SEC M5: 02.21.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on February 21st, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. Have Mike Anderson’s Razorbacks worked their way onto the NCAA bubble? Arkansas’ resume is considerably better at home than it is on the road, but as ESPN.com points out, “Since Febuary 2, the Razorbacks are 4-1 with wins over Florida and, most recently, Missouri. They also — in typical fashion — lost 67-49 at Vanderbilt. On January 26, they lost 75-54 at South Carolina. So, yeah, there’s plenty of work to do here.” But unfortunately for the Hogs, NCAA Tournament games aren’t played at home, and they just haven’t been the same team away from Bud Walton Arena. 
  2. Missouri Athletic Director Mike Alden isn’t abandoning Tigers coach Frank Haith in the wake of potential NCAA violations. ”You know, I’m looking forward to working with Frank for a long time. And he’s done great things here with us, and we look forward to continuing to do great things,” Alden said. At this point, however, the AD doesn’t know the extent to which Haith will be punished for the alleged violations. While a show of confidence is important at this stage in the game, it doesn’t really mean much if bad news is pending. If penalties are imposed on him at some point down the road, a statement of full confidence at that point will be far more telling.
  3. Florida blew a 13-point second half lead against Missouri on Tuesday night, and it’s time to start pointing the finger to locate the problems. The Florida Times Union points to an ill-advised three pointer by Kenny Boynton, costly turnovers by Mike Rosario, and key missed free throws by Patric Young as reasons for the demise. And as the author points out, this isn’t the first time the Gators have unraveled during a close game. Three turnovers and a missed free throw during the final minute cost UF a six-point lead at Arizona, and Florida was within one point against Kansas State but it just couldn’t close out with a win. Billy Donovan’s squad has reason for concern as it is 0-3 in games this season decided by single figures.
  4. Florida’s late-game struggles have a common theme — the head coach. While Donovan is the greatest head coach ever to stand on the sidelines at the University of Florida, his winning percentage in games decided by five points or fewer doesn’t stack up to that of his national championship-winning peers. The most recent three-point loss to Missouri gave the accomplished Donovan a mere 57-75 record in games with the outcome at five points or fewer, which is just a .469 winning percentage. In comparison, just to name a few, Donovan’s mentor Rick Pitino sits at .503, John Calipari is at .570, and Jim Boeheim is the leader among active national championship winners at .628. Donovan’s record is in fact the worst among active national championship-winning coaches, and he is the only coach with that criteria with a losing record in close games.
  5. Rick Ray just can’t catch a break. The Mississippi State coach suspended sophomore forward Roquez Johnson for an unspecified violation of team rules, leaving him with just five scholarship players. But Ray didn’t back off of his zero tolerance approach to discipline. “What they’re trying to figure out is… how much can they get away with without getting punished?” Ray said. “I think there’s a little bit with this situation with those older guys. ‘Hey, how much can I get away with without getting punished?’ And the answer is: nothing.” If this basketball coaching gig doesn’t work out for Ray, he joked that he has enough material from this first year on the job with the Bulldogs to write a book.
Share this story

SEC M5: 02.14.13 Edition

Posted by DPerry on February 14th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. Shot-blocking extraordinaire Nerlens Noel won’t be patrolling the paint for Kentucky again this season. On Wednesday, an MRI revealed a torn ACL, confirming what everyone assumed after seeing the freshman center crumble to the ground and scream in pain after a great hustle play Tuesday night in Gainesville. “I’ve been coaching for 22 years and this is the first injury we’ve had of this kind during the season, which makes it even more devastating,” head coach John Calipari said. Despite the impending long rehabilitation process, Noel remains in good spirits, calling the injury “a minor setback for a MAJOR comeback” from his Twitter account.
  2. Questions about how Noel’s injury would affect his draft stock popped up even before the MRI. Noel was a sure-fire top five NBA Draft pick (and one of the few contenders to go first overall) before this setback, and SI‘s Michael Rosenberg believes that’s still the case. “Guys who are going to be top five picks tend to leave, and Noel will still go that high,” Rosenberg writes. “The only difference is that he might need crutches to walk over and shake David Stern’s hand.” I remain bullish on his draft stock. The injury brings up comparisons to Greg Oden, but it shouldn’t. Noel’s slight lower frame certainly didn’t do him any favors, but one awkward landing into the basket support shouldn’t indicate that he’s in for the same type of chronic knee problems as Oden. He still projects as the top defensive big man in the draft, and if a team like Cleveland or Orlando in need of a rim protector wins the lottery, don’t be surprised to see Noel follow in Anthony Davis’ footsteps as the top overall pick.
  3. So where does Kentucky go from here? (Insert super original NIT joke). “It’s not a question of, how do we replace Nerlens?” Jay Bilas said Wednesday. “It’s, how do we adapt to what we have?” The Wildcats’ remaining strengths aren’t immediately clear. Lost in the Noel commotion is the fact that the Wildcats didn’t belong on the floor with Florida. Outside of a bright opening few minutes, Kentucky’s ball-handlers looked incapable of dealing with the Gators’ full-court pressure. Even when they broke through, the UK offense lacked composure and creativity. Noel was never the focal point when Kentucky had the ball, but without their dominant defensive presence, the Wildcats need to make up some of that lost value on the offensive end. Willie Cauley-Stein isn’t too dissimilar to Noel in his playing style and should see his minutes increase drastically.
  4. Casey Prather has been little more than an energy guy during his time in Gainesville, but with his improved play in the absence of Will Yeguete, he’s showing that he can be much more valuable. Against Kentucky, the junior tallied 12 points, three boards, two blocks, and three charges drawn (of course, few players make drawing charges as easy as Archie Goodwin does). ”I would just say I was trying to give the team a big boost, a big energy boost, and so I was just glad to help the team out any way I could,” says Prather, spoken like a true energy guy. The 6’6″ swingman can guard multiple positions, affording Florida flexibility in its defensive assignments, and rebounds well for his size. Yeguete could return for the postseason, but he may find minutes tough to come by if Prather continues to excel.
  5. Missouri finally earned its first road win of the season, and did so in emphatic fashion. Keion Bell tied a career-high with 24 points to lead the Tigers to a 78-36 win over Mississippi State. ”I think Keion in the last four, five ball games has been outstanding,” coach Frank Haith said in a radio interview after the game. “We love to see him coming along because it gives him a chance to spell (Pressey) more.” Phil Pressey, who has struggled to score efficiently this season, was back in true point guard mode, taking only one shot (which he made) and adding eight assists. The junior would be wise to commit to this style. He’s averaging 14.5 shots per game in losses, while only putting up 10 per game in Missouri’s 18 wins.
Share this story

Mississippi State’s Jalen Steele Lands in the Dog House

Posted by Brian Joyce on February 12th, 2013

Brian Joyce is a writer for the SEC microsite and regular contributor for Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about SEC basketball at bjoyce_hoops.

It’s no secret that Mississippi State coach Rick Ray needs all the help he can get. The Bulldogs are on an eight-game losing streak in the SEC, the longest such streak for MSU since 1987. Ray’s team was already down to seven scholarship players for the season before word came down over the weekend that guard Jalen Steele has been suspended indefinitely. That’s enough misfortune to make anybody lose their cool, which Ray eventually did. And that makes what Steele did, whatever it was, even more frustrating considering how badly his team needs him right now.

We don't know what he did to deserve it, but this Bulldog is in Rick Ray's dog house.

We don’t know what he did to deserve it, but this Bulldog is in Rick Ray’s dog house.

It was no surprise initially when Ray chose not to comment on Steele’s situation. Chastising your players publicly is not standard operating procedure. But just like when you were little and you knew you really messed up when your dad told you “I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed,” Steele has to know this was a colossal mistake. On Monday, Ray let his frustration over the situation boil over. “Now you’re taking away a chance for guys to go out and compete and win because you’ve shortened the rotation,” Ray said about his disappointment in Steele. “I think more than anything you’re screwing your team and you’re screwing your teammates when you get into trouble like that.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

SEC M5: 02.12.13 Edition

Posted by DPerry on February 12th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. Road wins have been hard to come by in the league this season, but after a win over South Carolina on Sunday, Tennessee is no longer in search of its first. “Finally got that road win, great feeling,” coach Cuonzo Martin said Monday. “Getting on the plane after a road win, that was always one of the things I took great pride in as a player.” Jarnell Stokes is presumably feeling pretty great as well. The sophomore posted his fifth straight double-double with 20 points and 10 rebounds, convincing the SEC to name him the conference’s Player of the Week. Stokes was a disappointment in non-conference play, appearing to be lost without his veteran frontcourt mate Jeronne Maymon; but maybe or maybe not coincidentally, Stokes has been a beast ever since a well-placed call from his coach.
  2. Nerlens Noel is unquestionably the best shot-blocker in the SEC, with Kansas’ Jeff Withey serving as his only real competition nationwide (my sincere apologies, Chris Obekpa). Who is better? ESPN Stats & Info took a look at that question. Noel is certainly flashier by taking advantage of his elite athleticism, but he’s “more of a ‘swatter’, liking to block the ball as hard as he can”, whereas Withey’s blocks more often find their way into a teammate’s hands. A weakness of Withey’s, however, is that he uses only his right hand to defend shots. Noel has blocked 61 with his right hand and 42 with his left, a benefit that can be utilized when caught out of position.
  3. Mississippi State head coach Rick Ray addressed the mystery surrounding Jalen Steele’s suspension, calling the junior’s transgression a “selfish act.” “Now you’re taking away a chance for guys to go out and compete and win because you’ve shortened the rotation,” he said Monday. “I think more than anything you’re screwing your team and you’re screwing your teammates when you get into trouble like that.” The loss of Steele for a few games won’t help the Bulldogs on the court, but the stance from his first-year coach is what’s really important. Let’s be honest, Mississippi State, with a roster short on talent as well as bodies, isn’t headed for a successful season. With a full team, they just might be able to sneak into 13th place in the SEC standings. For a program that had more than its fair share of off-the-court issues under previous coach Rick Stansbury, an emphasis on discipline from Ray is necessary for the culture change he desires.
  4. A road trip to Mississippi State doesn’t usually demand maximum attention from opposing coaches, but Frank Haith isn’t overlooking his upcoming trip to Starkville. His Missouri Tigers, who fell out of both the AP and ESPN polls this week, know that Wednesday is the perfect opportunity to finally grab that first true road win. “You look at the numbers, we haven’t defended well on the road, we haven’t shot the ball as well on the road,” Haith said at the SEC teleconference. “We’re still not defending like I would like us to do. That’s all a mental toughness type thing.” Mizzou’s defeat of Ole Miss was its most impressive win of the conference season and they’ll look to build on that momentum before hitting a tough three-game stretch: at Arkansas, vs. Florida in Columbia, and at Kentucky.
  5. Kentucky is looking like the league’s hottest team after winning five straight, but the Wildcats aren’t the only team on a roll. In case you missed it (and I’m guessing you did), the Georgia Bulldogs have a nice little five-game winning streak of their own. Three of those wins have come on the road, which is extra impressive in a season when home court is being defended so fiercely. Unsurprisingly, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has led the way. Since there is no real secondary scoring threat on the roster, defenses key completely on the sophomore guard every moment he’s on the court, but he’s still producing to the tune of 17.5 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. The Bulldogs will try to make it six in a row this week when Alabama comes to town.
Share this story

SEC M5: 02.11.13 Edition

Posted by DPerry on February 11th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. Missouri took advantage of some hot shooting in the first half to wrap up a much needed win over the weekend against Ole Miss. The Tigers’ starting backcourt combined for 57 points, but Alex Oriakhi was the headlining story. The low post force had his most productive game of the season with 22 point, 18 boards, and 1 melee instigation. Oriakhi was immediately hit with a flagrant, and Reginald Buckner was ejected in the aftermath after throwing a punch. A Twitter exchange between the two schools’ SB Nation sites proclaimed that a rivalry had just been created, which, unless I’m mistaken, is legally binding. Rebels and Tigers, let the hate commence.
  2. Missouri proved their home mettle again this weekend with their resounding win over Ole Miss, but every positive in Columbia just highlights the Tigers’ astounding road troubles. Why can’t a team with talent in spades beat up a weak SEC? “That is the $50-million question,” says Frank Haith. He’d be wise to find an answer soon, as Missouri finishes with five of eight on the road. The thought of a disappointed Tigers team on Selection Sunday hadn’t even crossed my mind through the first few months of the season, but several more road losses (in addition to a likely home defeat to Florida) would likely leave the Tigers on the outside looking in come March 17th.
  3. On the topic of winless road teams, Arkansas celebrated their massive win over Florida in the most Arkansas way possible: being dismantled by Vanderbilt. The Razorbacks, who had 37 points by the third TV timeout against the Gators, scored their 37th point at 11:44 of the second half. “You have to give credit to Vanderbilt, but when you go on the road you have to make shots,” said Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson.  “When you are on the road, you have to match your opponents’ intensity.” The Commodores, no stranger to offensive meltdowns, were pretty impressive on that end of the floor. Kevin Stallings‘ team shot 50% from the floor and spread shots around nicely, with five players tallying at least eight points.
  4. The Wildcat bench stole the spotlight in Saturday’s win over Auburn, but a tough outing for Archie Goodwin is raising some concerns in the Bluegrass State. Kentucky‘s leading scorer played a season-low 17 minutes, scoring only 3 points on 1-6 shooting. “I’m trying to get Archie to zone in on his team, what he’s got to do for his team and get out of how he’s playing because then you can’t make a shot, you’re afraid to make a play because you’re afraid you are going to screw up, versus I’m playing for the team, I know what the team needs me to do, they need me to drive,” stream of consciousness expert John Calipari told reporters. Goodwin has practically eliminated the 3-point shot from his offensive arsenal (a great decision), but he seems to oscillate on his commitment to attacking the basket.
  5. One of the league’s greenest teams will be without their most experienced players for a while, as Mississippi State’s Jalen Steele has been suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules. Coach Rick Ray has declined to give further details after announcing the decision before the Bulldogs’ trip to Florida over the weekend. After starting 2-0 in SEC play, Mississippi State has lost 8 straight by a margin of 21 points per game.
Share this story

SEC M5: 01.22.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 22nd, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. The NCAA’s investigation of the University of Miami program is expected to be released as early as this week, and it doesn’t sound like good news for one of the SEC’s newest coaches. Missouri coach Frank Haith is expected to be charged with “unethical conduct and failure to promote an atmosphere of compliance,” according to a report by Jeff Goodman of CBS Sports. Haith has been linked to well-known Miami booster Nevin Shapiro, who sold out the program while currently serving out a prison term for a $930 million Ponzi scheme. According to Goodman, “Haith will be charged with unethical conduct because the NCAA did not believe his story that payments to his assistants intended for camp money did not wind up going to repay Shapiro.” Haith is also linked to impermissible benefits because of airline tickets given to family members of players. He could potentially receive a show-cause penalty similar to the three-year ban former Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl received in 2011, but will have 90 days to respond to the allegations once they are released by the NCAA.
  2. The fellas over at A Sea of Blue have the good, the bad, and the ugly for their beloved Wildcats in UK’s four SEC games thus far. ASoB mentions Ryan Harrow’s excellent assist-to-turnover ratio (also Julius Mays with just two turnovers in the previous four games), as he has just five turnovers over the last two games compared to 13 assists, but the Cats have struggled overall with a 20.7 percent turnover ratio in conference play. If not the point guard Harrow, who is coughing up the ball? That honor would go to, well, everybody else. Archie Goodwin leads the way with 13 turnovers over the last four games, for an average of 3.3 turnovers per game. Alex Poythress is averaging 2.3, Kyle Wiltjer with 2.0, and Nerlens Noel also with 2.0 turnovers per game. Kentucky’s primary ball-handler is taking care of the rock, but everybody else needs to follow suit for the Cats to be successful. The Wildcats’ next three opponents rank no lower than 63rd in defensive turnover percentage.
  3. We all knew Nerlens Noel had big shoes to fill when he replaced the number one pick in the NBA Draft in Kentucky’s starting lineup, but he’s only worried about his own development. “I’m not trying to live up to him,” Noel said, referring to former Wildcat center Anthony Davis. “I’m trying to be my own player and set my own mark and play for my team.” And his development is going better than expected, even with incredibly high expectations in the offseason. “Defensively, I think I’ve got a lot better,” Noel said. “Coach Cal has made sure I’ve stayed disciplined defensively, staying on my feet. It’s helped me. I’m not going after every ball like I was earlier in the season. I’m blocking a higher (percentage) of shots. Offensively, just Coach Payne, just everything on the block, just working on my touches and things like that.”  Noel’s work is paying off, as he was named SEC freshman of the week on Monday and is among the nation’s leaders in blocks, rebounds, and steals.
  4. Mississippi State‘s lack of depth is continuing to prove difficult in practice situations, as the Bulldogs are attempting to simulate Arkansas’ famous full-court pressure. “It’s going to be difficult for us to simulate what Arkansas is going to bring with their pressure defense with all their different presses,” Mississippi State coach Rick Ray said. “We’re trying to find a way with managers, athletic trainers, coaches and things like that just to get bodies out on the court to try to simulate that. Even with those guys being out there, the problem is still simulating what Arkansas does with their length and athleticism with those pressures.” Mississippi State is one of the worst teams in the nation in turnover percentage at 25.2 percent (339th in the country). On the flip side, the Razorbacks force turnovers on just over 24 percent of opponents’ possessions. If you thought Kentucky’s freshmen turnover averages were bad, Mississippi State guard Craig Sword is averaging four turnovers a game in conference play, including seven miscues against South Carolina. So with all these factors in play, it could be a long night on Wednesday for the Bulldogs.
  5. The Rowdy Reptiles got their groove on during a timeout of the Missouri-Florida game on Saturday. Though I’m not a fan of the flash mob or synchronized dance movement, there wasn’t much else for the student section to do in the wake of an almost 30-point blowout. But seriously, can we move on from this horrendous point in American history when we feel like we have to do jazz fingers in perfect harmony with hundreds or thousands of our closest friends for an event to be meaningful? Enough already. Turn down your blasted pop music. And get off my damn lawn while you’re at it, you good-for-nothing kids. If you’re still reading at this point, here’s a video of the flash mob routine in the O’Connell Center from Saturday:


Share this story

SEC M5: 01.21.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 21st, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. Ole Miss‘ win over Arkansas gives the Rebels a 4-0 beginning to SEC play marking its best conference start since the 1936-37 season. That’s 76 years since the Rebels have began this well in league games. It may feel like it’s been about the same length of time since Andy Kennedy’s club has been to an NCAA Tournament (never under Kennedy; the last time was 2002), and the Rebels are hoping to break that streak too. And while they’re at it, they may even try to break into the Top 25 rankings, a faraway land that Ole Miss hasn’t seen since 2001. The players sense that something special is brewing in Oxford as well. “Anybody can see it,” said senior Nick Williams. “It’s been a long time since we’ve been able to do something great here, and we understand what we need to do because me, Murphy (Holloway) and Reg (Buckner) — we have been here for a while and we’ve been so close for so long.” Could this finally be the year that Ole Miss breaks through?
  2. Florida’s 83-52 thrashing of Missouri on Saturday led to a number of questions. Is Florida that good? Yes, especially at home. Is Missouri that bad? I really hope not. Does Laurence Bowers really make that much of a difference? No. But it’s undeniable that the Tigers are on a downward spiral. They’ve lost two of their last three games, and dropped three of their last six. To make matters worse, guard Keion Bell adds that Missouri simply wasn’t prepared. ”I just think that we, as a team, we underestimated the amount of pressure that their full-court press would put on us,” Bell said. “Although the coaching staff has embedded it in our brains throughout the whole week, we just didn’t take heed to the things that they were saying about Florida’s pressure, and we weren’t ready at the beginning of the game.” Missouri needs to regroup before things get worse, and perhaps listen to the coaching staff during its preparation. A softer upcoming schedule of South Carolina, Vanderbilt, at LSU, and Auburn should help.
  3. It was a homecoming of sorts for Mississippi State Bulldog Jalen Steele, who always dreamed of playing in Thompson-Boling Arena. Steele grew up in Knoxville as a Tennessee Mr. Basketball, but then-Volunteers head coach Bruce Pearl went for two recruits you may have heard of instead — Aaron Craft and Josh Selby. Even though his basketball career didn’t work out exactly as planned, Steele finally heard his name called in Thompson-Boling Arena on Saturday. ”To hear my name called and it said ‘Knoxville,’ that felt good,” Steele said. Steele showed he was good enough to play with the Vols too, as he added 15 points in a losing effort for the Bulldogs. I imagine it was a surreal moment, even in defeat, for a player who has been through a lot in Starkville.
  4. When you’re playing as well as Florida is right now, four points probably won’t matter, but it might one day. Gators center Patric Young isn’t satisfied with his free throw shooting after a 4-of-8 performance against LSU. “It’s huge because I’m leaving points on the board whenever you miss free throws,” Young said. “You go 4 for 8, that’s four points that help you with your draft stock or your average on the year. I mean, it doesn’t really matter but when it comes down to the line in a game-winning situation, you need to be able to step up with confidence.” For the sake of his draft stock, Young hit the practice courts to shoot 500 free throws a day, and the hard work is paying off. He entered the Texas A&M game shooting 50 percent from the line, but went 4-of-5 against the Aggies and 1-of-1 against Missouri.
  5. Kentucky has struggled against quality teams this season, but John Calipari’s Wildcats have a surplus of NBA talent on the roster. However, during an ESPNU telecast of the Kentucky vs. Auburn game on Saturday night, Charles Barkley said none of the current Wildcats were ready for the NBA. ”John Calipari’s a friend of mine. I love him as a friend. There ain’t one player on this Kentucky team who should go pro early. I hate the one-and-done rule in college basketball. Just ’cause there’s a rule does not mean you have to do it. Listen, Anthony Davis played well enough for him to go pro. … I wish some of these parents would talk to their kids.” Though Cal’s younger Cats will excel in the pro game one day, Chuck has a point for the here and now. Archie Goodwin is probably the most pro-ready of the three freshman Wildcats most likely to be selected in the first round. Nerlens Noel is ready defensively, but his offensive game has a ways to go. But Alex Poythress is the biggest question mark in terms of making the jump. He has tendencies to disappear for long stretches offensively, and did you see his defense on Elston Turner?  The issue is not just directed towards Kentucky’s freshmen but the entire college game. The one-and-done mentality has watered down the talent level, enabling and pushing players like Noel and Poythress who could both benefit from an extra year of development to make the jump after just one year.
Share this story

Unlikely Practices Yield Positive Results for Mississippi State

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 17th, 2013

Brian Joyce is a writer for the SEC microsite and regular contributor for Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about SEC basketball at bjoyce_hoops.

When Mississippi State assistant coach Wes Flanigan was hired on Rick Ray’s staff in Starkville, he likely had no idea what he was getting himself into. Flanigan was an all-SEC guard who played for Auburn in the mid-90s, but he didn’t imagine that he would have to take the court for the Bulldogs just to field a full 10-man roster in practice. That’s what happens when injuries and departures have depleted the MSU roster down to just seven scholarship players.

Rick Ray is just looking for healthy bodies to take the court for MSU, even if that means coaches, managers, or trainers.

Rick Ray is just looking for healthy bodies to take the court for MSU, even if that means coaches, managers, or trainers.

“I promised Coach Ray when he gave me the job and this opportunity that I would do anything I could to help the program,” said Flanigan. “I had no idea I’d be out here at practice, 12 to 15 years later, and here it is. I’m 30 pounds overweight but I’m doing what I can to help the team a little bit.” Evidently, Flanigan and the other trainers, coaches, and managers forced into action are making a huge impact on the culture in Starkville. ”We go hard at practice. The coaches go at us,” said freshman guard Craig Sword. “They’re moving like they’re still young.” And perhaps that friendly competition is part of the reason Mississippi State surprised a lot of people with two victories to start out SEC play after struggling to win games during the non-conference schedule.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

SEC M5: 01.11.13 Edition

Posted by DPerry on January 11th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. Kentucky escaped with a 60-58 win over Vanderbilt Thursday night, the Wildcats’ first true road win of the season. The victory wasn’t without controversy however, as Nerlens Noel’s short jumper with 17.3 seconds clearly should have been called a shot-clock violation, leaving Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings incensed and ESPN’s Bobby Knight perplexed. Despite their continued troubles shooting from long range, Kentucky looked to be in top form in the first half, coasting to a double-figure lead at the break. A different team came out of the locker room after halftime, though, appearing passive on the offensive end as Vanderbilt switched to a zone. “They outworked us,” John Calipari said. “They beat us to 50-50 balls, they beat us to rebounds. We were lucky to win the game.”
  2. As it was the only SEC game of the night, I’ll keep rolling on Kentucky-Vanderbilt. The Wildcat offense had an abysmal second half, but the defense wasn’t far behind. The Commodores put up 34 points after the break, or one more than they managed in 40 minutes against Marist. The culprit on the UK side isn’t tough to identify. “You can sit here and sugarcoat it, but you all watched it,” Calipari said. “They went at Kyle [Wiltjer] every single possession I had him in the game. Every single possession.” The shockingly slow stretch forward only provides value on the offensive end, but making only a single field goal in 14 minutes isn’t the type of production that will keep him on the floor. His minutes have been steadily declining throughout the season, and Wiltjer may find himself struggling to stay in the rotation sooner rather than later.
  3. The Los Angeles Athletic Club released its 25 finalists for the Wooden Award, and, as you might have guessed, the SEC’s representation isn’t overly impressive. The conference earned only two nominations, trailing each of the other power conference except for the Pac-12 (completely snubbed). The nominations both come from the same team: Laurence Bowers and Phil Pressey. The Missouri power forward and point guard are deservedly included, and there shouldn’t be much of an argument from the rest of the league that anyone else should have been there. Florida is a well-rounded team without a true standout star, and none of the talented Kentucky freshman have shown the required consistency to be on the short list.
  4. In its first game since receiving confirmation that Jeronne Maymon will miss the entire season with injury, Tennessee had a chance to make an impression as the Vols opened conference play against Ole Miss. The Rebels pack some punch on both ends of the court, but if the Volunteers still consider themselves to be contenders for an NCAA at-large bid, this was the type of home game they needed to win. Of course, Mississippi dominated the game from start to finish, out-rebounding the Vols by 10 boards and leaving Cuonzo Martin’s squad with more questions than answers. Junior guard Jordan McRae and his 26 points were the lone bright spot for the home team, but he realizes how much his team will miss their most experienced big man. ”I told Jeronne after the game that if we could just find one guy to get the rebounds he always got,” McRae told Mark Wiedmer of the Times Free Press. “Because he seemed to get every rebound last year.” How can they fix it? Said McRae, “”Well, there isn’t anybody like Jeronne.”
  5. A home win over South Carolina is rarely cause for celebration, but for Mississippi State, dubbed a “public embarrassment” by coach Rick Ray earlier in the week following a loss to Alabama A&M, opening up conference play on a positive note is quite a surprise. “Great to get the first win in SEC. For most of our guys, it’s the first time they’ve experienced SEC basketball,” Ray told reporters after Wednesday’s victory. Mississippi State took advantage of 24 South Carolina turnovers (they rank in the bottom 10 nationally in turnover percentage), as the Gamecocks couldn’t find an answer for the Bulldogs’ 1-3-1 zone. Fred Thomas and Tyson Cunningham were especially impressive on the defensive end, combining for eight steals while forcing USC’s Bruce Ellington into nine turnovers.
Share this story

Resetting The SEC Race: A Look At The Seven “West” Teams

Posted by Christian D'Andrea on January 9th, 2013

Christian D’Andrea is a SEC microsite contributor and an editor at Nashville Sports Hub. You can find him on Twitter @TrainIsland.

Conference play began for Alabama and Missouri last night, and soon after the rest of the SEC will fall in line. The SEC East has carried the conference banner over the first third of the NCAA basketball season, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t “West” schools that will be vying for postseason bids when March rolls around. The state of the former division has been muddled by a throng of underwhelming non-conference schedules, but it’s almost a lock that at least one of these teams will surprise their opponents en route to a NCAA Tournament berth. Ole Miss, LSU, Arkansas, and Texas A&M have all gotten out to hot starts in 2012-13. Can they sustain them?

Let’s take a closer look at each program in what was once known as the SEC West:

Texas A&M – The Aggies Are Headed Into Their First Season of SEC Play, But a Weak Non-Conference Schedule May Have Masked Their Flaws.

  • The good: Texas A&M will enter the SEC with a 10-3 record thanks to head coach Billy Kennedy’s deliberately-paced play-calling. This team has used spacing, shooting, and patience to create open looks and bring inferior opponents down to their level. Senior Elston Turner Jr. has benefited the most from the Aggies’ new style of play, leading the team with 15.5 points per game thanks to a stellar performance from behind the arc.Kennedy’s preference is to grind down opponents, and it’s worked for TAMU so far. Only four opponents have cracked the 60-point barrier on the Aggies this season, and much of that success comes from a team defense that is helping to hold opponents under 40 percent shooting from the field. However, it’s a big question mark as to whether or not these trends can continue when the team’s schedule dives into more hostile waters during SEC play.
  • Elston Turner Jr. has one of the smoothest strokes in the game (AP)

    Elston Turner Jr. (31) has one of the smoothest strokes in the game (AP)

  • The bad: A&M has played a cupcake schedule so far, and its three losses have come with varying degrees of disappointment. Their only win over a team ranked in Ken Pomeroy’s top 100 came in a 55-54 squeaker over Washington State, and that has been tempered by losses to Saint Louis, Oklahoma, and Southern.They’ll have to shape up quickly if they want to stay afloat in the SEC. They’ll open with Arkansas before traveling to Kentucky and then hosting Florida in their first three games. These showdowns will give the Aggies a chance to prove themselves, but it could also give this team a big hole to climb out of just two weeks into conference play.
  • Player to watch: Elston Turner Jr. The Washington transfer has one of the smoothest shooting strokes in the game, and he’ll carry on a tradition of behind-the-arc dominance that SEC gunners John Jenkins and Rotnei Clarke have left behind in recent years. He’s become a more complete player in his second year at A&M, and he’ll be driven to make his transfer a prudent choice by leading his team to the postseason.
  • Can it last? No. The Aggies have played just two teams from power conferences, beating a mediocre Washington State team and losing by double-digits to a better but still underwhelming Oklahoma squad. They’ve proven that they’d be able to burn through the Sun Belt, but haven’t shown enough through an easy non-conference schedule to prove that they can hack it in their first year of SEC play. Billy Kennedy’s team will have some success in league games, but their current pace looks unsustainable.

Ole Miss – The Rebels Are Scoring and Have the Best Record in the SEC at 11-2, But Who Have They Played?

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

SEC M5: 01.09.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 9th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. SEC play started Tuesday night, and for one team the message was simple: Just win. Tennessee enters conference play without forward Jeronne Maymon, with injuries to freshman Derek Reese and point guard Trae Golden, and with anything but an assurance of an NCAA berth carrying a mediocre 8-4 record. “I wouldn’t say [there's] pressure,” Vols coach Cuonzo Martin said. “We just need to win ball games.” The Volunteers open up with Ole Miss this evening and will need Golden to play much better. Over the last three games, Golden is 1-of-16 from the field and is averaging just 6.3 points per game.
  2. Fans in Lexington may want revenge against Vanderbilt on Thursday given the Commodores’ narrow victory over the Wildcats in the SEC Tournament final, but Kentucky coach John Calipari doesn’t expect his players to have a chip on their shoulder. “The guys I’m coaching may not even know that game happened to be honest with you. I’ve watched all three games that we played with Vandy last year just to touch up on how we played them, how they played us. All three games were wars. We happened to win two; we could’ve lost all three – or we could’ve won all three. But they were wars, and so I expect nothing less than that going up [to Nashville].” As Kentucky continues to rely upon freshmen in this one-and-done landscape, it becomes increasingly likely that current players will be unfamiliar with long-term institutional history. Rivalries may change year to year just as the teams do in Lexington.
  3. Saddled with injuries and a youthful team, Auburn has turned to junior swingman Allen Payne at the power forward position. Payne, a 6’5″ junior with lingering knee issues after a suffering ACL and meniscus tears last season, is undersized for the post but his solid play against Illinois and Florida State has earned him the praise of coaches and teammates. ”He’s always been tough,” center Rob Chubb said. “But now he’s starting to get more touches, he’s starting to get a feel for himself and realize he’s a skilled bigger player.” Payne stepped up in a big way last week in a win over Florida State with 17 points, seven rebounds, and three assists.
  4. Could Ole Miss give the SEC a chance at four bids in the NCAA Tournament? Well, it’s never too early to start projecting the bracket, and at this point the Rebels seem to be squarely on the bubble. Ole Miss has neither quality wins nor bad losses, with a win over Rutgers as its “best” victory thus far. A win over the Scarlet Knights is hardly a resume builder. Three bids remains the most likely scenario for the SEC this year, but a rise from the Rebels in conference play gives the conference its best chance at securing another bid in the Big Dance.
  5. Mississippi State coach Rick Ray says Mississippi State is “getting ready to turn the corner.” Despite some embarrassing losses, the first-year coach likes the direction his Bulldogs are taking considering the circumstances. “But the semester break has been key for us as far as our individual player development and our team getting better,” Ray said. “I felt that all came to fruition in our game against New Orleans when we went out and played better than we did that first 15 minutes against Alabama A&M. We’re headed in the right direction as far as improvement as a ball club and improvement individually as we start SEC play.” Mississippi State is “all the way up to a booming seven scholarship players,” forced to use trainers and managers to field a full 10-man scrimmage in practice. Considering the circumstances, patience is in order in Starkville.
Share this story

Assessing Seth Davis’ Portfolio: SEC Reaction

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 4th, 2013

Seth Davis is active in the stock trades this week buying, selling, and holding on to six SEC teams. And when someone is chiming in on the SEC we just have to weigh in. The SEC catches a bad rap most of the time, and rightfully so, but we are just glad the national media is still talking about us. Here is where we agree and disagree with Davis’ assessment of the SEC:

Davis says:

FLORIDA (9-2, No. 13): HOLD

The Gators were the new little black dress for a while there, weren’t they? They made Wisconsin, Marquette and Florida State look like jayvee teams, and it appeared they solved the chemistry issues that plagued them in the past. [...] But until the Gators win a tough game, it’s hard to recommend you buy their stock when they’re ranked in the top 15.

Florida's Kenny Boynton isn't as bad as you might think in the waning minutes of close games.

Florida’s Kenny Boynton isn’t as bad as you might think in the waning minutes of close games.

RTC says: Davis just can’t go all in with Florida, but that’s okay, because we can. The Gators are a top 10 team, and it is as simple as that. Billy Donovan has a top 10 offensive and defensive unit (KenPom: second in offense and 10th in defense), but late game struggles have given its detractors enough ammunition to remain in full force despite the realistic possibility of running through a down league in dominant fashion. Ranking #13 in the polls will be the lowest ranking the Gators experience the rest of the season. When stock is low and you are assured it is set to rise, buy up in large quantities. Donovan’s teams succeed in March, and this one will be no different.

Davis says:

KENTUCKY (9-4): BUY

The Wildcats’ floor is clearly rising, but I’m not sure their ceiling is as high as many believe. [...] The players are too talented and the league is too weak for them not to continue their climb.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story