Back and Forth: Great Xmas Week Moments

Posted by David Harten on December 24th, 2014

Each week, RTC columnist David Harten will profile some of the week’s biggest upcoming games by taking a look back at some relevant history relating to the match-ups. This is Back And Forth.

We’ve reached the point in the college basketball season when things are in transition. Non-conference games are nearing a close and conference play is about to begin. The Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu provides one last non-conference tournament to watch into the wee hours of the morning, and Christmas week has produced some solid games and individual performances over the years. As we all wind down the year with holiday obligations this week, let’s take a look at a few memorable college hoops moments of the yuletide season.

December 24, 2010 – Christmas Eve Brawl

Renardo Sidney’s career in Starkville was an absolute disaster. He had attitude problems throughout his two-plus years on campus and was a major factor in head coach Rick Stansbury eventually losing his job. On Christmas Eve of his debut season, he added to that list of problems. While he and his teammates were watching a game from the stands of the Diamond Head Classic, Sidney and Elgin Bailey decided to go after each other. It ended with both players serving suspensions and depicted Sidney as a hothead at that point. Bailey eventually transferred out of the program to Southeastern Louisiana, while Sidney lasted another painstaking year in Starkville before going undrafted in the 2012 NBA Draft.

December 25, 2012 – A Block Saves Arizona

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SEC M5: 12.22.14 Edition

Posted by David Changas on December 22nd, 2014

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  1. When a team starts a game on a 24-0 run and leads 41-7 at the half, people will take notice. When that team is a Kentucky squad that had people already wondering if anyone could beat it, even prior to its dominant performance against UCLA, the college basketball world’s collective head will be left spinning. We could provide links to an endless number of columns that offer takes on just how good this Kentucky team can be, but this piece from FoxSports.com‘s Reid Forgrave will suffice. As he points out, if the Wildcats can survive next Saturday’s test at Louisville, it really is reasonable to think that this team could be the first to go undefeated in 39 years. At this point, the biggest problem John Calipari may have the rest of the way might be keeping his team focused and blocking out any distraction from its pursuit of perfection.
  2. As if Tennessee wasn’t thin enough on the front line, it was confirmed Friday that freshman forward Jabari McGhee will miss six to eight weeks after having surgery to repair the fifth metatarsal in his right foot. McGhee suffered the injury in Wednesday’s loss to North Carolina State. McGhee averaged 4.4 points and 3.8 rebounds per game in the team’s first eight games, and while those numbers may not seem like much, with the recent departure of center Dom Woodson, McGhee’s injury leaves only fellow freshmen Willie Carmichael and Tariq Owens as true post players. While Carmichael has been more productive, and played 27 minutes in Friday’s win over Tennessee Tech, both are raw. The team will now have to rely even more on do-it-all senior Josh Richardson as they draw near to SEC play.
  3. The end of the first semester means that players who transferred at mid-season last year are now eligible. At FloridaAlex Murphy made his debut against Wake Forest Saturday, and it was a successful one. The former Duke Blue Devil scored nine points in 29 minutes, and it is clear that Billy Donovan was pleased with his performance, saying that Murphy played “great.” Donovan is also pleased that Murphy can play so many positions. Given the team’s struggles thus far this season, as well as its lack of frontcourt depth, the addition of Murphy could help the Gators in their quest to return to the NCAA Tournament.
  4. Auburn got its first big win of the Bruce Pearl era Saturday when it toppled Xavier 89-88 in a double overtime thriller. The win moved the Tigers to 5-5. In the bigger picture, however, it was the SEC’s first win over the Musketeers, which had beaten Alabama at home and Missouri on the road. After the game, Pearl talked about how the win not only was big for his team and the goals it has set, but also for the conference’s profile. While Pearl should be applauded for being such a cheerleader for the league he coached in previously, and followed closely while working as an analyst at ESPN, it’s hard to imagine this game mattering much come Selection Sunday. Certainly, the win will help the league’s RPI, etc. to a small degree, but beyond that, it appears to be little more than a nice boost for his team and program.
  5. At the start of the season, we speculated that Rick Ray potentially could be on thin ice if things didn’t start to get better at Mississippi State, and, well, things clearly are not getting better at Mississippi State. On the heels of a home loss to Arkansas State on Thursday, the Bulldogs fell to South Carolina-Upstate in Jackson on Saturday. The loss was their fifth in a row, and though lowly McNeese State and Jacksonville come calling before year’s end, things do not appear to be getting better for Ray, whose team dropped to 5-5. While this is only Ray’s third year at the school, Mississippi State won a total of seven conference games in his first two seasons, and it doesn’t appear the team is well-positioned to add much to that total. Though he still has time to turn things around with this club, another woeful performance in the league may mean lights out for Ray.
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SEC M5: 12.19.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on December 19th, 2014

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  1. The Louisville Courier-Journal’s Tim Sullivan writes that John Calipari’s biggest challenge this season might be instilling enough doubt in his team so that they don’t completely buy the hype. There’s no doubt Cal needs to latch on to any struggle he can to keep the Wildcats on their toes, but I don’t think he’s going at it alone. A good part of the team was around for last year’s six conference losses. Willie Cauley-Stein was around for that and the epic disappointment that was 2012-13. These players may have confidence, but I doubt they have short memories, and Cal should have support keeping the team focused.
  2. Uttering the word “Clemson” around this microsite is risky business. Legend has it if you say the word three times Brad Brownell will appear and ruin the dreams of your favorite SEC squad. The Tigers have, after all, already beaten Arkansas, LSU and Auburn while losing to Winthrop, Gardner-Webb and Rutgers. South Carolina gets its shot at its arch rival tonight, and the importance of the game isn’t lost on Frank Martin. “Any time you play those kind of games, you’re playing for your school, first and foremost,” Martin told GoGamecocks.com. “But you’re also representing your conference. And we take pride in that.” The Gamecocks have a good chance to end the SEC’s Clemson skid as they looked good demolishing Oklahoma State almost two weeks ago. Duane Notice has also stepped up his game in a big way, scoring 47 points in his last two games.
  3. The sun probably hasn’t set on Alabama’s tournament chances, but the Tide need to get on a roll to (no pun intended) to truly get in the discussion. The folks at Roll Bama Roll suggest that more of the offensive game plan should involve Michael Kessens, and the numbers certainly back that up. He’s posted the best effective field goal percentage on the team, and looks comfortable with the ball anywhere on the floor. It’ll be interesting to see how Anthony Grant divides up minutes between Kessens and fellow sophomore Shannon Hale the rest of the way, especially since Hale is shooting three’s at a worse rate than last year.
  4. Jakeenan Gant’s debut was a bright spot in what has been a difficult opening season for Kim Anderson at Missouri. The freshman finally gained eligibility and was able to take the court in the Tigers loss to Xavier, scoring 13 points on 4-of-8 shooting. This was a surprise to his coach. “I really didn’t expect that much from him just because he hadn’t really been playing with the first group of guys,” Anderson told the Columbia Missourian. “But I was really pleased with the way he came in.” This year will largely be about the development of Gant, Jonathan Williams and Teki Gill-Caesar. The Tigers looked good for portions of the Xavier game, and can build on this with a rivalry game against Illinois tomorrow.
  5. Until last night the only Division I team that Arkansas State, with an RPI of 339 and KenPom rating of 192, had beaten was Central Arkansas. Then they went to Starkville and beat Mississippi State. This was a truly damaging defeat. “Even beyond that, we’ve got to start giving a return on the investment. I think the administration; everybody’s invested in this program. We have to start giving a return on that investment,” Rick Ray told the Jackson Clarion-Ledger. In a league with no shortage of bad losses this season, this may have been the worst. As Ray said, it’s frustrating because you would have thought the program would be above this type of result at this point in his tenure. Maybe it was a bad outing, but the Bulldogs are mired in a four game losing streak and need to start building some positive momentum or questions about Ray’s job security may begin to surface.
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SEC M5: 12.12.14 Edition

Posted by David Changas on December 12th, 2014

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  1. Kentucky plays UCLA on December 20 at the United Center in Chicago in the CBS Sports Classic, but over the next two seasons, the two traditional powers will take the game to campus, as they agreed to a home-and-home series earlier this week. The teams will play at Pauley Pavilion next year, with the Bruins paying back the visit the following year at Rupp Arena. There is no doubt that college basketball gives us plenty of great early-season games that our friends on the gridiron don’t have and neutral-site battles give us a good gauge for where teams stand, but it’s always nice to see heavyweights like these two programs willing to play each other on campus.
  2. When the Donnie Tyndall saga will be resolved is anyone’s guess, and given the way things work with the NCAA, the season may be over by the time it is. Many have wondered what might happen if Tyndall ultimately is implicated, and the release of Tyndall’s contract with Tennessee appears to make it clear that the first-year coach can be fired for cause if he is. The contract states that Tyndall “has disclosed to the university all material information known to him concerning previous NCAA, conference, or institutional rules violations or potential violations committed by him or any person under his direct or indirect control at any other NCAA member institution.” For Volunteer fans anxious about the future of the program, they can at least take solace in the fact that the athletic department would be spared the $3 million buyout it would otherwise be responsible for if Tyndall is let go.
  3. Things have been rough for Florida in the early going, and we have documented how dicey the team’s NCAA Tournament chances may be, but it certainly has not helped that preseason all-SEC selection Dorian Finney-Smith has not been at full strength. The junior forward, who broke his left hand in the Gators’ season-opening win against William & Mary, led the team with 6.7 rebounds per game last season, but has seen that number dip to 4.6 boards per contest this year, and Billy Donovan thinks that is the biggest area in which the injury has limited Finney-Smith. Donovan contends that the injury has impacted his ability to catch the ball. Though he has still been somewhat effective, and is averaging nearly ten points per game, getting Finney-Smith back to full health will be key for Florida, as it attempts to improve its resume prior to the start of SEC play.
  4. One team that has flown under the radar over the past few seasons is Mississippi State, and for good reason, as the Bulldogs have won seven conference games during coach Rick Ray’s tenure. Thus far this season, the Bulldogs are 5-2, ahead of a trip to Corvallis to play Oregon State Saturday. They have played their first seven games without last season’s leading scorer, Craig Sword, but have shown improvement. One of the reasons for that is the play of forward Travis Daniels. The junior is fourth on the team in scoring (8.6 PPG), and is the second-leading rebounder (5.7 RPG), but Ray has had to plead with Daniels to be more aggressive offensively. Without Sword, the Bulldogs, who struggle to score, need Daniels to continue to be more assertive. If he can do so, they could challenge for post-season play for the first time in Ray’s three seasons at the helm.
  5. After suffering an understandable, though disappointing blowout loss at Iowa State in the Big 12-SEC Challenge, Arkansas inexplicably lost in overtime at Clemson, which came into the game with losses to Winthrop and Gardner-Webb on its resume. The loss was the kind that Razorback fans have seen all too often in Mike Anderson’s tenure, and could come back to haunt the team on Selection Sunday. Arkansas returns to the friendly confines of Bud Walton Arena for a Saturday matchup with Dayton, and it is a game the Razorbacks must win if they are going to end up on the right side of the bubble. While there obviously is plenty of basketball to be played, the remainder of Arkansas’s non-conference schedule presents nothing but cupcakes, and it needs to take advantage of the opportunity to get a quality win against the Flyers, as a loss could loom large in March.
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SEC M5: 12.01.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on December 1st, 2014

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  1. The final score didn’t do justice to how close the majority of Kentucky’s 58-38 win over Providence was. The Friars hung within striking distance until there were about nine minutes left in the game, but it never felt like they could mount a real comeback. This was a game where the Wildcats’ size showed up on the perimeter but not the glass. Kentucky just edged out Providence on the boards 33-29, but really disrupted the Friars offense with their length. The Wildcats forced the Friars into 18 turnovers, including 10 by an injured Kris Dunn. One turnover in particular summed up how scary the Kentucky defense can be. Willie Cauley-Stein stole the ball above the three-point line and glided down the court for a transition layup attempt. He ended up missing the contested basket, but there are only so many seven footers out there that can actively bust up a defense at the top of the key, and most of them are in the NBA.
  2. Arkansas has a watermark opportunity Thursday night in Hilton Coliseum against Iowa State. But first, the Razorbacks needed to take a care of a harder-than-it-looks game at home against Iona, which came in ranked #65 in KenPom’s latest ratings. Arkansas only managed a 44-40 halftime lead in what remained a seesaw game until Michael Qualls took over and broke the game open with around seven minutes left by scoring 11 points over a three-minute stretch. It can’t be emphasized how important it was for one of the Razorbacks’ best players to step up and not let this game go the other way. Losing to the Gaels at home after just entering the rankings would’ve been a severely deflating loss. Qualls helped make sure this didn’t happen, and kept Arkansas’ early season momentum alive.
  3. Tennessee went 1-2 in the Orlando Classic, with a win over Santa Clara and losses to Kansas and Marquette. This obviously wasn’t a great showing from a win-loss perspective, but the Vols did fight back from a 13-point hole against the Jayhawks and tied the game deep into the second half. It would’ve been a very successful trip had they been able to knock off a rebuilding Marquette team, but that’s not how things turned out. Armani Moore is quietly making his case as the most improved player in the SEC. The junior had 18 points against both the Broncos and Golden Eagles, and is averaging 10.5 points and 5.1 rebounds per game, up from 3.1 and 2.2, respectively, last season.
  4. Referee Rick Crawford collapsing to floor after an inadvertent strike from Damian Jones during the opening tip between Vanderbilt and La Salle was probably the scariest college hoops moment of the weekend. Fortunately, Crawford is okay. For his part, Jones continued his All-SEC campaign with 17 points and seven rebounds in the Commodores win over the Explorers in the consolation side of the Barclays Center Classic. Vanderbilt dropped its opener against Rutgers, but can make up for it quickly with upcoming back-to-back home games against Baylor and Purdue. Winning both games against good-but-not-great power conference teams would be a big step for Kevin Stallings’ young team.
  5. Mississippi State’s trip to the Corpus Christi Classic produced a mixed bag of results. Rick Ray’s squad hammered Saint Louis by 25 points but then lost to TCU in the championship game. Make no mistake, beating a solid A-10 program like Saint Louis is where the Bulldogs need to be, but that win would’ve been a lot better had it happened either of the last two years. Unfortunately, Mississippi State wasn’t able to close it out and win the tournament against the Horned Frogs. Craig Sword made his season debut after missing time with a back injury and played 11 scoreless minutes in both games. It should only be a matter of time before he gets up to speed and becomes a go-to scorer for the Bulldogs.
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Welcome to the Show, Part II: Breakout Newcomers in the Former SEC West

Posted by Christian D'Andrea on November 18th, 2014

Last week, we sorted through Kentucky’s latest five-star recruiting haul and delved into Frank Martin’s latest freshman class to determine who the SEC East’s breakout newcomers would be in 2014-15. Today, we’ll take a closer look at the first-year players who are ready to make a splash in the division once known as the SEC West. A number of high-profile junior college pickups will help teams like Arkansas, Auburn, LSU, and Mississippi replace departing talent and reload en route to a potential NCAA Tournament bid.

Alabama: Justin Coleman. Coleman was a big pick-up for Anthony Grant, and the embattled Alabama coach may need his four-star freshman to come through in a big way if he’s going to keep his job. Coleman started the Crimson Tide’s sole exhibition game and had six assists (and four turnovers) in 31 minutes as the team’s floor general. He’ll cede minutes to Ricky Tarrant – an explosive scorer from the same spot – but it looks like Coleman will have every opportunity to remain his team’s primary option at the position. He’s a diminutive player at just 160 pounds, but he has the passing instincts and shooting range to make an impact against SEC opponents as a true freshman.

Justin Coleman Can Fly (Al.com)

Justin Coleman Can Fly (Al.com)

Arkansas: Anton Beard. Beard is one of two solid point guard prospects in Fayetteville. He’s currently locked in battle with junior college transfer Jabril Durham for a role behind or alongside Rashad Madden, who can handle either guard spot. As a result, this prediction could change as the season wears on. Beard grew two inches in his senior year of high school to bolster his solid man-up defense and develop into a high-major recruit. However, he struggled to find his shot in exhibition play (25% FG). Durham had similar issues, but his JuCo experience and stronger passing from the point carried him to a start in the Hogs’ season opener last weekend. The two newcomers will see their roles expands and contract based on Mike Anderson’s offensive and defensive strategies and Madden’s availability this winter.

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SEC M5: 10.31.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on October 31st, 2014

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  1. Who doesn’t love lists, especially preseason lists? SBNation put out a list of the top 100 players in college basketball this week and, without crunching the numbers, it seems the SEC is pretty well-represented. Karl-Anthony Towns led the way at #7, and he is joined by five other Kentucky stars. Outside of Big Blue Nation, legitimate pro-prospects Chris Walker (Florida – #20), Jordan Mickey (LSU – #27) and Bobby Portis (Arkansas – #75) also made an appearance. I give credit to SBNation for including the largely under-the-radar but certainly deserving Jarvis Summers (Ole MIss – #79) and Sindarius Thornwell (South Carolina – #82). The only “snub” I can think of might be LSU’s Jarell Martin, but he did get included in “50 more who just missed.”
  2. CBSSports.com‘s Jon Rothstein included two SEC players among his list of 20 under-the-radar freshmen. He writes that Georgia forward Yante Maten could end up as one of the better freshmen in the conference, and if this turns out to be true, the Bulldogs have a great chance to go dancing in March. Mark Fox returns a number of core pieces from last year’s surprising team, but there is a void in the frontcourt after Donte Williams graduated and Brandon Morris was booted from the team over the summer. Maten shouldn’t be pressed into a scoring role too early, though, with Charles Mann, Kenny Gaines and Nemanja Djurisic all still in the fold. Georgia, however, needs to replace Morris and Williams’ combined 8.5 rebounds per game, and Maten should be able to help in that area immediately.
  3. Mike Anderson has made rebounding a priority heading into his fourth and most pivotal season as the Arkansas coach. “Rebounding is the ending of the defense,” sophomore forward Bobby Portis told SI.com. “You can play defense for 33 seconds or 34 seconds and they can shoot, and they get the rebound back and there’s no point in playing defense.” Better rebounding would be a big way to reverse the struggles the Razorbacks have had away from Bud Walton Arena under Anderson. Incredibly, Arkansas still managed to go 8-1 when outrebounded at home last season, but this record flipped to just 3-8 when the Razorbacks were outclassed on the glass away from Fayetteville. Giving more playing time to Jacorey Williams (14.4 total rebounding percentage/9.2 minutes per game) and Moses Kingsley (13.1 total rebounding percentage/11.5 minutes per game) could be part of the answer this season.
  4. Kim Anderson faced an opponent for the first time as Missouri’s head coach on Wednesday, as the Tigers beat Division II William Jewell College, 72-31. One interesting tidbit from the game was that Anderson used all three of his point guardsWes Clark, Keith Shamburger and Tramaine Isabell – in the same lineup. “We practice it a lot, playing with two other point guards,” Clark told the Kansas City Star. “It makes it easier for me because the team has to spread out and play more, like, against the shooters, so it makes it easier for me to drive.” This type of tinkering and innovation will be especially important for Anderson as he replaces virtually all of Missouri’s scoring from last season.
  5. One of Mississippi State’s biggest problems in the Rick Ray era has been his team’s inability to hit the three. The Bulldogs were 321st in the country in team three-point percentage last season (30.7 percent) which was a slight tick up from 337th the year before (28.4 percent). Ray told the Associated Press that outside shooting will again likely be a struggle, so at least he is being honest. Junior Fred Thomas might be the best bet to help the Bulldogs turn around their long-range shooting fortunes. He seems to at least have the confidence and willingness to shoot the three (144 attempts, 31.9 percent), unlike fellow junior guard Craig Sword, who understandably only put up 44 three-point attempts (27.3 percent) last year despite a high usage rate. Thomas, or newcomers Maurice Dunlap and Travis Daniels, adding a three-point element would go a long way toward some improvement in Starkville.
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Morning Five: 10.16.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on October 16th, 2014

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  1. Like last year, Chris Walker will be watching the start of Florida‘s season from the sidelines. Unlike last year, Walker is only suspended for three games for an unspecified violation of team rules compared with having to sit out the first semester last season due to academic eligibility issues. Speaking of eligibility issues, four-star shooting guard Brandone Francis will have to miss the entire season as he was not approved for collegiate competition by the NCAA Clearinghouse. The loss of Walker should not be a huge issue as he will sit out an exhibition game and two regular-season games (William & Mary and Miami), but Francis’ absence could hurt them in terms of depth in the long-run even if we was only projected to be a reserve guard. If Francis improves his grades enough to become eligible, he could practice with the team in the spring semester even if he cannot play for them.
  2. Mississippi State‘s chances of being competitive in the SEC this year took a big hit with injuries to Craig Sword and Johnny Zuppardo. Sword, who led the Bulldogs in scoring with 13.7 points per game last year, is scheduled to undergo surgery on his back today due to a herniated disc and is expected to be out for 4-6 weeks. Zuppardo, a junior college transfer, will be out for the season after suffering a torn meniscus and ACL in his left knee. Although Zuppardo will be out for the entire year and is expected to seek a medical redshirt, Sword should be back in time for the start of SEC play, but his level of fitness at that time could be another issue.
  3. It has been quite a while since we feature a piece by Luke Winn in this column, but with the season rapidly approaching (never fast enough), he teamed up with Dan Hanner (another Morning Five favorite) for a project where they try to predict the top players this upcoming season by simulating the season 10,000 times using models that Hanner has created over the years (think of it as a college basketball Monte Carlo simulation. The project is being revealed in pieces, but so far they have given us their projections for leaders in scoring, rebounding, and assists and who they think the top freshmen will be. As Winn mentions in an accompanying video with David Gardner there are some issues with projecting how good freshmen will be since many times they have played against vastly inferior competition in high school, but it does provide some interesting analysis while we wait for the season to start.
  4. We actually have quite a bit of basketball arena news. The biggest news was the announcement by Arizona that former Wildcat guard Steve Kerr and his wife planned to donate $1 million for McKale Center renovations and upgrades to the academic facility. We are sure that Kerr’s five-year, $25 million contract for his first head coaching job certainly made that $1 million figure a little easier. UCLA, the other traditional power in the Pac-12, might need its own wealthy donor in the near-future for the recently remodeled (at a cost of $136 million) Pauley Pavilion because reports indicate that it is still not ready for play almost 2.5 months after it was flooded. The Bruins have been forced to play in the nearby Student Activities Center, but are expected to be back in Pauley in time for their season-opener, an exhibition against Azusa Pacific on October 31. In Chicago, the plans for DePaul‘s controversial Rosemont-based arena appear to be on schedule with the team expecting to play there starting in 2016-17 season. When the plans were first reported they drew a great deal of criticism because of the arenas distance from the school and the fact that the fan base has been largely apathetic.
  5. Mike Slive’s name might not carry as much weight in the college basketball world as it does in the college football world due to the relative strength of the conference in each sport, but his announcement that he will be retiring on July 31, 2015 to deal with a recurrence of prostate cancer could still be significant for the college basketball world. Slive will continue on as a consultant for the conference which is already beginning its search for his replacement. Even though the conference has been underwhelming on the basketball court (outside of Kentucky and Florida), his departure after 13 years at the helm of the SEC raises the possibility that the next commissioner of the SEC could have ambitions to expand it beyond its current reach and set off another chain reaction of conference realignment.
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SEC Offseason Reset

Posted by Brian Joyce on October 15th, 2014

The gym is open and the ball is bouncing. College basketball is here. Well, almost. The clang of the ball bouncing off the rim will soon turn into the sweet sound of the nothing but net shot that comes with practice, practice and more practice. The offseason was eventful in the SEC, and now that the dust has settled, here are a few conference predictions, observations, and questions for each team as they begin their 2014-15 journey.

John Calipari is in a good mood with this many All Americans on his roster (AP).

John Calipari is in a good mood with so many prep All-Americans on his roster (AP).

  1. Kentucky: Kentucky dominated the headlines this offseason, and for good reason. After a national title game run last April, expectations could not be higher for this group. The Wildcats played well in six games in the Bahamas during an August trip, earning high praise from observers despite a loss in their final game. The exhibition tour gave John Calipari‘s group of new highly-touted freshmen an opportunity to log significant minutes, a valuable advantage for this time of the year. The big story in Lexington is the possibility that Calipari will rely on a platoon system to provide sufficient minutes for the abundance of talent on his roster. Whether it works is something to watch for this season, but with returnees Alex Poythress, Dakari Johnson, Willie Cauley-Stein, Andrew Harrison and Aaron Harrison joining another impressive recruiting class, it is hard to imagine this group failing to dominate the SEC.
  2. Florida: The Gators looked like a team that could have won it all last season on its way to a Final Four, a 36-3 overall record, and a perfect 21-0 in SEC play. The key pieces in that run are now gone, but coach Billy Donovan reloads yet again in Gainesville. Sophomore Chris Walker figures to play a more significant role, as do Kasey Hill and Dorian Finney-Smith. Florida has always thrived with the team-first approach, but it will rely heavily on the sharp shooting of junior Michael Frazier to carry the scoring load. The Gators will again find themselves in the upper echelon of the conference standings.

How will the rest of the conference shake out?

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SEC M5: Microsite Relaunch Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on October 15th, 2014

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  1. For the second straight year, Andrew Harrison might be Kentucky’s most important player. And for the second straight year, there are many questions surrounding him. CBSSports.com‘s Gary Parrish writes about the opportunity Harrison has to bounce back from a largely disappointing freshman season. Granted, Harrison was the point guard for the national runner-up. He did have his moments in the NCAA Tournament (20 points against Wichita State; 14 points and seven assists against Louisville), but was still plagued with inconsistency throughout the event (24 turnovers in the six games). It’s been awhile since Calipari has had two seasons to work with a point guard, but developing Harrison may be the Wildcats’ surest ticket to another Final Four.
  2. Not much has gone right for Mississippi State‘s Rick Ray during his two-plus years in Starkville, as a seemingly constant stream of injuries and suspensions has been the theme. The latest injury might be the biggest blow of all, however, as news was released this week that junior guard Craig Sword will miss four to six weeks after back surgery to relieve a bulging disc. Backs are tricky injuries and who knows the effect it’ll have going forward, but as of now it is expected that Sword should be ready for conference play. The Bulldogs’ leading scorer became more efficient in his sophomore season, increasing his field goal percentage by eight points to 48 percent and cutting down on his turnovers from over 25 percent to 19 percent. Clearly there is still improvement to be had, so any missed time is crucial for a player that could develop into an excellent SEC scorer.
  3. Another coach who has dealt with personnel issues is Missouri‘s Kim Anderson. The first-year coach has already dismissed Torren Jones and watched Cameron Biedscheid leave the program before ever playing a minute in Columbia. On Tuesday it got worse, as freshmen Jakeenan Gant and D’Angelo Allen were charged with “peace disturbance” relating to a mid-September campus altercation. Theirs are misdemeanor charges, and it’s a relief for all involved that whatever was alleged to have happened didn’t amount to a felony charge. But eventually enough has to be enough for Missouri. This is the third legal incident for the basketball Tigers since last March (albeit two being under Frank Haith), and it has been a dark undertone to the good will Anderson has generated with the fan base and recruits.
  4. Luke Winn and Dan Hanner have a fascinating piece up at SI.com that predicts who the scoring, rebounding and assist leaders will be in 2014-15. What’s different about this piece is that the predictions are based on raw numbers generated by a system developed by Hanner that incorporates advanced statistics, a decade of player data, recruiting rankings and specific coach attributes (like playing distribution tendencies and quality), among other things. Their meticulous formula pegs Ole Miss senior guard Jarvis Summers as the nation’s sixth leading scorer, predicting that he’ll score 18.8 points per game. Summers has been overshadowed by Marshall Henderson over the last two years but should emerge as one of the better guards in the SEC this season.
  5. We’ve all seen high school kids put on hats, but Alabama signee Dazon Ingram brought a fresh take to his recent school announcement. “I told [Tide assistant Antoine Pettway] I wasn’t going to commit to Alabama and he got all sad,” Ingram told AL.com’s John Talty. “Then I told him I was just kidding. He started screaming and said ‘Oh my gosh. Can I call Coach Grant?’” No matter how it happened, the 6’5’’ point guard – the third ranked 2015 recruit in Alabama according to 247Sports – is a nice get for Anthony Grant as he had to fend off Gregg Marshall and Kelvin Sampson to sign him.
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SEC M5: 02.26.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on February 26th, 2014

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  1. Maybe Florida just plays down to its competition, or maybe the Gators’ grind-it-out defense lends itself to close games. Either way, Florida ran its winning streak to 20 against Vanderbilt in yet another game that had to be gutted out late. Vanderbilt outshot Florida 48% to 40%, but – as they have done so often this year – the Gators won the rebounding and turnover battles. You can have a less than stellar offense and put yourself in games if you limit your opponent’s chances by taking care of the ball and grabbing defensive rebounds. Florida has the second fewest turnovers per game in the SEC (11.2) and third best team rebounding percentage (54.2%). Pair that with an elite defense and it’s no surprise you’ve got a team that can rack up wins and rise to number one in the rankings. But as Luke Winn pointed out, the Gators offense can be more effective if Dorian Finney-Smith expands on the two made pick-and-pop he had made in conference play. It wasn’t of the pick-and-pop variety, but Finney-Smith found space and drilled a three with under 30 seconds left against the Commodores. It was the junior’s third three of the game, and the finishing touches on his game high 19 points. If that performance jump starts Finney-Smith, Billy Donovan suddenly has another offensive option to play with.
  2. Put a fork in the Tigers, they are done. Short of winning the SEC tournament, I don’t see a way Missouri can salvage a bid after losing by 15 in Athens. The Tigers will almost certainly drop out of the RPI top 50, and they’re a perfectly pedestrian 7-7 against the RPI top 100. That’s just okay, and just okay teams do make a 68 team field. But the Tigers don’t have the high-quality wins to punctuate a resume, going just 1-2 against the RPI top 25. Can that UCLA win from way back in early December stand up? Teams Missouri is competing with for a final spot, like Oklahoma State (Memphis, Texas) and St. John’s (Creighton), have eye-popping wins to spice up a mediocre resume. The Tigers didn’t execute well on defense against Georgia (allowing the Bulldogs to shoot 52.1%) and it could be that Jordan Clarkson and Jabari Brown are wearing down. The two shot a combined 9-for-29 and Brown in particular had no lift on his shots. Georgia, on the hand, continued its surprise run through the SEC with its sweep of Missouri. Per Wildcat Blue Nation’s Corey Price, the Bulldogs are the first SEC team to reach 10 or more conference wins after finishing .500 or worse in the non-conference since 2007-08 Kentucky. With a RPI North of 80 the Bulldogs still aren’t in the bubble picture, but at the very least Mark Fox should’ve assured himself a NIT bid.
  3. Your first thought might “yeah right,” but the Bruce Pearl to Tennessee talk is gaining steam. There’s an online petition signed by thousands of people, and Gregg Doyel writes that as unlikely as it seems, rehiring Pearl makes too much sense for the Vols. “Tennessee should do it. If Tennessee has an opening, it should hire Bruce Pearl. Go ahead, Tennessee. He paid his price. You paid yours,” Doyel writes. “Bruce Pearl is a good coach who made a bad mistake and had to be fired — I was calling for his dismissal months before Tennessee finally did it — but who served his time and surely, surely learned from his mistake.” Sure, a reunion seems highly unlikely and against the norm, but there might just be the pieces in place to make it a reality: Pearl won big at Tennessee, still lives in Knoxville, and the program hasn’t taken a clear step forward in Cuonzo Martin’s third year. There’s also the matter of ticket sales, and from afar it seems like rehiring Pearl would spark the fanbase. Those are hard points to argue against, especially since college basketball in general is far from holy. The problem is that is that letting Martin go is not a no brainer. While the Vols are dancing around the bubble again, the bottom has not fallen out in the former Missouri State coach’s three years in Knoxville. But if Louisville can bring back Bobby Petrino, is the Pearl-Tennessee dream so ridiculous?
  4. It’s put up or shut up time for Arkansas, at least as far as the regular season is concerned. Winning at Rupp Arena is the last chance for Razorbacks to improve on their 65 RPI and grab the attention of those on the selection committee. Can Arkansas actually sweep the Wildcats? In the win at Bud Walton Arena, Kentucky missed a ton of free throws (26-of-40) and the Razorbacks, as they always do at home, won the turnover battle (17 to 6). While the Wildcats will probably miss a few more free throws (team 68.5% FT%) they probably won’t have a similar turnover binge without 20,000 screaming people in red against them. The Razorbacks will in all likelihood lose the rebounding battle in this game, so they’ll need to hit a higher percentage from three than they did in the team’s first meeting (28.6%). If Arkansas isn’t able to win this game and go on a run, barring a miracle weekend in Atlanta it looks like Mike Anderson will miss the tournament for the third straight year in Fayetteville.\
  5. There was a time not so long ago that Rick Ray was enjoying a very positive second season in Starkville. It was January 22 and the Bulldogs had just beaten Auburn to move to 3-2 in conference play. They also picked up their 13th win of the season, three more than they had gotten in 2012-13. But the positivity ended that day, and Mississippi State hasn’t won since. Its nine game losing streak could very well stretch to 12 with upcoming games against Tennessee, Missouri and Georgia. So, now that the bad part has set in, how are things really going in Ray’s second season on the whole? Their RPI is currently 204, which in no world is anything but dreadful. It is, however, less dreadful than the 292 the Bulldogs finished with last season. The good news for Ray? He’s got only one senior in the rotation (Colin Borchert) and his leading scorer (Craig Sword), rebounder (Gavin Ware) and assist man (I.J. Ready) are either sophomores or freshmen. Ready is good to go against Tennessee after getting poked in the eye against the Arkansas. The freshman point guard not only leads the team in assists, but is shooting 40% from three and has a respectable 1.5 assist to turnover ratio for a first year player. A strong finish from him would be a bright spot in another rebuilding year for the Bulldogs.
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SEC Weekday Primer: Tennessee, Ole Miss Fight for Conference Position

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 28th, 2014

Another week in the SEC brings another slate of games that will play a big role in determining whether the conference has more than two bids to the NCAA Tournament. But there’s also a cannibalistic aspect to the upcoming weekday games: Ole Miss and Tennessee play in Knoxville, while Missouri and Arkansas face off in Fayetteville. Each team is in need of a big win, but two are guaranteed to fall further back in their search for a resume-booster.

Jarnell Stokes needs some perimeter help when he faces Ole Miss.

Jarnell Stokes needs some perimeter help when he faces Ole Miss.

Don’t Miss This One, Part IOle Miss @ Tennessee (Wednesday, 8:00 PM ET)

The Rebels face their stiffest conference test to date in Knoxville, but have built up some momentum with a four-game winning streak. Tennessee, on the other hand, is coming off a 26.8 percent shooting performance in a loss to Florida. The Gators are an elite defensive team, but there’s no excuse for the Vols to only get five field goals (five!) from players other than Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon. Two seniors will need to shake off their recent struggles to provide Tennessee with a spark on the perimeter. Jordan McRae is coming off an understandably-deflating 1-of-15 shooting performance, and Antonio Barton is 3-of-19 from three over the last five games. The Vols do need a spark, because a loss would drop them to 3-4 in league play before they embark on two consecutive road games. The game is equally important for Ole Miss, which has an opportunity to pick up just its second quality win of the year (the other being at home to LSU). The Rebels’ interior defense is a key to this game. Sebastian Saiz (20 percent defensive rebounding percentage) and Aaron Jones (9.9 percent block percentage) will be a big part of the Rebels’ effort to contain Stokes and Maymon. And of course there is Marshall Henderson, who after a recent shouting match with Rick Ray, could be on the verge of something Deadspin-worthy.

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