Reassessing the SEC as Conference Play Looms

Posted by David Changas on December 29th, 2016

Today brings the rare pre-New Year’s Day start to SEC play, with Georgia-Auburn tipping off at 7:00 PM ET and two orther games on tap. Now that most of the league has completed its pre-conference schedule, let’s reassess expectations for how things will play out over the next two-plus months.

The Favorite

  • Just as in the preseason, Kentucky remains the prohibitive favorite to win the SEC. The Wildcats were beaten twice in December (UCLA and Louisville) but showed they will be a tough out in the NCAA Tournament. The objective for John Calipari’s club over the next 10 weeks is to position itself to as a #1 seed in the Big Dance.
John Calipari was not happy with Kentucky's defense, but it's the offense that is more concerning in the long run. (cbssports.com).

As usual, John Calipari and Kentucky are the heavy favorites to win the SEC (cbssports.com).

The NCAA Tournament Contenders

  • Florida has been a bit better than expected, with its three losses coming against top-10 teams Gonzaga and Duke along with archrival Florida State. The Gators should coast to an NCAA bid by racking up plenty of wins in a relatively weak league. They will have a tough start to conference play tonight, though, as they travel to …
  • Arkansas, which has exceeded all expectations in getting off to an 11-1 start. The Razorbacks will still need a strong showing in SEC play to secure their place in the Big Dance, but a finish higher than fifth, which is what the media predicted in the preseason, seems very attainable.
  • Perhaps the biggest surprise in the SEC so far has been South Carolina. The Gamecocks have played stifling defense on their way to a 10-2 start against a strong schedule. They currently rank third nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, per KenPom, and, although they have lost a couple of games since Sindarius Thornwell was suspended, they appear significantly better than where the media expected them in the preseason (eighth place).
  • Texas A&M doesn’t have many quality wins to date, but given its talent base, anything less than an NCAA bid will be a major disappointment for Billy Kennedy’s squad. Expect A&M to win a lot of games in SEC play.

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Quinndary Weatherspoon Injury a Crippling Blow to Mississippi State

Posted by David Changas on November 23rd, 2016

Mississippi State announced Monday night that its leading scorer, Quinndary Weatherspoon, will require surgery after tearing ligaments in his left wrist and miss the remainder of the season. The sophomore is the team’s leading scorer (18.8 PPG) and second-leading rebounder (5.0 RPG) through four games, notching a career-high 25 points in last Friday’s win over Boise State. His loss is a big blow to a Bulldogs team that was expected to finish in the middle of the SEC pack under second-year head coach Ben Howland. Even though an earlier blowout loss to Central Florida confirmed that the rebuilding process is ongoing, losing the cornerstone of that process is tough in the wake of last year’s graduations (Gavin Ware and Craig Sword) and transfer (Malik Newman to Kansas).

The loss of Quinndary Weatherspoon is a huge blow for Mississippi State (Gary Rohman/USA Today Sports).

The loss of Quinndary Weatherspoon is a huge blow for Mississippi State (Gary Rohman/USA Today Sports).

With Weatherspoon out for the remainder of the year, Howland will need even more from his three top-100 freshmen: Tyson Carter, Mario Kegler, and Lamar Peters. Carter, a 6’4″ guard, is off to a nice start, hitting 11 of 25 three-pointers and committing only one turnover in 122 minutes of action. Kegler, a 6’7″ forward who already played 25 minutes per game, will see his playing time increase in Weatherspoon’s absence. Peters has played less than his fellow freshmen, but he has been solid in backing up the team’s only senior,I.J. Ready. The only player other than Weatherspoon who came into this season with any real experience, the diminutive point guard leads the team in assists (5.0 APG) and has a fairly low turnover rate (10.9%), but he struggles defending bigger guards and is a poor shooter from beyond the arc (27.3%). It is unlikely that he will be able to pick up the Bulldogs’ scoring slack.

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SEC Tournament Takeaways: Second Round

Posted by David Changas on March 11th, 2016

Thursday was the first full day of action at the SEC Tournament, and even though the league’s top four teams have byes into Friday’s quarterfinal round, there were still plenty of important happenings that could impact which of the league’s teams are invited to the NCAA Tournament.

Tennessee pulled off a stunning upset of Vanderbilt Thursday (John Bazemore/AP)

Tennessee pulled off a stunning upset of Vanderbilt Thursday. (John Bazemore/AP)

Florida Stays Alive. In Thursday’s opener, the Gators took down Arkansas in a win that kept the Gators’ faintly flickering NCAA Tournament hopes alive. It wasn’t pretty — the two teams combined to commit 50 fouls (thanks, Pat Adams) — but Florida played just well enough to get the job done. Center John Egbunu, who was expected to miss the game with an injured right hand, gutted out an eight-point, nine-rebound performance in 24 minutes, while also helping hold Arkansas center Moses Kingsley to just 10 points. Florida moves on to play #1 seed Texas A&M on Friday, in what will be quite surely be another must-win for the Gators’ still-faint Tournament hopes.

Vanderbilt’s NCAA Hopes Damaged. Vanderbilt came into its game against Tennessee as a 12-point favorite and its regular season sweep of the Vols hinted that this was a touch matchup for Rick Barnes’ team. After all, big men Damian Jones and Luke Kornet had dominated Tennessee inside in both of the prior meetings. Things were different on Thursday, though, as Vanderbilt failed to consistently feed those mismatches in the post. The Commodores instead fired up 25 threes (making nine) and generally didn’t seem all that interested in battling as if its postseason life was on the line. A valiant second half comeback nearly saved Kevin Stallings’ team, but Wade Baldwin‘s game-tying layup at the buzzer was released fractions of a second after the horn sounded. Now the Commodores will have a few nervous days ahead, as a loss to a team that entered the SEC Tournament with six conference wins puts Vanderbilt squarely back on to the bubble.

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SEC Season Preview: Mississippi State Bulldogs

Posted by Greg Mitchell on October 23rd, 2014

The SEC microsite will preview each of the league teams over the next few weeks, starting today with the Mississippi State Bulldogs.

Mississippi State Bulldogs

Strengths. Continuity. Okay, continuity may not be Rick Ray’s best friend considering that his Bulldogs have gone just 24-41 since he took over the program two years ago. But players grow through experience, and Ray has a quintet of upperclassmen who have seen plenty of action together during his tenure. Trivante Bloodman, Craig Sword, Fred Thomas, Roquez Johnson and Gavin Ware know their roles and what to expect from one another. That kind of consistency is a step in the right direction for a program that has struggled with injuries and dismissals the last two years (although Sword’s recent back injury clouds that idea a bit).

Player 2012-13 2013-14
G Craig Sword (Jr.) 26.7 MPG/29.3 USG% 28.1 MPG/30.0 USG%
G Fred Thomas (Jr.) 28.7 MPG/22.1 USG% 29.9 MPG/17.5 USG%
Trivante Bloodman (Sr.) 29.1 MPG/15.6 USG% 24.7 MPG/15.2 USG%
F Roquez Johnson (Sr.) 26.1 MPG/22.3 USG% 23.7 MPG/22.5 USG%
F Gavin Ware (Jr.) 25.8 MPG/17.6 USG% 26.0 MPG/16.8 USG%

 

Weaknesses. When you don’t expect to win the sheer talent battle on a game-to-game basis, you simply can’t give away free points. The Bulldogs did just that by shooting 66.3 percent from the free throw line as a team last season, good for 288th in the country. Part of the problem was that their lead guards, Sword (62.0%) and Thomas (62.5%) weren’t effective despite getting to the line at a high rate. When paired with a lack of three-point shooting, this resulted in a sub-standard 0.96 points per possession. The injury bug also extended its stay in Starkville by knocking out JuCo forward Johnny Zuppardo for the season. That leaves the Bulldogs entirely dependent on two freshmen (Oliver Black and Demetrius Houston) for frontcourt depth.

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SEC Morning Five: 10.19.11 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on October 19th, 2011

  1. Jason King wrote his first article since joining the ESPN crew on what he knows about college basketball. He wrote, “The Big East will (again) be the country’s top conference this season, but I’m more excited about the SEC. Kentucky, Florida and Vanderbilt are Final Four contenders, and no team intrigues me more than Mississippi State.” I couldn’t agree more. It will be a great season to be an SEC basketball fan.
  2. Gary Parrish of CBS turned in his 50 player ballot for the Naismith Award. Lots of SEC love as ten conference players made the list, including five Kentucky players. The SEC list consists of Brad Beal (Florida), Dee Bost (Mississippi State), Anthony Davis (Kentucky), JaMychal Green (Alabama), John Jenkins (Vanderbilt), Terrence Jones (Kentucky), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (Kentucky), Doron Lamb (Kentucky), Jeffery Taylor (Vanderbilt) and Marquis Teague (Kentucky). If you love lists, and since you’re reading one now I bet you do, you will love the excellent coverage at CBSSports.com as they have also unveiled a list of the Top 100 players in college basketball and a Preseason All-America list. Of course, the SEC is well represented on both with Vandy’s Jenkins placing as a first team All-American. However, it was Jeff Goodman’s placement of Terrence Jones on his fourth team All-America list that sent mobs of angry Kentucky fans Goodman’s way. Goodman placed Thomas Robinson of Kansas on his first team over Wildcats Anthony Davis and Jones. I ask you, loyal SEC fans, is the best power forward in the country from the SEC?
  3. Not sure whether to add ESPNU to your cable package? Well, ESPN released its television schedule with more than 1,450 regular season and Championship Week games across ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN3, ESPN4… sorry, I got carried away. The release is a 23-page document with 11,122 words in it, so make sure you have a couple of hours to go through it all. Just want the highlights? College Gameday will visit the SEC once in Nashville for the Kentucky/Vanderbilt matchup on February 11. Super Tuesday returns with a Big Ten/SEC doubleheader on ESPN, and an ACC/SEC doubleheader on ESPNU. That should make your decision on ponying up a few extra bucks for the U a little easier. Finally, the SEC Tournament semifinals and championship games will be televised nationally on ABC.
  4. It was initially believed that Florida may violate NCAA rules by using two basketballs during game action to ensure they have enough shots to go around for their ball-hoggin’ backcourt, but a Gainesville Sun article says Billy Donovan is impressed with the unselfish behavior of his guards. He pointed out that point guard Erving Walker has taken the third fewest shots on the team in the early going of practice. Donovan said, “he has really tried to grasp and understand who he is playing with on the floor. His assist to turnover ratio has been really good. I think he has an idea of the challenges in front of him.” Donovan has challenged his point guard to lead the SEC in assists this season. We’ll have to wait and see if Walker accepts that challenge, but he seems to be distributing the ball well in the early going.
  5. Kentucky fans who have been clamoring for more Dribble Drive Motion Offense will finally get their wish. On his website, John Calipari wrote his six observations from the first six days of UK’s practice. In number six, Cal wrote, “this may be a Dribble Drive team. Instead of using it 30 percent of the time, we may use it 70 percent of the time. They’re reacting quickly and they’ve got a feel for what’s going on. They’re doing pretty good with it.” The outspoken head Wildcat has never been one to hand out too much praise for his Wildcat teams, especially early on, but he’s been nothing but positive to start out this year. He even agreed with former Kentucky coach Joe B. Hall when Hall said that this year’s team is “way ahead of where we were a year ago.” That’s great news for Cat fans who will be quick to remind us that last year’s Final Four team wasn’t too shabby.
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Fresh Start: Mississippi State’s Arnett Moultrie

Posted by Brian Joyce on October 17th, 2011

The Fresh Start series will profile a new coach or eligible transfer who will make an impact in the Southeastern Conference this season. The first in the series is former University of Texas El-Paso player and current Mississippi State center/power forward, Arnett Moultrie.

Arnett Moultrie has never been the talk of the town. He was overlooked coming out of Raleigh-Egypt High School in Memphis, Tennessee. He did not rank in Scout’s Top 100 recruitment rankings in 2008, Rivals Top 150, or ESPN’s recruitment rankings. How does Moultrie respond to the lack of chatter about him? “It’s been that way my whole life,” he said, “I use it as motivation.”

Moultrie's Long & Lean Frame Complements Sidney's Bulk Underneath

Moultrie played two seasons at the University of Texas El-Paso averaging 8.8 PPG and 8.2 RPG in his freshman year (2008-09) and 9.8 PPG and 6.7 RPG in his sophomore year (2009-10). When then head coach Tony Barbee left UTEP to begin a rebuilding project at Auburn, Moultrie decided it was time to transfer after a relationship clash with new Miners coach, Tim Floyd. With steady improvement and the benefit of an extra year of practice, Moultrie has the potential to make the Mississippi State Bulldogs one of the best teams in a tough SEC in 2011-12. Despite the attention on troubled big man Renardo Sidney, the emergence of MSU as an SEC contender is more contingent upon the development of Moultrie.

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