class gives coach John Calipari his most talented team ever, with at least seven future NBA first-round draft picks. Kentucky is definitely favored in the SEC and will be a title threat come March, but there are a handful of teams with more experience that are capable of executing a game plan and sending the Cats home short of the championship game.

RTC: Florida lost its three leading scorers from last season’s Elite Eight team. Are this season’s Gators a legitimate challenger to Kentucky in the SEC?

Baker: I think Billy and Florida will have another really good team. He’s got a situation down there where he just finds people to replace the players who have moved on. They are just incredibly consistent year-in and year-out. I know that they would have liked to have made some deeper runs in the NCAA Tournaments since their championships, but other than that, they’re just really consistent.

Booker: Absolutely. The Gators have gone to the Elite Eight three straight seasons and they are at that level again this season. I am not sure if you can call them number two – maybe Kentucky is 1A and Florida is 1B. If Kentucky does stumble and does not get things figured out, Florida can come in and take over at the top of the league. Freshman Kasey Hill is a dynamic point guard. Even with the departures from last year, Florida is still very strong on the perimeter with Scottie Wilbekin and Michael Frazier. The Gators also return Patric Young inside – who is the best interior player in the league. This is a very solid team. It just has to stay healthy this season. The injury to Will Yeguete really hurt the team last season. It was never able to get back to the same level that it was at before the Yeguete injury.

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SEC M5: 02.27.12 Edition

Posted by DPerry on February 27th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. The red-hot Tennessee Volunteers extended its winning streak to six games Tuesday night, handing Florida their second loss in three games. Jordan McRae provided most of the offense with 27 points, while Jarnell Stokes (14 rebounds) dominated the glass in a game that was almost a must-win for the Vols to make the NCAA Tournament field. Florida began SEC play with 11 straight victories, looking almost infallible in comparison to the rest of the weak conference. However, injuries have taken their toll (Will Yeguete and Michael Frazier II, most recently) and the Gators have lost some of that shine, maybe enough to completely excuse themselves from the #1-seed conversation. With the loss, Billy Donovan’s record against Cuonzo Martin fell to 0-3.
  2. Anthony Grant charged Trevor Releford with putting the offense on his back through the rest of the season, and he started out in style. Behind 21 points from the junior guard, Alabama avenged an ugly February 6 loss to intrastate rival Auburn with an easy win Tuesday night. Nick Jacobs chipped in with 10 points and 10 rebounds. “We talked about the importance of every game going forward, but obviously any time you get a chance to play your in-state rival that adds a different meaning,” Grant said after the game. Alabama travels to Gainesville this weekend with, unbelievably, a chance to tie the Gators atop the SEC standings.
  3. Believe it or not, Georgia still has a chance to grab a first-round bye in the SEC Tournament. Show of hands: Who thought the Bulldogs would be able to say that at the end of February? Really? Really? Coach Mark Fox will face a challenge tonight, as he brings his young backcourt into the uncomfortable environment that is Vanderbilt’s Memorial Gym, the only venue in the nation that features benches along the baseline. “I’m probably more worried about it this year with such a young perimeter group,” Fox said of the Commodores’ court configuration. “There’s a lot of the game they’ll have to manage on their own on the floor.” Freshman Charles Mann has been seeing more time at the point, while classmates Kenny Gaines and Brandon Morris have earned their share of minutes as well. The Bulldogs have lost three of four games after a previous five-game winning streak.
  4. Andrew Wiggins, the top recruit in the class of 2013 according to both Rivals and ESPN, will take an official visit to Kentucky, probably while you’re reading this. He’s visited the Lexington campus before, but expects to see more than he did on his previous unofficial trip. “He’ll have a chance to meet different people: the academic people, the athletic director,” said Rob Fulford, Wiggins’ coach at Huntington (WV) Prep. “It’s more official as far as what you’re looking for and getting a feel for the school.” The forward originally from Canada is also considering Florida State, Kansas, and North Carolina. Also, watch this.
  5. Frank Haith hasn’t been hesitant to criticize his team this season. His most recent target is his team’s subpar defense on the road against Kentucky. “We had nobody play on that end of the court,” Haith said. “And when you have nobody play on that end of the court, you don’t have a chance. We had so many breakdowns where we didn’t rotate, we didn’t shrink the gap and allowed them driving lanes and loose balls and poor closeouts.” Kentucky entered Saturday’s game with Missouri without any momentum, but the Tigers’ lax defense allowed the Wildcats to shoot over 50% from the field, as well as over 40% from long range. Haith believes that his team only plays quality defense when their offensive game is on, which may help to explain much of the Tigers’ road struggles this season.
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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 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

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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 M5: 12.19.12 Edition

Posted by DPerry on December 19th, 2012

SEC_morning5

  1. Several members of the national media have been quick to criticize Kenny Boynton in the days following his disappointing performance at Arizona. The criticism is hard to argue with, as the senior guard scored only five points on 10 attempts from the field. SI‘s Andy Glockner got in on the act, publishing an article in which he asks whether Boynton will be a help or hindrance for Florida come Tournament time. I fall squarely in the former camp. His high-volume three-point shot totals aren’t as reliable as a what a dominant post player or steady ball-handler brings to the table, but Boynton is the type of player who has the ability to win you games in March that you otherwise have no business winning. He hit the 20 point-mark in 12 games last year, not to mention the three times thus far in his senior season. Boynton could very well be the culprit in an early postseason defeat for the Gators, but without him in the picture, Florida simply isn’t a team with realistic Final Four aspirations.
  2. Georgia didn’t make much progress toward finding a secondary offensive option last night, but the Bulldogs did enough of the defensive end to earn their third win of the season over Mercer, 58-49. The visiting Bears mustered only 16 field goals, including a miserable 6-of-26 from beyond the arc. “Today was important and we needed to win,” said head coach Mark Fox. “We won the game today because we played such a physical schedule early. We had to be sound for 40 minutes to win this game because [Mercer isn’t] making very many mistakes.” Fox is certainly still tinkering with his rotation, as 11 players saw the court for 10 minutes or more in Tuesday’s victory.
  3. The cupcake-heavy home schedule bothers the season ticket holders in Lexington, but Jerry Tipton believes that Kentucky will ultimately benefit from these breather games. Lipscomb coach Scott Sanderson, who played at Rupp last Saturday, agrees. “The chance to work on execution without the distracting consideration of winning or losing,” says Sanderson. “The label of ‘guarantee games’ refers to a payment the lesser team receives for its service as a sacrificial lamb. But the greater team in these match-ups is all but guaranteed of a victory.” While I believe that the Wildcats probably needed to recalibrate some things after losses to Notre Dame and Baylor, I think a nearly month-long break from quality competition is too long. A mentally-prepared Kentucky team doesn’t stand much of a chance at the Yum! Center in Louisville anyway — I won’t be surprised if the young and rusty ‘Cats struggle mightily against the tested Cardinals.
  4. Jabari Brown stole the headlines in his first game in a Missouri uniform, but it was a big night for Laurence Bowers as well, as the senior forward joined the Tigers’ 1,000 point club. Bowers is especially pleased to now be mentioned in the same class as former teammates Kim English and Marcus Denmon. “I’m kind of in competition with those guys, to be honest,” Bowers said. “I know that I might not surpass them as far as scoring points, but I definitely want to surpass them as far as the season they had.” Team success will be harder to guarantee than points, however. Bowers combines with Alex Oriakhi to form a fearsome frontcourt, and point guard Phil Pressey is one of the nation’s best lead guards, but no wing player has stepped up and shown any consistency through the early part of the schedule.
  5. Mike Anderson and his high-intensity style produces the need for a lot of bodies, but Arkansas won’t be able to count on Brandon Mitchell this season. The two-sport football star would have served as an athletic backcourt option off the bench, but with new football coach Bret Bielema converting Mitchell from wide receiver to quarterback, basketball will have to take the back seat. “He told me his focus is on football right now,” Anderson said. “It makes sense. We have got a new coaching staff and he has got to get ready for Coach B. He did a good job for us but football is what he is here for.”
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SEC M5: 12.18.12 Edition

Posted by DPerry on December 18th, 2012

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  1. Playing in his first competitive game in 13 months, Missouri transfer Jabari Brown gave Tiger fans reason for optimism heading into the conference season. The sophomore guard kicked off his career in Columbia with 12 points in only 20 minutes against South Carolina State last night. “He played great,” coach Frank Haith said. “He was 1-for 7 from three, but that doesn’t concern me because I know that he’s going to make threes. What Jabari brings is basketball IQ, moves well without the ball. He passes the ball. He’s patient offensively, and I think that’s needed with this team.” Brown’s shooting woes aside, he showed an ability to draw contact when attacking the rim. Missouri had no trouble with the Bulldogs in their 102-51 win, meaning Brown will still need to prove himself in more meaningful minutes. He’ll get that opportunity this weekend in the annual Braggin’ Rights game against Illinois.
  2. Tennessee junior Trae Golden earned SEC Player of the Week honors for his performance against Wichita State last Thursday. The Shockers had no answer for the opposing ball-handler, allowing Golden to tally 25 points and five assists in the key win. One of the few positives so far this season for the Volunteers has been their ability to get to the free throw line (ranking 25th in the country in free throws per offensive play), and Golden is the key. He stands only 6’1″, but he leads the team with 47 trips to the foul line this season. His free-throw percentage is down from the previous two seasons, but after going 13-of-16 against Wichita State, he looks to have rediscovered his stroke.
  3. In what will undoubtedly be a long season for Auburn, the Tigers received some good news yesterday when guard Jordan Price was named SEC Freshman of the Week. Price is a serious threat from long range, shooting an amazing 8-of-8 from three-point land in games against Grambling and Furman, helping Auburn to their first winning streak of this season. He believes that he wasn’t completely ready for the rigors of a college season when he initially arrived on campus, and he’s still adjusting to the game at this level. “It started real fast, and I wasn’t really ready,” Price said. “As time goes on, and this Christmas break really helped me out, I’m getting in better shape. I’m getting more accustomed with the game and the speed of the game.”
  4. LSU will take the court tonight for the first time without being able to point to its undefeated record. The competition won’t be as tough as Boise State was, but the Tigers’ coach knows the UC Irvine Anteaters aren’t pushovers. “They are a good basketball team,” Johnny Jones said of his opponent. “They played UCLA to overtime. They beat Nevada and that win Saturday night at Fresno. So we will be playing a confident basketball team coming in on Tuesday so it will be a great challenge to us.” Jones also appears ready to play the hot hand. He announced that regular reserve Corban Collins, who has hit seven three-pointers in the last two games, may get the chance to enter the starting lineup.
  5. Georgia will host Mercer this morning at 11:30 AM, in what is being called the “Businessfan’s Special.” Four thousand students and teachers from the Athens area will be in attendance as well. The Bulldogs’ athletic department is getting creative to solve their attendance problem, but fans will be more interested to see if Mark Fox has anything up his sleeve to solve his 265th-ranked offense. Mercer has already beaten Florida State this season and won’t be intimidated by a power conference school, especially one with losses to Iona and Youngstown State already on its resume. Georgia couldn’t pull off the victory last time out, but Donte Williams and Charles Mann racked up 16 and 18 points, respectively. We’ll see if one of these players can step up and fill the role of secondary scorer that Georgia so desperately needs.
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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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Kentavious Caldwell-Pope Needs Help, But From Whom?

Posted by Brian Joyce on December 5th, 2012

As pointed out in this Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s SEC M5, Georgia’s offensive ineptitude is prohibiting Mark Fox’s squad from winning games. The Bulldogs haven’t topped 68 points all year, and they are shooting 38.8 percent on the season. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has been the only reliable scorer, averaging 17.4 points per game, but the next highest scorer averages 7.8 points per contest. Georgia needs someone to step up on the offensive end, but who is capable?

Will Somebody Please Help Kentavious Caldwell-Pope?

The Georgia offense is horrid. The Bulldogs rank 266th in effective field goal percentage, 231st in turnover percentage, 225th in offensive rebounding percentage, and 208th in free throw rate. When a team can’t break into the top 200 on any of the offensive four factors, it is not likely to win many games. And the Bulldogs have only been able to win twice this season. In both of their two victories, Georgia held the opposing offense to under 38 percent shooting. Even when winning, it hasn’t necessarily been the offense doing the dirty work. Georgia has players ready to shoot the ball, but perhaps they are not the ones Fox needs carrying the offensive load. Is there someone on the team who could take on a bigger role in the offense to take some of the pressure off KCP? We’ll turn to advanced statistics to find out.

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Georgia Tech Takes Control of Peach State Rivalry

Posted by rtmsf on December 5th, 2012

Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Tuesday night’s Georgia-Georgia Tech game in Atlanta.

When the college basketball season tipped off a month ago, Georgia and Georgia Tech found themselves facing similar expectations. Neither program appeared to be sporting a team capable of making the 2013 NCAA Tournament, but there was hope that both might be improved enough to escape the SEC and ACC cellars, respectively. While the 2-5 Dawgs had slogged their way through the season’s first month (with only wins over Jacksonville and East Tennessee State to brag about), early returns had been slightly more promising for the 5-2 Yellow Jackets, and Tuesday night’s rivalry game in Atlanta only served to further differentiate the Peach State’s two pre-eminent basketball programs.

Georgia Tech Appears to be Headed in the Right Direction (AP)

Mark Fox will surely write off Tuesday’s 62-54 loss as simply another missed opportunity for his team, but boy, this one seemed to resonate on levels far beyond tonight’s 40 minutes of hoops. Maybe that added significance stems from Brian Gregory running his record to 2-0 against Fox and Georgia in his short tenure in Atlanta. Or perhaps it’s due to the fact that, for the first time in 19 years, Tech has won back-to-back games against UGA. Or maybe, just maybe, this one matters more because Gregory seems to have the best Georgia high school basketball talent headed again to Georgia Tech — and far, far away from Athens. All those elements seemed to linger in the backdrop of this one, and the frenzied energy of the sellout crowd of 8,600 at the shiny, new (the three-game old kind of new) McCamish Pavilion drove home the largest message loud and clear — Gregory and Tech are seizing firm control of college basketball in Georgia.

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SEC M5: 12.05.12 Edition

Posted by DPerry on December 5th, 2012

  1. Karl Towns Jr., the top recruit in the class of 2015, committed to Kentucky on Tuesday, a development that surprised almost no one. However, his announcement that he would be reclassifying to join the class of 2014 was definitely a curve ball. John Calipari is on the verge of signing a historic class next season, and with Towns coming to Lexington the year after that, he’s well on his way toward a high ranking in 2014 as well. The 6’11” center’s commitment was considered a formality because of his experience with the Calipari-led Dominican Republic national team this past summer. “Towns has a unique skill set,” writes ESPN’s Dave Telep. “Blessed with great size and agility, he’s a strong perimeter player, especially for a big man. Also a shot blocker and rebounder, Towns is a unique big who’ll be projected to bring an impactful scoring touch to the Kentucky lineup as a freshman.”
  2. Alabama will be without two key contributors when the Crimson Tide take the court Wednesday night against Dayton. Junior center Carl Engstrom is sidelined after injuring his knee early in Saturday’s game at Cincinnati, while senior guard Andrew Steele, suffering from a possible sports hernia, will miss his third straight game. The loss of Engstrom is more important in the short term. In Josh Benson and Devin Oliver, the Flyers have two post players who are averaging over 10 points per game, and the loss of the big Swede depletes an already thin Alabama frontcourt. Fortunately, after their date with Dayton, Anthony Grant’s crew has 10 days before they take the court again, a convenient opportunity to get healthier.
  3. The inept offense of the Georgia Bulldogs, mentioned in yesterday’s M5, did little to dispel their reputation in Tuesday night’s 62-52 loss to rival Georgia Tech. The visiting Bulldogs went a woeful 18-of-57 from the field, including only 2-of-17 from beyond the arc. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope again led the way with 16 points, but it’s tough to believe that, despite the lack of options around him, the sophomore guard is making the right decision in throwing up shots from long distance all night. He went just 1-of-8 against the Yellow Jackets, and is averaging only three three-pointers per game on almost nine attempts. The one-man show strategy hasn’t paid dividends yet, and for a coach in the hot seat like Mark Fox, it may be time to try a new approach.
  4. Missouri guard Keion Bell knows what it’s like to be a one-man show, but the Pepperdine transfer is leaving those days behind him. He racked up 1,365 points with the Waves in three seasons, but decided to transfer in hopes of finding more team-oriented success. “I knew my scoring was going to take a hit when I transferred, but it’s something I wanted to happen,” Bell told the St. Louis Dispatch. “I was at a university where I had to take a scoring role and it didn’t work out so well. Sacrificing to win is one thing I looked at with (Mizzou).” There were concerns over whether Bell could drop the gunner’s mentality after years of being the offense’s focal point, but early returns are positive. Bell’s most valuable skill is his ability to get to the free throw line. He’s only sixth on the team in minutes played, but ranks second with 24 free-throw attempts (of which he’s made 23).
  5. Michael Anderson, Arkansas‘ video coordinator and son of head coach Mike Anderson, has been suspended indefinitely after a DWI arrest. He was booked in Fayetteville Sunday morning after he failed a field sobriety test and refused to take a breathalyzer test. This is Anderson’s third DWI arrest, including one earlier this year, but there is no indication that the younger Anderson will be let go. Hopefully, this latest incident will be a successful wake-up call, as Razorback fans have had more than their fair share of their coaches getting in trouble behind the wheel. Boom! Bobby Petrino slam! In related-but-unrelated news, best of luck to new Hogs football coach Bret Bielema.
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SEC M5: 12.04.12 Edition

Posted by DPerry on December 4th, 2012

  1. Florida may be without break-out forward Erik Murphy this Wednesday when the Gators travel to Tallahassee to take on Florida State. Murphy suffered a “bad hip pointer” against Marquette in the SEC/Big East Challenge, and hasn’t yet fully recovered. The senior forward made national headlines after a 10-10 shooting performance against Wisconsin earlier this season, and while he’s slowed down since, he still serves as the Gators primary frontcourt scoring option. In the event of his absence, Patric Young should be handed some greater offensive responsibility. The available minutes from Scottie Wilbekin’s early-season suspension seem to have provided Mike Rosario with invaluable confidence in his second season in Gainesville, and maybe Murphy’s brief absence can do the same for Young.
  2. In another in-state, out-of-conference SEC showdown this week, Georgia takes on rival Georgia Tech tonight, with the visiting Bulldogs desperate for a win. Mark Fox’s crew has only tallied victories against Jacksonville and East Tennessee State so far this season, doing very little to cool the coach’s hot seat. “It’s easy to be frustrated, in any endeavor that you have,” Fox said. “It’s your reaction to frustration that’s really critical. I think we are improving, I think we’re getting better in certain areas. I want it to be faster than it has, but we are where we are. We’ve gotta keep focusing on it and get better.” An inept offense is the primary culprit for Georgia’s struggles. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is the only legitimate scorer on the roster, but he’s shooting the ball at well under 40% from the field. No other player averages more than nine points per game, and until a reliable second option emerges, Caldwell-Pope will continue to be forced into taking bad shots.
  3. On Monday, LSU’s Shavon Coleman was named SEC Player of the Week. Coleman put on a second-half show when the Tigers hosted Seton Hall this past Thursday, scoring 14 of his 18 points as LSU overcame a 16-point deficit to beat the Pirates. The JuCo transfer also added six rebounds, three steals, and two blocks on the night. The undersized forward has combined with Johnny O’Bryant III to form a lethal rebounding tandem, a big reason why the Tigers are ranked 15th in the nation in rebounding rate.
  4. Frank Martin’s career at South Carolina hasn’t gotten off to the smoothest of starts, but NBC Sports’ Vin Parise warns against impatience. Martin took over a shaky program at Kansas State and had the Wildcats playing in the Elite Eight within three seasons. Jacob Pullen, a middling recruit, blossomed into a superstar under the tutelage of the fiery coach. His coaching style is certainly abrasive, but his track record of success in Manhattan, Kansas, is tough to ignore. An early season loss to Elon is never a good sign for an SEC team, though it’s far from the worst loss that the conference has endured. Big success isn’t in the cards for Martin in his first season, but a repeat finish at the bottom of the SEC seems unlikely as they’ll face stiff competition from a number of other teams in the conference.
  5. Monday’s new AP poll featured a little bit of history. Kentucky, ranked #8 last week, can no longer be found in the Top 25, the largest single-week drop in the history of the rankings. It also marked the first time that the Wildcats aren’t represented in the poll since John Calipari took over in Lexington. How much has the college basketball landscape changed since the last time Kentucky wasn’t in the AP poll? At the end of the 2008-09 season, LSU was the SEC’s lone representative in the Top 25, while current ACC doormat Wake Forest was ranked #8.
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