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

SEC_morning5

  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

SEC_morning5

  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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SEC Weekday Primer: Road Tests Await NCAA Hopefuls

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 21st, 2014

The third week of SEC play is upon us after a Saturday in which the standings started to morph into what many thought they’d be. Florida (4-0) and Kentucky (3-1) survived close games to inch toward the top, while surprise front runner Texas A&M (3-1) lost an overtime affair in Starkville. The weekday slate has a couple games that could play a big role in the SEC’s desperate quest for non-Gator-and-Wildcat NCAA bids.

Mike Anderson and Arkansas will, yet again, try to make a statement on the road against Tennessee (foxnews.com).

Mike Anderson and Arkansas will, yet again, try to make a statement on the road against Tennessee. (foxnews.com)

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

The Razorbacks are right back where they want to be after a loss in Athens: on the road. That’s sarcasm, of course, but Arkansas needs a win in the worst way, especially away from home. If they lose Wednesday they’ll fall to 1-4 in league play which is no place for a team with tournament hopes, regardless of how dazzling that one conference win was. But the Vols, however, aren’t the match up Mike Anderson is looking for. Tennessee has the third best offensive rebounding percentage in the country, and the Razorbacks have struggled to keep teams off the offensive glass this season. The Vols are also coming off a game in which they handedly beat Kentucky’s talented front court on the boards. Read the rest of this entry »

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SEC M5: 01.13.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on January 13th, 2014

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  1. Missouri, LSU, and Arkansas all took hits to their tournament resumes in their first SEC games. Tennessee now belongs on that inglorious list after blowing a 14-point first half lead and losing to Texas A&M. The Aggies have thrown a wrench into both the Vols’ and Razorbacks’ tournament hopes in less than a week. Alex Caruso is off to a scorching start in SEC play, with 19 assists against 4 turnovers in the Aggies’ two wins. As the folks at Good Bull Hunting write, Texas A&M should continue to cause problems because of their defense. “The season may be pretty ugly thus far, but with A&M’s play on defense, they can never be taken lightly, as Arkansas just experienced.” That was on display in Knoxville, as the Aggies held both Jordan McRae and Jarnell Stokes in single figures. Billy Kennedy’s squad is the early leader for SEC Spoiler of the Year.
  2. Starkville hasn’t been kind to Ole Miss, where they’ve now lost 15 of their last 16 game against their biggest rival. For the Rebels it was yet another close game they weren’t able to close out, similar to losses against Kansas State, Oregon, and Dayton. “Our guys scrap and fight and it’s not always the most pleasing to watch from any vantage point, but we stay in games,” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. “Then it comes down to the stretch and you’ve got to make plays. The games we’ve made plays — like (Auburn on Thursday) — we win. The games we don’t make the plays and Mississippi State does, they win.” At this point the Rebels simply aren’t in the NCAA tournament conversation, especially after losing to RPI #156. For Mississippi State, the win moved them to 11-4, surpassing their win total from last season. Even though their fans didn’t get a chance to boo the suspended Marshall Henderson, the win still must have been satisfying.
  3. Julius Randle was limited to 25 minutes in Kentucky’s win against Vanderbilt because of cramping, which he struggled with against Louisville as well. Randle has the Wildcats’ highest usage rate (27.9%) and is the focus of every opposing defense. John Calipari talked about the toll this is taking on the freshman. “You have to understand, he’s in a dogfight,” Calipari said in his post game news conference. “I think he is the only college player when he catches the ball, he’s got three guys on him. He’s not just running up and down the court. He’s, like, in a football game.” Randle’s conditioning will be something to watch going forward, and the onus falls on Alex Poythress, among others, to keep the power forward position afloat. Poythress has played reasonably well in the 41 minutes he’s logged in SEC play (21 points, 8 rebounds, 4 blocks).
  4. Missouri‘s front court rotation has suddenly grown since the Tigers entered SEC playTorren Jones (13 minutes) and Keanau Post (14 minutes) saw extended minutes against Auburn after both played sparingly during the non-conference season. They combined for 17 rebounds, and this was important because senior Tony Criswell was benched for an undisclosed team violation. Criswell began the year suspended so his absence could easily snowball into more games, and Frank Haith will need to keep relying on Jones and Post. Starting center Ryan Rosburg was in foul trouble much of the game, so it’s encouraging for Missouri that they were still able to win the rebounding battle (44 to 28).
  5. Scottie Wilbekin says his ankle is feeling good, and that’s obviously great news for Florida. “I think (I was) 100 percent, maybe 90 percent, 85,” Wilbekin said. “It wasn’t really hurting that bad. It was just range of motion. It was good. It was all right.” The senior point guard was able to play 35 mostly effective minutes in the Gators’ overtime time in Fayetteville. Injuries appear to be an inevitable part of Florida’s 2013-14 season after early ankle injuries to Wilbekin and Kasey Hill, and the current injuries faced by Wilbekin, Patric Young and Casey Prather. Young was able to play 21 minutes despite knee tendinitis, but Prather sat out and is the major concern for Billy Donovan. It’s always hard to lose a senior starter, but Prather is a little different because, foremost, he’s having a SEC POY-type season and no one else on the roster has his combination of size, length and ball-handling. The status of his knee has become a key to Florida’s season.
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SEC M5: 12.23.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on December 23rd, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. It was not a good weekend for Texas A&M. First, the Aggies missed their chance to make a non-conference statement, losing to Oklahoma on Saturday night. News also broke that sophomore guard J-Mychal Reese had been dismissed from the team for a “violation of athletic department rules and regulations.” This isn’t entirely surprisingly because Reese was suspended for a handful of games to begin the season. He was only averaging seven points per game, but given the offensive struggles the Aggies have had at times this season, he’ll definitely be missed. Whether he’ll also be missed off the court is something an outsider like myself will never know. An interesting angle to this story is that Reese’s dad, John Reese, is a Texas A&M assistant coach.
  2. Kentucky’s Julius Randle began his college career with three consecutive games with 20 or more points, but he hadn’t reached that mark since before Thanksgiving until he broke out with a career-high 29 points in the Wildcats’ win against Belmont on Saturday. Randle hasn’t been scuffling, but he reminded the country why his physicality around the rim will make him one of the top overall picks in next year’s NBA Draft. He got to the free throw line 19 times, and while he missed six of those shots, that’s an easier pill for head coach John Calipari to swallow than not getting there at all.
  3. LSU had struggled to close out leads in it’s last two games against Texas Tech and Louisiana-Monroe, but the Tigers were able to put away a quality UAB team Saturday by staying aggressive instead of playing to the clock. “We attacked them when we had a good lead instead of getting tentative, and that was a big key,” junior forward Johnny O’Bryant said. “We learned from those last two games and realized we have to play well from the start to the end.” The other story from this game was Tiger freshmen not named Jordan Mickey. Jarell Martin has had a frustrating, injury-plagued start to the year, but he scored 12 points after combining for five in his last two games. Tim Quarterman also contributed nine assists, and this went along with a solid shooting night from three for Anthony Hickey and Andre Stringer (5-of-8). If both of those statistics from key freshmen become trends, the Tigers will be in good shape in SEC play considering their frontcourt skill.
  4. Damontre Harris is officially done at Florida, without ever really getting started. The former South Carolina forward transferred to Florida and sat out last season but ended his Gators’ career without ever seeing the floor. Billy Donovan had been frank about Harris’ situation over the last month, saying that he didn’t have much confidence that the suspended big man would ever play for Florida. Harris was a solid role player in his two seasons at South Carolina but his loss shouldn’t affect the Gators all that much. While he would have added some additional depth, the Gators will add Chris Walker to a frontcourt that already includes Dorian Finney-Smith, Patric Young, and Will Yeguete, and there are only so many minutes to go around.
  5. Dare we say Mississippi State is surging? The Bulldogs won their fourth straight game yesterday by beating South Florida in the Las Vegas Classic. This is easily the Bulldogs’ best win of the year, and while USF isn’t a world-beater, they were on a four-game winning streak of their own that included wins over Alabama and George Mason. Mississippi State will likely enter conference play with 10 wins, which is a far cry from where Rick Ray’s team was a year ago. The Bulldogs showed a balanced offense against South Florida, with five players scoring in double figures. There are certainly signs that their 9-2 record is the product of a weak schedule (e.g., 62 percent free throw percentage, 30 percent three-point percentage), but Bulldogs fans’ should take what they can get and enjoy the early success.
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AAC M5: 12.23.13 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on December 23rd, 2013

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  1. The American had a pretty nice weekend, posting an 11-1 record with 11 straight wins over the past four days before South Florida dropped its Las Vegas match-up against Mississippi State on Sunday night. We will take a closer look once the non-conference slate wraps up (mostly) next weekend, but the AAC has posted only a so-so 79-31 overall record, fifth in winning percentage behind the Big Ten, Pac-12, Big 12 and Big East. Worse, it ranks ninth in conference RPI, indicative of the problems some AAC members might have come Selection Sunday.
  2. UConn coach Kevin Ollie suggested as much before Sunday’s match-up with Washington, and before tip-off it was announced that the Huskies’ starting lineup had indeed changed. Indeed, freshman Amida Brimah got the start in the Sunday win, with Phil Nolan losing his spot there. Both performed relatively well; Brimah managed four points, three rebounds, two blocks, an assist and a steal in 17 minutes, while Nolan ended up with eight points and five boards in 13 minutes. The Huskies have been a terrible rebounding team all year, ranking outside the top 200 in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage, and it’s understandable why Ollie might want to mirror Louisville’s Rick Pitino in starting a raw freshman at center who might improve more quickly over a limited veteran. Still, Nolan’s only a sophomore, and he’s been a better rebounder than Brimah thus far.
  3. Sean Kilpatrick continued his move up Cincinnati’s all-time scoring list, sliding into eighth place with 23 points in Saturday’s win over Middle Tennessee. He now has scored 1,650 points in his career, 16 behind Ron Bonham for #7. If he stays on his current pace, he’ll finish with more than 2,000 points, only the second Bearcat in the history of the program to pass that threshold. The other guy who reached that milestone, the school’s all-time leading scorer, remains out of reach; it’s some guy named Oscar Robertson, who managed 2,973 points in his career and was the leading scorer in college hoops history when he graduated in 1960. Still, Kilpatrick, who’s off to a great start this season, has been a very important player for the program, and particularly for coach Mick Cronin, whose job was in some danger when Kilpatrick arrived.
  4. Louisville rolled over Florida International on Saturday night short a couple of reserves. Kevin Ware, whose gruesome leg injury in March made him a national celebrity, suffered a shin injury against Missouri State on Tuesday night and was wearing street clothes on the bench. Freshman forward Akoy Agau also missed the game after being suspended for not “acting the way a University of Louisville basketball player should,” as coach Rick Pitino put it. It was unclear if either will be available for Saturday’s massive tilt at Rupp Arena against hated rival Kentucky, but it also probably matters very little. Agau, a little-used reserve, is unlikely to see the floor in such a high-level contest anyway; and while Ware might have gotten some run, he’s been a pretty distant fourth in the Cardinals’ guard rotation behind Russ Smith, Chris Jones and Terry Rozier.
  5. Two AAC schools, Temple and Houston, have something major in common despite the differences inherent in being located more than 1,300 miles apart. They are both struggling to achieve relevance in their hometowns, where they not only face competition from other college programs but also professional squads in all major sports. Houston appears to be ahead of Temple in its local efforts, and may therefore offer a blueprint. “We’ve had to fight, scratch, and claw to become relevant, not just in this city but in the state,” Houston athletic director Mack Rhoades told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “By no means do I think we’ve conquered that. But we’ve made inroads.”
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SEC M5: 12.20.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on December 20th, 2013

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  1. Tennessee stubbed its toe against North Carolina State at home on Wednesday, and it will now need a spectacular conference record to get into the NCAA Tournament this season. Rocky Top Talk‘s Will Shelton points out that the SEC will likely offer few opportunities for signature wins, putting the Volunteers in an all too familiar tough early spot for head coach Cuonzo Martin. The last two years it has taken frantic finishes from the Vols to generate NCAA consideration, but this hasn’t led to anything substantive for Tennessee’s postseason. Shelton writes, “those 8-1 runs were indeed special during every second of them, right up until the moment we didn’t hear our name called because we screwed it up just bad enough beforehand to miss out.” The Vols can pull themselves out of their 6-4 hole, of course, but there’s simply no room to drop another winnable game at home. There are wins to be had in the soft underbelly of the SEC but at this point it will take a lot of wins to avoid another disappointing Selection Sunday in Knoxville. The shame is that Tennessee’s schedule hasn’t been brutal. Xavier looks like a solid team, but is only #57 in Kenpom‘s ratings; outside of Wichita State, the Vols shouldn’t have run into the problems that they have.
  2. For what seems like the first time this season, Auburn is in the SEC M5 with some positive news. The Tigers picked up their biggest win of the season over Clemson, beating the (other) Tigers 66-64 last night. The picture isn’t yet clear on Clemson this season, but they stood at 8-2 before the game with reasonable losses against UMass and at Arkansas. Auburn was outclassed against Iowa State and Illinois, so getting a win against another power conference team should be a confidence booster for Tony Barbee’s squad. Chris Denson again led the Tigers in scoring and only committed one turnover despite playing 33 minutes and constantly handling the ball. Right now he’s in serious contention for an all-SEC spot and he might in fact be the most improved player in the conference. A lot of it has to do with the loss of Frankie Sullivan, but Denson’s scoring average is up nearly nine points per game along with his other averages as well.
  3. Mike Anderson’s pair of highly-touted freshmen forwards lived up to the hype last night, and that could be the key for better times away from Fayetteville this year for the Razorbacks. It was a night of highs for Moses Kingsley in a win against Tennessee-Martin, as he played the most minutes (20), scored the most points (12), and grabbed the most rebounds (12) of his young career. Bobby Portis also continued his steady improvement, scoring 15 points and grabbing nine rebounds of his own. The development of these big men is important not only because they’re talented, but also because Anderson’s teams have historically had rebounding issues. If these two can help reverse that trend, Arkansas could actually get enough wins away from Bud Walton Arena to truly be in the NCAA tournament discussion later this winter.
  4. Mississippi State conquered the remnants of Dunk City last night, beating Florida Gulf Coast 66-53 at home. The win runs the Bulldogs’ record to 8-2, which has reached a level that merits some attention. Mississippi State is still probably a lower-third SEC team when it’s all said and done, but through 10 games last year, Rick Ray’s team stood at 4-6 (albeit with a much tougher schedule). Even if the Bulldogs own no notable wins and barely hung on against a couple of low-major teams, that’s still a drastically different record. Ray needs to build momentum for this program and piling up wins no matter how it’s done or who it’s against is important. This is especially so because the major contributors will all be back next year and, in some cases, beyond: I.J. Ready is a freshman; Craig Sword, Fred Thomas and Gavin Ware are sophomores; Roquez Johnson is a junior.
  5. This was a disastrous week for South Carolina, and that might be sugarcoating it. The Gamecocks fell to Manhattan on Sunday then followed that up with a loss to 6-5 USC Upstate last night. Both of these losses happened at home. To be fair, USC Upstate has beaten Virginia Tech (so Carolina is not its first power conference victim), but you can only make so many excuses for a loss like this. The Gamecocks have a long ways to go, and maybe this isn’t surprising given the program Frank Martin inherited. Michael Carrera was suspended for the game because of an “altercation” following the Manhattan loss, and although it’s good to see passion in players, Carrera didn’t help his team by sitting at home last night. The Carolina guards outside of Sindarius Thornwell didn’t help much either. Brenton Williams, Bruce Ellington and Tyrone Johnson went a combined 8-of-28 from the field.
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