SEC Freshman Watch: Breaking Down the “East’s” Most Effective Newcomers

Posted by Christian D'Andrea on February 12th, 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. You can find past editions of the SEC Freshman Watch here (East) and here (West).

The SEC conference slate is more than halfway complete, and the league’s freshmen have begun to stabilize in their fourth month of NCAA competition. As expected, some first-year players are starting to wilt under the grind of the college schedule, while some surprising players are getting stronger as the year goes on. Kentucky has rebounded from early adversity to rejoin the Top 25 rankings, while Georgia, who once sat in the SEC basement with a 1-4 record, has ridden a five-game winning streak to stake its claim as a mid-tier team.

Noel's D is Keying the UK Resurgence (Photo credit: AP).

Noel’s D is Keying the UK Resurgence (Photo credit: AP).

These teams are getting big contributions from freshman play-makers to reboot their seasons. The Wildcats are playing well through Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin’s growing pains thanks in part to the burgeoning defense of Nerlens Noel in the middle. Georgia is riding Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to key wins, but Charles Mann has turned into the Bulldogs’ third-leading scorer and Brandon Morris is becoming a pesky defender on the wing. Even South Carolina, mired in a 2-8 SEC season so far, can take solace in Michael Carrera’s scrappy production in the Gamecock frontcourt. Let’s take a closer look at how these first-year players have performed since SEC play got underway. This week, we’ll go back and examine how the freshmen of the former SEC East are doing.

Kentucky: Nerlens Noel has stepped his game up defensively for the Wildcats, and that’s been a big piece of Kentucky’s charge back into the Top 25. UK has won five straight heading into Tuesday night’s showdown with Florida, and Noel has averaged 5.2 blocks and 10.2 rebounds in that span. His offense is still a work in progress, but his impact has been undeniable.

Kentucky Freshmen 2/12

Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin have been trending in the opposite direction, as they’ve taken a back seat to Noel as the season has worn on. Poythress’s minutes and scoring have dropped as the athletic freshman has struggled with fouls (four per game in his last six contests). Goodwin has struggled as a shooter and a ball-handler recently. He hasn’t made a three-pointer in his last eight games (0-of-10) and his assists have dropped (while his turnovers have increased) as the Wildcats have faced tougher opponents.

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SEC Freshmen Report: Volume I

Posted by CNguon on December 21st, 2012

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

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

Nerlens Noel,

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

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

SEC East

uk freshmen

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

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SEC Power Rankings: Week Four

Posted by DPerry on December 14th, 2012

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

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

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

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