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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SEC M5: 12.13.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on December 13th, 2013

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  1. The disaster light was flashing for Arkansas at halftime against Savannah State, as the Razorbacks only led the low-major by two points. But a 27-point edge in the second half led to an easy win in what was the only SEC game last night. Leading scorer Michael Qualls was suspended for the first half for being late to practice, and Rashad Madden picked him up by scoring a career high 21 points. Alandise Harris has cooled off after a hot scoring start, and it could be that freshman Moses Kingsley (seven rebounds in just 13 minutes) gradually gets some of Harris’ minutes. Also, only 5,654 people showed up at Bud Walton Arena for the game. There are a number of reasonable explanations for this: bad weather, final exams, lackluster opponent, and so on. But if Anderson doesn’t make strides this season with his team’s product on the court, the dwindling attendance figures are another mark against him.
  2. Is Big Blue Nation losing interest in the Wildcats? Kentucky.com‘s John Clay reports that attendance has been dropping at Rupp Arena since 2009. However, the incremental drop is from an average of 23,868 through the first seven games in 2009 (John Calipari’s first season) to 21,799 in that same span this season. Clay writes that, “all numbers are relative. UK still draws more fanatics for an intrasquad basketball scrimmage than most schools seat for an actual game. And across the country, low college sports attendance has turned viral.” In my view, when attendance is still over 20,000, any drop is a small pittance and especially so in a difficult economy. Scores of NBA teams would salivate at the thought of having that many fans in the seats each night. And to answer the (sarcastic) question that began this paragraph, no, Big Blue Nation likes its team just fine.
  3. Billy Donovan‘s 1-3-1 zone defense was humming against Kansas on Tuesday night, so much so that ESPN.com‘s Myron Medcalf thinks Florida’s first half performance was one of the most dominant ever against the Jayhawks. He writes, “there were 16 — yes, 16 — Kansas turnovers in the first half thanks to Florida’s frustrating 1-3-1 zone. Per ESPN Stats & Information, Kansas committed turnovers on nine of its 18 possessions and went 4-for-15 from the field against the 1-3-1.” What makes this Florida team so potent in the zone would seem to be the length it can put at the top with Casey Prather or Dorian Finney-Smith, the experience of Will Yeguete and Patric Young in the middle, and the ball-hawking skills of Scottie Willbekin at the bottom. The hubbub over the new hand-check rule seems to have died down, but they are still in place. That makes Donovan’s zone that much more effective.
  4. The SEC has two players in this week’s CBSSports‘ National Player of the Year Watch. Kentucky’s Julius Randle occupies the fifth spot in the rankings, and Missouri’s Jordan Clarkson checks in at number nine. Randle logged four assists each against Providence and Baylor, and this will be an interesting part of his development to watch. The double teams and zone defenses focused on him will obviously come all season, so Randle needs to find ways to make opponents pay for their decisions. Clarkson saw better competition last week with games against West Virginia and UCLA, but his scoring figures didn’t suffer. The former Tulsa guard is currently the SEC’s leading scorer, and he could end up having the most impact of any conference transfer by season’s end.
  5. What’s on tap: A litmus test for Mississippi State, kind of. The Bulldogs mark the fourth SEC team Southeastern Louisiana (the school where Billy Kennedy first made his name as a head coach) will play this season. The Lions have been bludgeoned by Missouri (35 points), LSU (23 points) and Arkansas (46 points). Can Rick Ray’s team follow suit? After two narrow wins against smaller conference schools and a loss at TCU, any sort of win will be enough. The match-up could present an opportunity for Gavin Ware to rebound from a recent string of bad games. Due to foul trouble and double teams, the sophomore forward has scored only 13 points in his last three games, but Southeastern Louisiana gave up relatively big scoring nights to Bobby Portis, Coty Clarke, Jordan Mickey and Johnny O’Bryant on the interior.
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SEC M5: 12.05.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on December 5th, 2013

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  1. Drexel has shown it’s back to being a solid mid-major, but Alabama‘s hard-fought, triple overtime loss to the Dragons in Madison Square Garden still stung (though something else that happened last weekend might’ve stung a little more). The Tide were back in action against North Florida last night and rebounded with a win. Trevor Releford and Retin Obasohan (this seasons’s scoring stars) combined for only 17 points, but Alabama was able to cruise because of a career-high 20 points from Levi Randolph. Nick Jacobs had only 13 points, but was the bright spot for Alabama in New York, scoring at will with his hook shot. The Tide have four players who have proven they can carry the scoring load on any given night. That’s nice, but now needs to translate into wins.
  2. Arkansas returned to Bud Walton Arena on Tuesday night and it was business as usual. The Razorbacks blasted Southeastern Louisiana, forcing 24 turnovers. Lions coach Jim Yarbrough liked what he saw from Mike Anderson’s team. “Two years ago we weren’t even at full strength and we controlled the tempo,” Yarbrough said. “And they tried to press us, and we just kind of broke it and got behind them. They’re just faster (now). It’s starting to become Mike’s team. It’s starting to look like a Mike Anderson team.” That may be the case, as Anderson does have 11 players averaging at least 10 minutes per game, shuttling guys in and out for bursts of pressure. The problem with Arkansas’ schedule is that we simply won’t know if this team can take the next step until conference play starts. Based on last week’s results in Maui it doesn’t look promising, but Bobby Portis could be a difference maker, and reached double figures scoring for the third straight game against Southeastern Louisiana.
  3. Next year’s Battle 4 Atlantis field was announced Tuesday, and it is loaded. Florida will see UCLA, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Georgetown, Butler, Oklahoma and UAB in the Bahamas next fall. The first four teams have had high floors in recent vintage: even their worse teams were still competitive. Butler looks solid thus far under Brandon Miller, and Oklahoma should continue to improve under Lon Kruger. Billy Donovan should be bringing plenty of talent to the tournament, even with the loss of Scottie Wilbekin, Casey Prather, and Patric Young. Kasey Hill will almost certainly be on the team, as will Chris Walker. Dorian Finney-Smith could emerge as one of the most versatile players in the conference. Donovan’s also got an incoming class that includes five-star forward Devin Robinson.
  4. Rupp Arena may have a visitor more famous than Ashley Judd at some point this season. Bill Clinton reached out to John Calipari on Sunday and the two had a 20 minute chit chat. Calipari, ever the publicity-generating wizard, seized on the opportunity and fired off a series of tweets about the conversation, including that Clinton hopes to get to Lexington to this season. Now, wait. Isn’t this the same former President who was seen wearing snap-back Razorbacks hats and hobnobbing with Nolan Richardson back in the mid-90s? Arkansas visits Rupp in late February. Maybe that game will have a more “stately” feel.
  5. What’s on tap today: The SEC has four teams in action, and three of them are playing BCS conference opponents. Missouri faces long-time Big 12 foe West Virginia, and with a win Bob Huggins will pass Norm Stewart on the all-time wins list, and do so on the court named after Stewart. To prevent this, the Tigers will need to effectively defend the three. West Virginia has three players with 30 or more three point attempts shooting 46% or greater this season. Ole Miss travels to Kansas State, which is usually a difficult environment. The Wildcats’ rough start to the season might temper the atmosphere, and allow the Rebels to build on what has been a good start to the season. Mississippi State is in action against TCU. The Horned Frogs lost to 2-6 Longwood this season, but Mississippi State barely hung on against Jackson State and Loyola (Chicago) at home, so a win is not a given.
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SEC M5: 11.29.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on November 29th, 2013

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  1. Eastern Michigan trapped and swarmed Kentucky’s Julius Randle on Wednesday, holding the big man scoreless in the first half. “If they’re going to do that, they’re going to have to live with other guys stepping up and having big days,” he said. Aaron Harrison was the other player stepping up, scoring 22 points and going 9-of-11 at the free throw line. Part of Randle’s immense value is that he affects the game even when he isn’t scoring. Harrison took advantage of the attention focused elsewhere, and did a great job attacking the basket. His two big scoring nights (the other being a 28-point outing against Robert Morris) have been aided by 10-plus free throw attempts in each game. Kentucky has no shortage of athletes, so there should be plenty of slashing opportunities at the rim when defenders are out of the lane denying Randle the ball.
  2. The temperature will be in the low 50s this weekend in Fayetteville, Arkansas — that’s not unbearable, but the Razorbacks will likely miss the Maui sunshine. They also missed an opportunity in Maui, going 1-2 with losses against California and Gonzaga sandwiched around a win against Minnesota. The trip wasn’t a disaster because the Gophers are a team with solid metrics and a decent win over Richmond. But Gonzaga was Arkansas‘ last chance to make a non-conference splash, and 34 points from Kevin Pangos ended that dream quickly. Mike Anderson must avoid any non-conference setbacks and has some work to do in SEC play to make his first NCAA Tournament appearance with the Razorbacks. A bright spot was Bobby Portis, who began to assert himself offensively in the latter two games, scoring 12 and 18 points, respectively.
  3. A few thousand dollars can buy you a piece of Texas A&M basketball history. G. Rollie White Coliseum, the Aggies’ basketball home from 1954 to 1997, was demolished in August. Workers uncovered the original playing floor during the process, the existence of which was unknown prior to the demolition. Texas A&M began auctioning off portions of the floor yesterday, which include a NCAA logo, school name and logo, and a retro-Southwest Conference logo. The top bid on the baseline floor section is currently over $2,000. This is a neat story that probably won’t repeat itself very often. The vintage, yellowed Southwest Conference logo would be an especially great addition to a living room or office, if you’ve got a some money to burn.
  4. Mississippi State barely avoided disaster Wednesday, hanging on to beat KenPom #280 Jackson State by two points. It was an ugly, low-scoring affair marred by 19 Bulldog turnovers and plenty of missed shots. “We shouldn’t need evidence that this can happen,” head coach Rick Ray said. “We need to embrace who we really are, and until we do that, we’re going to struggle.” Mississippi State missed its freshman point guard, I.J. Ready, who had been playing well before “severely” injuring his hamstring. Without him, the Bulldogs had six assists against those 19 turnovers in escaping with the win. Gavin Ware has established himself as a credible low post threat and he’ll see plenty of double teams, but Mississippi State can’t capitalize on this if they keep fumbling the ball away. Their blowout loss at Utah State wasn’t a cause for alarm, but performing so poorly at home against a bad team does not bode well for the rest of the season.
  5. Tennessee suffered a setback in the Bahamas, losing to UTEP by eight late last night. The shooting backdrop in the Atlantis ballroom must be difficult, but it’s no excuse for the 38 percent shooting performance from the Volunteers. This included a putrid 3-of-21 from beyond the arc. Jordan McRae had a particularly rough shooting night, missing seven of his eight three point attempts. Not much is known about UTEP at this point: the Miners have two losses, but (oddly) both are to a decent New Mexico State team. Conference USA has already had Charlotte step up and surprise last weekend in Puerto Rico, but this was not a game Tennessee should have lost. They now find themselves with a rematch against a Xavier team that already beat them once to open the season. Semaj Christon got to the basket with ease in that game, so it’ll be interesting to see what adjustments Cuonzo Martin makes to prevent this from happening again.
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SEC M5: 11.15.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on November 15th, 2013

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  1. NOLA.com‘s Randy Rosetta had a brief LSU basketball chat yesterday and mentioned a couple of interesting Tiger nuggets. Rosetta said Johnny Jones has been vague on the timetable for Jarrell Martin‘s return, but given the iffy, inconsistent nature of ankle injuries, that isn’t too surprising. He also suggests that seven-foot Australian freshman Darcy Malone may be in line for a redshirt because he didn’t see the floor against UMass despite injuries and foul trouble in the frontcourt. This would make sense, as the Tigers’ training staff is desperately trying to get Malone bigger and stronger, and a year of conditioning would benefit both player and program in the long run. Finally, Rosetta suggests that this LSU team is more talented than the 2006 version. That’s a big statement: the 2006 Tigers made the Final Four behind the services of future pros Glen Davis and Tyrus Thomas. Garrett Temple and Chris Johnson have also bounced around the NBA, and Tasmin Mitchell was on that team too. That’s a lot of talent, and a pretty high and likely unrealistic bar for the current team.
  2. Don’t tell Frank Martin that South Carolina’s close call against Baylor was a moral victory. “Let one get away the other afternoon,” Martin said to open his Thursday afternoon press conference at the Colonial Life Arena. “We did some things well, but we also are not anywhere near who we need to be in order to win high-level games here. We’ve got to find a way to be a little more disciplined.” But the fact is that the Gamecocks should feel good about what happened in Waco. A win would’ve obviously been ideal, but competing on the road against a good team this early in the season is an encouraging sign for a rebuilding program. Last season, the Gamecocks lost by 10 or more in six of the their 10 road games. It’s an important sign that they established a competitive road precedent this early. If nothing else, the Gamecocks enter their rivalry game on the road against Clemson with some confidence.
  3. SI.com‘s Luke Winn discussed some interesting defensive metrics from the Kentucky-Michigan State game in his weekly power rankings. Winn writes, “On the Kentucky side, Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein combined to force 16 misses, but there was little-to-no turnover creation, and starting guards Andrew and Aaron Harrison had negative defensive impact. Perimeter and transition D are the areas where the Wildcats have the most room for improvement.” This looks like the rare time experience was in Kentucky’s favor, as their sophomores contributed the most defensively against the Spartans. As Winn notes, Kentucky certainly needs to get better on the perimeter, but with Cauley-Stein’s ability to clean up a lot of mistakes,  even a small amount of improvement over the course of the season can go a long way.
  4. Mississippi State picked up its second win of the season against Kennesaw State last night, a team that has already played an ironman-like five games by virtue of an opening weekend tournament. A couple of things stand out from this game, both from the Bulldogs’ backcourt. First, Craig Sword led the league in turnovers last season, partly offsetting an otherwise promising freshman year. This problem has carried into his sophomore season as he turned the ball over six times in Mississippi State’s first game against Prairie View A&M, and another three times last night. Second, I.J. Ready has indeed been ready to contribute as a freshman, and has shown the ability to adapt in his first two games. Fred Thomas was suspended for the opener and Ready looked to score more, with 14 points on 10 shots. With the scoring-minded Thomas back in the lineup (17 points on 14 shots), Ready assumed more of a distributor role, attempting only two shots and handing out six assists with only one turnover.
  5. Welcome back, Trevor Releford. After a quiet opening game against Oklahoma, the Alabama senior roared back with 29 points on only 14 shots in the Tide’s win over Texas Tech. This included 5-of-7 from the three-point line. Also impressive was that Releford only committed one foul in 33 minutes, a game after he was stuck to the bench with foul trouble against Oklahoma. The Tide in general avoided the referee’s whistle, only getting called for nine fouls. Anthony Grant’s Big 12 week is over, and the Tide can now tune up against lower division teams before a December 7 game against rebuilding South Florida, and a December 17 match-up with Wichita State.
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SEC M5: Opening Day Edition

Posted by Justin Bridgman on November 8th, 2013

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  1. ESPN’s Paul Biancardi did a fantastic job breaking down the individual skill sets of Kentucky’s hyped freshman class. His breakdown reveals a group of ultra-talented basketball players who should play wonderfully together. Last year’s Kentucky team suffered because the freshman did not mesh together the entire season, and their games were not well suited for one another. Based on their scouting reports as well as preseason reports, it appears that will not be the case this season. Offensively it seems obvious that the Harrison twins have games that will compliment each other. James Young will thrive in two roles, either as a spot up three point shooter or as an extra rebounder. The easy layups and dunks that Julius Randle gets his two centers will give teams nightmares every night. At least headed into the season, it seems like the chemistry and fit questions that faced Kentucky last season will not face them this season.
  2. Going into this season, one that will likely decide the coaches’ future, Auburn’s top scorers are excited about their two point guardsMalcolm Canada and Tahj Shamsid-Deen are praised by Tony Barbee for their chemistry with one another and the way it will benefit the entire team. Barbee thinks that the combination of Shamsid-Deen shooting from the outside and Canada slashing towards the basket will give the Tigers an exciting offensive dimension. Obviously, the time right before the season is when everyone is a great player and everything is supposed to go well. Hopefully for the sake of Barbee’s employment, these two talented guards can turn into the dynamic duo he is projecting them to be. He will need them to be able to open up space for the two best scorers on the team, KT Harrell and Chris Denson. Harrell and Denson are both very good scorers that can carry a team for a night at times. Without help from their teammates though, opposing defenses will lock in on those two and try to take them out of the game.
  3. Brace yourselves SEC fans, there are new rules in the NCAA this season, and the amount of fouls called per game is going to go up. With an emphasis on cutting down on physical play, it is likely that free throw attempts will be high at the start of the season. This is an idea that excited Auburn coach Tony Barbee, who thinks the game has been too bogged down the last few years and needs to be more open for offenses to run. Meanwhile, Billy Donovan admits he has changed the way he calls fouls during his practice to help his team adjust to the new rules. Donovan in particular is going to have to adjust his team to the new rules, because he is missing almost half of his team right now. With SEC Men’s Basketball officiating coordinator Jake Bell estimating 45 to 60 fouls will be called a game at the start of the season, teams without much depth will be forced to adapt. Big men in particular will be challenged to stay out of foul trouble while the officials are adjusting to the new points of emphasis. Eventually, I would expect the foul calls to cut back down, especially if a controversial incident occurs towards the end of a big game. For now though, coaches need to be prepared to deal with foul issues earlier in the game than usual.
  4. LSU has still not gotten word if freshman power forward Brian Bridgewater can play this season or not. Bridgewater needs clearance from the NCAA, and in a shocking turn of events, that is taking longer than expected. Bridgewater is an undersized power forward who relied on brute strength in high school to impose his will. As he transitions to the collegiate level Bridgewater will need to increase his basketball skills, because his 6-6 frame will not allow him to overpower all of his opponents. Even if Bridgewater cannot make a big impact on the court this season, the NCAA delay keeps him out of practice, which is where he needs to be. Developing skills is the next step in his career, and for right now, that is all on hold.
  5. Buried in this piece about Mississippi State coach Rick Ray admitting his team needs to win more games is a very interesting nugget. Ray says that he felt his team struggled to rebound last season in part because of the way he ran practices. Now instead of stopping a play to correct every fundamental flaw, Ray is going to let the play run until completion and then make his corrections. It will be interesting to see if this small adjustment actually makes an impact on the team’s rebounding ability. As they say, repetition breeds success, so the practice can’t hurt. Still, it reads as the type of preseason optimism that is running rampant across SEC basketball blurbs right now. It will be great to finally get the season started tonight and let the results do the talking.
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The New Hand-Check Rule and Its Probable Effect on SEC Teams

Posted by Greg Mitchell on November 7th, 2013

Larry Brown calls it “scary.” Herb Sendek thinks it’ll be “revolutionary.” These longtime and venerable coaches are talking about the NCAA’s new hand-check rule, which will no doubt be a nagging storyline throughout the upcoming season. Many believe that an increased emphasis on hand checks will lead to more fouls. “Tons of fouls, a lot of free throws, long, ugly games. Hopefully fans can prepare for that. It is going to be frustrating.” That’s Lon Kruger’s take on the effect of the new rules. Given the concern that many coaches have about the change, it’s worth looking at which SEC teams and players could be affected most by the difference.

Craig Sword had the third-most fouls in the SEC last year and the new hand-check rule could be tough on him (photo courtesy bigstory.ap.com).

Craig Sword had the third-most fouls in the SEC last year and the new hand-check rule could be tough on him (photo courtesy bigstory.ap.com).

Fouls: The following players led the league in fouls last year, and could be in for even more foul trouble and time off the court if they don’t show more discipline to adapt to the new rules:

  • Dont’e Williams, Georgia, 98 total fouls
  • Alex Caruso, Texas A&M, 93 total fouls
  • Craig Sword, Mississippi State, 92 total fouls
  • Rodney Cooper, Alabama, 91 total fouls
  • Allen Payne, Auburn, 89 total fouls
  • Johnny O’Bryant, LSU, 89 total fouls
  • Alex Poythress, Kentucky, 88 total fouls
  • Jarvis Summers, Ole Miss, 87 total fouls
  • Michael Carrera, South Carolina, 85 total fouls
  • Patric Young, Florida, 85 total fouls

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SEC M5: 11.05.13 Edition

Posted by Justin Bridgman on November 5th, 2013

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  1. This season the SEC is a bottom-feeding league during the non-conference season. According to the article, eight SEC teams had a RPI of #80 or worse last season. Weak non-conference scheduling is a big part of this, and the conference needs to come together and stop the practice. The problem is that a school like Georgia or Mississippi State wants to pad its win total instead of playing tougher competition; otherwise, coaches of those schools know they will lose their job. Every school in the conference should look at what John Calipari does with his non-conference schedule and make an effort to imitate it. Athletic directors should agree to give coaches some leeway in regards to job security when a coach puts together a more aggressive non-conference schedule. This will raise the overall reputation of the conference and lead to more quality wins that matter come NCAA selections. In the long run, coaches will find that tougher non-conference games will result in better outcomes for the entire SEC.
  2. Speaking of non-conference schedules, this list of the top non-conference games includes a number of Kentucky games as well as a few involving Florida. While the rest of the SEC is likely to be ignored nationally for most of the non-conference season, these two teams have plenty of big games before January. Kentucky plays Michigan State, Louisville, and North Carolina before Christmas. It will be fascinating to see how Kentucky’s freshman play against those teams, especially since Kentucky usually needs some time to gel defensively. Calipari will need to have his team ready to go from day one, and since the expectation in Big Blue Nation is a 40-0 season, the pressure won’t let up all year long. Florida’s schedule will be crucial in its bid to earn a top seed in the NCAA Tournament. The fact is, the SEC schedule does not give Florida many chances to bolster their RPI, so winning these tough non-conference games is incredibly important. When it comes down to getting a #2 or #3 seed, a win over Kansas or Wisconsin can make all the difference on the resume.
  3. The AP Preseason All-America Team was announced yesterday, and it surprisingly did not include Kentucky freshman Julius Randle. While fellow freshman phenom Andrew Wiggins did make the list, Randle was left off in favor of Michigan sophomore Mitch McGary. Of course the list means nothing since there has not even been a game played yet, but it makes little sense for Randle to have been omitted. By all accounts he is one of the five best players in college basketball this season and it would be stunning if he isn’t on this list at the end of the season. All due respect to McGary, who had a great NCAA Tournament, but Randle is already a more polished player. The bottom line is this, the best player on the best team should be on the All-American team. AP voters might be rethinking this exclusion after watching Randle tear apart the competition all season long.
  4. Mississippi State coach Rick Ray is expecting a number of his players to take a big jump in their second season of college basketball. Ray claims that players improve the most during the summer after their first season. He doesn’t provide statistics to actually back up that claim, but for Ray’s sake I hope he is correct. It looks like Mississippi State will struggle to score again this season, a year after having the second worst offense in the league. Representative of that struggle is the fact that freshman point guard IJ Ready is acknowledged as the top addition to the team. However, as the author points out, Ready is not much of a scorer. This is going to be another long season for the Bulldogs unless a number of their players start making more shots; otherwise, look for another season of low-scoring games and a pile of losses. Good defensive teams will feast on this lineup, in all likelihood packing the paint and daring the Bulldog guards to shoot three-pointers. On top of their offensive struggles, advanced metrics rate the Bulldogs as the worst defensive team in the SEC — marginal improvement by three sophomores is just not going to be enough.
  5. Grantland posted its SEC preview, and the entire article is worth a read. What stood out was the placement of Missouri’s Frank Haith on the hot seat. By all accounts the administration and fans like Haith, and he has been fairly successful in his two years at the school. However, as the author points out, Haith’s teams have shown a disturbing tendency to fall apart at the end of games. That happened to him at Miami too, and in two NCAA Tournament games at Missouri, Haith’s team has yet to give a good effort. Some fans could protect Haith by pointing out that Phil Pressey was always mentally volatile during his Missouri career, but nonetheless this will be a pivotal season for the head coach. If Missouri does not have a successful season and win an NCAA tournament game, Haith will start to lose some of the legion of defenders that he has right now.
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SEC Optimism: Best Case Scenarios in the “West”

Posted by Greg Mitchell on October 30th, 2013

Optimism. It’s what makes this an exciting time of year. You may have an idea what lies ahead for your team, but you don’t know for sure. Surprises happen. A freshman proves that the recruiting services were wrong, an underachieving group of seniors plays with new urgency, or the third-year coach’s offensive system finally clicks. In honor of this cliched “everyone has the same record” feeling, let’s take a glass half-full look at the 14 teams of the SEC. Here’s why each SEC “West” team will exceed their expectations in 2013-14.

To take a look at the SEC “East” teams’ best-case scenarios, click here.

Alabama

The Expectation: Middle of the pack SEC + NCAA Tournament bubble

Why They’ll Exceed It: Many feel that Julius Randle winning SEC Player of the Year is a foregone conclusion. Trevor Releford challenges this idea in becoming one of the top scorers in the country. As the returning SEC assists leader, he adds to this total by also setting up Levi Randolph and Rodney Cooper, both of whom become more reliable perimeter shooters. Seven-footer’ Carl Engstrom shows no ill effects from his torn knee ligaments, and uses his size to create match-up problems on both ends. Forward Nick Jacobs builds on his improved play at the end of last season, and fills the rebounding void created by Moussa Gueye’s transfer. Anthony Grant rides his star point guard off the bubble and into the NCAA Tournament.

Trevor Releford is the active SEC leader in points, assists and steals.

Trevor Releford is the active SEC leader in points, assists and steals.

Auburn

The Expectation: Bottom tier SEC + no NCAA Tournament

Why They’ll Exceed It: Yes, a three-win team replacing its leading scorer and best player (Frankie Sullivan) can exceed expectations. Virginia Tech transfer K.T. Harrell will be a big reason why. He was a 42 percent three-point shooter during his freshman year, and he recaptures his magic. Chris Denson provides a slashing counterpart and Tony Barbee finds himself with an offensively versatile backcourt. Freshman Tahj Shamsid-Deen grabs the point guard position and makes it all work. Change is inevitable with nine newcomers. Seven-foot freshman Ronald Delph and Brinas Griciunas join incumbent seven-footer Asauhn Dixon-Tatum to create a giant rotation other teams simply don’t have. Auburn fights its way to a .500 SEC record.

Arkansas

The Expectation: Middle of the pack SEC + NCAA Tournament bubble

Why They’ll Exceed It: Mike Anderson has elite talent in the form of freshmen forwards Bobby Portis and Moses Kingsley. The duo join Coty Clarke to form a shot-blocking unit that can cover for aggressive defense by Razorback guards. This leads to steals and turnovers that fuel Anderson’s up-tempo system. Upperclassmen Mardracus Wade, Rashad Madden, Kikko Haydar and Rickey Scott improve as their collective eligibility ticks away. Even if none takes a giant step forward, they all play well enough to become the effective wave of players Anderson needs to pressure opposing guards. A reliable distributor must be found, and either Madden or Wade, the top two assist percentage returnees, grab that role. Arkansas finally wins a handful of road games, and Anderson returns to the NCAA Tournament with his high-pressure system in full gear.

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Welcome to the Show: Identifying the Impact Freshman for Each Team in the SEC “West”

Posted by Christian D'Andrea (@TrainIsland) on October 29th, 2013

Christian D’Andrea is an SEC microsite contributor and Managing Editor of Vanderbilt’s SB Nation site Anchor of Gold.

After suffering through one of the worst overall seasons in conference history, the Southeastern Conference is ready to rebound behind a strong group of freshman newcomers. SEC teams constituted six of ESPN’s Top 25 recruiting classes for 2013, and that includes Arkansas and LSU, two “West” programs that are looking to regain past glory after a disappointing start to this decade. Four and five-star big men like Jarrell Martin, Bobby Portis, Jordan Mickey and Moses Kingsley will join a league that seems to be shifting away from the small-ball lineups that dominated most of the conference’s rosters in 2012-13.

Mike Anderson now has an intriguing young duo to work with. (AP)

Mike Anderson now has an intriguing young duo to work with. (AP)

Last week, we took a look at the incoming players who could lift their squads to new heights in the former SEC “East.” Today, we’ll take a look at the new guys who will be cutting their teeth on the other side of the conference. Here are the true freshmen – one per team – who are slated to have a major impact for their new teams this winter.

Alabama: Jimmie Taylor. Anthony Grant had very little to rely on up front in 2012-13, but he still guided the Crimson Tide to the NIT with an unorthodox four-guard lineup last winter. Now, raw center Moussa Gueye has transferred to Valparaiso, giving 6’10” forward/center Taylor the chance to play a major role for Alabama from the outset. The in-state recruit is a long, lean player who has great instincts for shot-blocking and solid athleticism for a big man. He should provide a consistent presence in the paint and on the boards for a team that was hurting for rebounds in conference play.

Arkansas: Bobby Portis. Mike Anderson’s 2013 haul was small, but potent. The Razorbacks added two big men who combined to receive nine stars between them from both ESPN and Rivals last spring. That’s a huge boost for a team whose best rebounder was 6’7″ combo forward Marshawn Powell, pulling down fewer than six rebounds per game in 2012-13. Portis, a five-star power forward, will give the Hogs some much-needed bulk up front, and 6’10” center Moses Kingsley will provide an imposing presence next to him. Anderson was forced to play plenty of small-ball last season, but the addition of two impact players who can thrive in the paint will give Arkansas some much needed flexibility. While the team will still feel the sting of losing Powell and B.J. Young to NBA Draft declarations, the future is bright in Fayetteville.

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Morning Five: 09.18.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on September 18th, 2013

morning5

  1. New Jersey’s effort to legalize sports gambling within the state took a hit yesterday as a federal appeals court upheld a prior ruling that New Jersey’s proposed legalization of sports gambling conflicted with current federal law. As we have mentioned before in this space the heart of the issue is the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act that only allows gambling on sports in any form in just four states–Nevada, Delaware, Oregon, and Montana. New Jersey has questioned the constitutionality of this law on several levels and although they lost the appeal 2-1 they appear to be encouraged (at least publicly) by the lone dissenting vote, which they claim is the first public vote against the law. We still are not sure what the overall outcome will be and what the NCAA’s response will be (it has threatened to stop allowing NCAA postseason competition in the state), but with the huge amount of money on the line we have no doubt that this case will drag on for years as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has already stated that the state will appeal the case to the US Supreme Court.
  2. The report that opposing coaches were using Billy Kennedy‘s battle with Parkinson’s Disease against him on the recruiting trail has generated plenty of criticism for the unidentified coach(es). While we understand that the approach will make almost everybody uncomfortable and would be classified as distasteful by nearly everybody we have a hard time finding it quite as offensive as many others have. Although few media members are willing to publicly acknowledge it, the health of a coach, who is theoretically going to be one of the guiding forces in your life the next four years, is something that should be under consideration for any recruit in the same way that the likelihood that the coach is going to leave the school for another job–NCAA or NBA–should be a consideration. Kennedy’s health issues, which are a private matter on some level, are made into a public one because of his job whether the fans and media like it or not.
  3. We have no idea why the Jalen Steele‘s departure from Mississippi State had to be so messy, but given the recent history of the program it should not come as a surprise. Early yesterday, the school put out a release stating that Steele would forego his senior year at Mississippi State to focus on graduating. On the surface this appeared to be nothing more than an unfortunate end to Steele’s injury-plagued college career. That is before Steele went off on the program on Twitter. Mississippi State later attempted to clarify the issue by saying it was an issue of open roster spaces for the 2014-15 season as Steele was wanted to redshirt this season and come back next season. Unfortunately, Mississippi State supposedly had already filled all of its roster spots for next season meaning that Steele was left on his own to try to move on to another school (Hello, transfer waiver!), which is a situation that clearly did not sit too well with Steele.
  4. Terry Lanier’s commitment to VCU on Monday may not have made major headlines, but it is another sign of how far VCU has come as a program since making it to the Final Four in 2011. This might seem like a fairly straightforward association that players want to play for successful teams, but as Borzello notes it has not necessarily been the case for other teams that have made surprise runs to the Final Four recently. There are multiple potential explanations for this–the most obvious one and also the most politically touchy–is that Shaka Smart, an a young, well-educated African-American, appeals more to recruits, who are predominantly African-American than his two Caucasian counterparts (Jim Larranaga and Brad Stevens), who also happened to both leave the schools they led to the Final Four. Whatever the reasons for his recruiting success are, Shaka Smart’s ability to continue to build on that Final Four run is another reason why he is among the most coveted coaches in college basketball.
  5. The NIT may have fallen off in terms of prestige for early season tournaments, but we have to give them credit for being one of the few that still requires you to win to advance to the showcase rounds. This year’s NIT field will be headlined by Arizona and Duke with the two schools hosting the opening round games along with Rutgers and Alabama. Looking through the fields Arizona, Duke, and Alabama should advance fairly easily, but the road for Rutgers appears to be much more challenging. One other interesting aspect of NIT Season Tip-Off is the fact that it includes two schools–Metro State and Stillman–that are not even Division I schools. Although we doubt that this tournament will be interesting until the championship game, we have to give them credit for making it a real tournament unlike most of the other ones out there.
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