Kentucky Shows Growth in Win at Missouri

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 2nd, 2014

It has been a tale of two Tigers recently for Kentucky. The young Wildcats were outworked and outplayed Tuesday night versus LSU in Baton Rouge, taking it on the chin from a hungrier team. “They beat the crap out of us. They outcoached us,” John Calipari said. Four days later Kentucky found itself with another bunch of Tigers searching for a statement win, but the story this time was much different. There was growth in the Wildcats’ game as they raced out to a big lead against Missouri, and then preserved it with smart and tough play down the stretch. Based on what happened Saturday in Mizzou Arena, here are several questions that opposing SEC coaches will need to answer when playing these Wildcats.

Andrew Harrison and the Wildcats grew up in their win against Missouri (kentucky.com).

Andrew Harrison and the Wildcats grew up in their win against Missouri (kentucky.com).

  • How do you contend with a bunch of future pros playing hard and together? Maybe it was the coaching, or maybe it was the much-ballyhooed players’-only team meeting last week in Louisiana. Whatever it was, the Wildcats came out with great effort and aggressiveness against Missouri. They got into their sets quickly and attacked the basket early in the game, as Andrew and Aaron Harrison combined for eight free throw attempts in the first half. Kentucky also didn’t give up a single offensive rebound in the opening half. It’s not a good sign for future opponents that the Wildcats went into a hostile arena and responded with great energy coming off of a lackluster performance. That shows maturity and growth that should scare the rest of the league. Read the rest of this entry »
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Well-Rounded Jabari Brown Leading Missouri Revival

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 29th, 2014

Missouri has an ugly history in Bud Walton Arena, including a 52-point beatdown by Nolan Richardson’s eventual 1994 national championship Arkansas team. But last night the Tigers notched their first win in seven tries in the 21-year old arena, and easily their best road win since joining the SEC. Here are two quick thoughts from the third conference game in a budding regional basketball rivalry.

Jabari Brown has risen to the top of the SEC scoring list (19.5 PPG) with a balanced offensive game (ksdk.com).

Jabari Brown has risen to the top of the SEC scoring list (19.5 PPG) with a balanced offensive game (ksdk.com).

  • Jabari Brown is a complete offensive player. A lot has changed for Brown over the course of a year. Last season he was essentially a spot-up three-point specialist, taking 61.2 percent of his shots from distance. But this year he’s reduced that to 52.2 percent with a corresponding 10 percent increase in shots at the rim (30 percent), and his more complete game was on display yesterday against Arkansas. The junior hit 4-of-5 threes and managed to get to the line eight times, but it was two late mid-range jumpers in the pockets of Arkansas’ zone that helped propel Missouri to the win. Three-point shooting, mid-range jumpers and slashing covers just about everything a player can do on offense. Brown’s recent hot streak could eventually push him towards the NBA Draft, but given his development under Frank Haith in just one year it might be worth it for him to stay. “Downtown Jabari Brown” has turned into “Well-Rounded Jabari Brown,” and another year could see him morph from fringe prospect to sure-fire first rounder.

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SEC M5: 01.29.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 29th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. Perhaps no team in the country has had as many highs and lows as LSU since conference play began. The Tigers have been blown out at home by Tennessee, endured a 15-0 run by Ole Miss to lose a game of which they were in control, and erased a 19-point deficit against Alabama only to lose the game. But last night they reached the highest point of their season with an impressive home win over Kentucky. The win is a huge boon to LSU’s NCAA Tournament prospects as they head into a relatively benign four-game stretch (Arkansas, at Georgia, Auburn, at Texas A&M). The Tigers still have their warts (notably, poor free throw shooting and turnovers) but their frontcourt has to be considered one of the top units in the country. Jordan Mickey, Johnny O’Bryant and friends held Julius Randle to the lowest scoring output of his career (six points) and gave up just 11 combined rebounds to he and Willie Cauley-Stein. And while Dakari Johnson and Alex Poythress found a number of tip-ins and other baskets in the second half, it didn’t matter with the way O’Bryant was playing on offense.
  2. Missouri picked up easily its best road win since joining the SEC last night by winning at Bud Walton Arena. The win pumps life into the Tigers’ sagging NCAA Tournament hopes, and gives them momentum heading into consecutive games against Kentucky and Florida. There’s a legitimate rivalry growing between these two schools. The last two games in Fayetteville have come down to the wire, and there will always be added juice as long as former Missouri head coach Mike Anderson is at Arkansas. A lightning quick postgame handshake (without the seemingly standard shoulder pat) suggests things aren’t exactly rosy between he and Frank Haith. Part of what makes college basketball so great are the regional rivalries and atmosphere surrounding them, and it looks like the SEC is on the verge of having another special match-up.
  3. Billy Donovan has a lot of talent to work with at Florida, but he  also has something that’s become increasingly rare at big-time programs: plenty of senior leadership. There are four seniors averaging over 24 minutes per game, and that experience should keep Florida focused as the schedule winds towards March. Part of that responsibility includes mentoring young players such as Kasey Hill and Michael Frazier. “They don’t really know how to get themselves prepared, how to to make their way through practice every single day,” Will Yeguete said. “We talk to them and let them know that we have to get ourselves ready.” The Gators’ defense was highlighted on the microsite yesterday, and it’s the biggest reason Florida is in the running for a No. 1 seed. But their intangibles and experience will also come in handy during postseason play.
  4. The numbers are not on Tony Barbee‘s side. The Tigers have the second worst SEC record over his four years Barbee (12-44), and the Tigers have not won a conference game in 51 weeksAl.com‘s Kevin Scarbinsky wonders whether Barbee should get the fifth year that Gene Chizik didn’t get on the gridiron. He writes, “Forget winning any kind of championship. Barbee’s program has yet to stage even a one-hit wonder of a major upset over the likes of a Kentucky or a Florida. His Tigers haven’t beaten a ranked team, and they haven’t won a game in the SEC Tournament.” Barbee also hasn’t yet lived up to his reputation as a top-flight recruiter. He hasn’t brought a single player to Auburn who was the caliber of Randy Culpepper, a fringe pro prospect he recruited while at UTEP. The good thing for Barbee is that given the priority put on the Tigers’ football team (and things are going pretty well on that front), the administration can be patient without major repercussions if they have faith in him.
  5. Trevor Releford got quite a workout last week. Backup point guard Retin Obasohan’s injury absence forced Releford to play 40 minutes in Alabama’s games against LSU and Florida. “He’s our only senior. He’s a veteran so he gets the sense of urgency in terms of what we need to do,” Grant said. “To play 80 minutes in 48 hours, that was all heart and guts on his part.” The workload might have taken a toll on Releford, as he only scored two points in the second half against LSU. Seemingly to give him a rest, Grant played him off the ball and ran the offense through Levi Randolph instead. This might not be a bad look going forward because Randolph has the size to see passing lanes and the ability to penetrate, while Releford is a good three-point shooter. One thing, however, is for certain: Kyle Fuller and Rod Odom feel no sympathy for Releford.
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Missouri Set to Enter a Season-Defining Stretch

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 24th, 2014

Missouri’s NCAA chances will be decided in the next two weeks. Okay, maybe that’s hyperbole, but how the Tigers do in their upcoming five games will play a gigantic role in whether they receive a school-record sixth straight NCAA Tournament invite this season. South Carolina visits Columbia on Saturday, but after that the Tigers face the Gamecocks, they will go through about as difficult a four-game stretch as there is in the current edition of the SEC. Here are the games:

Jabari Brown and Missouri face a five game stretch that might decide their NCAA fate (kbiasports.com).

Jabari Brown and Missouri face a five game stretch that might decide their NCAA fate (kbiasports.com).

  • January 28: at Arkansas
  • February 1: Kentucky 
  • February 4: at Florida
  • February 8: at Ole Miss 

Even the South Carolina game, struggling as the Gamecocks are, might not be a layup since Frank Martin has abused Missouri in the past. Before losing to Georgia two weeks ago, the last time the Tigers lost in Mizzou Arena was to Martin’s Kansas State team in 2011-12. The problem for Missouri isn’t just that they’re 2-3 in SEC play and about to enter a brutal stretch. The bigger issue is that after the February 8 game in Oxford, there isn’t another good opportunity for a truly eye-grabbing win left on the schedule. Sure, there are two games against Tennessee remaining, but the Volunteers have been up-and-down. Wins at Alabama or Georgia don’t spruce up a resume much either this season.

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SEC M5: 01.24.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on January 24th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. This isn’t the time or place, and I’m not the writer, to rehash the one-and-done debate. But Alex Poythress’ recent string of good games shows that development is more than a buzzword, and patience can be rewarding. The sophomore essentially separated the Wildcats from Texas A&M in the second half of what was a sloppy game. The Louisville Courier Journal‘s Kyle Tucker writes, “In both the way he talks and the way he’s suddenly playing, it seems Poythress is just now figuring out exactly what his 6-foot-8, 240-pound body can do. While he hasn’t started a single game this season — after starting 31 in a somewhat disappointing freshman year — Poythress has become the Cats’ go-to energy source lately.” There are a lot of factors involved (playing time, for example) and it’s not that simple, but Archie Goodwin has played 20 total minutes over the last two weeks for the Phoenix Suns, while Poythress has emerged at Kentucky. Who knows if Goodwin would’ve been better off staying at Kentucky; what is clear is that Poythress’ decision to stay and develop might have been right for him.
  2. The usually-bland Mike Anderson had strong words to say after Arkansas‘ not-so-surprising road loss to Tennessee. “McRae played well, but the MVP was the flagrant foul call,” he said after the game, according to the Knoxville News-Sentinel. “You get in two or three minutes and that’s one that should play on. I thought it just changed the whole dynamic of how the game was going.” The flagrant foul Anderson is referring to was called on Kikko Haydar’s wrap up of Jeronne Maymon with 2:52 left and the Razorbacks up by eight. NBCSports.com‘s Rob Dauster has a good screen shot of the foul, and thinks the refs got it right, and I’m inclined to agree. Anytime you blatantly do not “play the ball” you open yourself up to flagrant calls. Haydar is considerably smaller then Maymon and was contesting from behind leaving little chance his challenge could be seen as “playing the ball.” The senior has to be more aware of the risk involved in wrapping someone up, especially late in such an important game.
  3. Here’s an alarming stat for Missouri fans from the Kansas City Star‘s Tod Palmer: no Tiger other than the Jordan Clarkson, Jabari Brown, or Earnest Ross has reached double figures since Jonathan Williams scored 10 points against North Carolina state on December 28. Missouri’s uber-reliance on their starting back court for offense came to a head against LSU, where the three players accounted for 88.7 percent of the Tigers points (another stat from Palmer). “We’ll have to figure that out in practice,” Clarkson said. “We’ll be all right. We’ll go back to the drawing board and fix some things.” The problem is Missouri just doesn’t currently have the pieces to complement those three guards offensively. Ryan Rosburg has improved since his freshman season, but is nothing more than a “garbage man-type” big guy right now. Torren Jones and Keanau Post are raw offensively, and Wes Clark can’t find his outside shot. The key is Williams, who has shown strong offensive moves when going to his left, and was assertive last Saturday against Alabama in the second half. Consistency, however, is a lot to ask from a freshman.
  4. It wouldn’t be a proper week on this microsite without Luke Winn’s power rankings making an appearance. He has Florida #5 in his latest edition, and writes the following about Casey Prather‘s return from injury against Auburn. “That Prather has shot 64.2 percent from inside the arc this season is remarkable, since he’s doing plenty of his work as a slasher and making tough finishes around the rim, rather than simply dunking drop-off passes from his guards.” It’s hard to argue Prather’s meteoric rise is an anomaly anymore since it’s the end of January and he’s still scoring in bunches. And it shouldn’t fade anytime soon. Even if he is making difficult shots, his offensive game has been predicated on generally-more-reliable shots at the rim (60.3 percent of his shots have been taken at the rim).
  5. Florida beat Alabama last night in a game that followed a familiar script for both teams. The Tide battled hard but came out on the losing end as Florida won its tenth straight game. Perhaps more interesting is the Jacob Kurtz story, which has been there all year but floated largely under-the-radar. Kurtz is a former team manager, and discussed his previous team contributions with the Gainesville Sun‘s Kevin Brockway. “I did laundry, water bottles, wiped the floor — all that. Then they had walk-on tryouts and now we’re here,” Kurtz said. The student manager component is obviously what makes this story eye-catching. Kurtz clearly has game: he’s averaging 12.1 minutes per game on a top five team with legitimate national championship aspirations. Yet he swallowed his pride and did what was necessary to get in with the Florida program. That kind of dedication is impressive.
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SEC Weekday Primer: Road Tests Await NCAA Hopefuls

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 21st, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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SEC M5: 01.20.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 20th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. Experienced guards with a killer instinct can be extremely valuable in March, and Billy Donovan has one in Scottie Wilbekin. The senior’s fallaway jumper with under two minutes to go against Auburn kept the Tigers at bay, and came a week after his buzzer-beater to force overtime at Arkansas. “I have confidence I can make plays,” Wilbekin said. “Luckily, they’ve been going down for me. I just want to keep trying to play the right way, regardless of how much time is left in the game.” Between Wilbekin, Casey Prather and Patric Young, there may not be a team in the nation with more talented impact seniors, and these are players who have been to three straight Elite Eights. Prather’s solid return (21 points on 8-of-10 shooting, six rebounds) was the most important storyline to come from the closer-than-expected win over the Tigers. But Wilbekin’s continued ability to hit the big shot bodes well for the Gators’ future as well.
  2. Maybe some good came out of Kentucky’s loss at Bud Walton Arena after all. Kentucky.com‘s John Clay writes that a spark may have been lit under Andrew Harrison. “Instead, it’s been some up, some down, inconsistency all around. Rhetoric without results. There have been body language issues, quickness issues, shooting issues. It looked more and more as though the Harrisons would have their Bluegrass stay extended, and not for the right reasons.But then the forgotten thing from Tuesday’s dramatic 87-85 loss at Arkansas was Andrew Harrison rising up from the right corner and nailing a three-pointer to send the late show into overtime.” Harrison was the star for the Wildcats against Tennessee (26 points, three assists, zero turnovers), one of the few times all year that statement can be definitively made and not involve Julius Randle. It couldn’t have come at a better time either. Kentucky was demolished on the glass, and couldn’t overwhelm the Vols with its frontcourt strength and depth. Development is the story to watch for the Wildcats as the season winds towards March, and on Saturday Andrew Harrison took a big step forward.
  3. NBCSports.com‘s Scott Phillips doesn’t have as rosy a take on the Wildcats after the Tennessee win. He writes that the pieces aren’t quite fitting together yet. “James Young is a great complementary kickout on offense and Cauley-Stein can play to his strengths of catching lobs and hunting offensive rebounds, but the Wildcats will not beat the best teams in the country until their three isolation-based main offensive players — the Harrisons and Julius Randle — figure out how to move the ball well and shift the defense around from side-to-side to make things easier on themselves.” Getting this team to reach its potential will certainly be one of the toughest challenges John Calipari has ever faced, mainly because of the preseason expectations and early “struggles.” Phillips’ point about a consistent lack of cohesion is a valid one. But I’m still drinking the Kentucky Kool-Aid because their pieces should be able to eventually fit together. Cauley-Stein needs to add more on offense, but he doesn’t need the ball to be successful and that’s perfect alongside Randle. In the back court, is indeed the perfect floor spacer for the more drive-oriented games of the Harrison twins. It all should work, and until they’ve been eliminated I’ll give Calipari the benefit of the doubt.
  4. Michael Qualls’ dunk put a cap on the Mike Anderson road hex, right? All the momentum and good vibes created by that putback slam had to carry Arkansas through their game at Georgia, right? Nope, it was business as usual for the Razorbacks in Athens, as they failed to pick up a necessary road win. Graham Reaves at Arkansas Fight writes, “What made this game that much more frustrating is that for much of the game it appeared the Hogs would win, knock the monkey off their back on their way towards an NCAA berth. Coming off a win at home over No. 13 Kentucky on Tuesday night, this Razorbacks squad had made believers of those who had doubted for so long. As good for the fanbase Kentucky game was, this one was bad.” And that’s the rub: This was at its core a deflating loss for Arkansas fans. The loss, however, didn’t shoot their NCAA Tournament chances to pieces. The Kentucky win was a good one, and should continue to resonate given it happened in dramatic fashion on national TV. But their next two road games are in Knoxville and Baton Rouge, so that monkey might continue to hang on Arkansas’ back, and the longer it does, the more pronounced the storyline will get.
  5. Missouri stopped the bleeding, at least for the time being, on its disappointing SEC start with a dominant second half against Alabama. Jabari Brown was super efficient (24 points, 7-of-9 shooting, 7-of-8 from the line) in pulling the Tigers ahead. Jordan Clarkson also played a big role offensively, but his overall play has dipped since SEC games began. Rock M Nation‘s Bill Connelly, in his always interesting “Study Hall” piece, writes, “Jordan Clarkson has five assists in four SEC games, and his %Pass was lower than Jabari’s on Saturday. He is no longer Missouri’s point guard.” Clarkson is not a pure point guard, so it was always unreasonable to expect him to keep up the assist numbers he posted in non-conference play. But Wes Clark has also struggled recently, leaving Frank Haith with a problem to solve at the position. He doesn’t seem to trust Shane Rector yet, so the only option seems to be riding out the growing pains of Clarkson and Clark.
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SEC M5: 01.17.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on January 17th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. That sound you hear rushing past you? That’s Missouri dive-bombing off the bubble. The Tigers wiped out a 10-point halftime deficit in just a few minutes, but Vanderbilt regained control to get a home win last night. The Commodores’ half-court defense was impressive, as they largely bottled up Missouri’s dribble drive offense, especially Jordan Clarkson. Their zone also forced the Tigers to shoot more threes than they usually do (26 attempts last night; they average 17.3 per game). The fight that Kyle Fuller, Rod Odom and the rest of team have shown since Eric McClellan’s dismissal has been laudable, and the Commodores were due a win. Fuller and Odom each logged 40 minutes and still found the energy to hit the deciding shots in the final moments.
  2. Andy Kennedy has had the tall task  this season of replacing two incredibly productive big men in Reginald Buckner and Murphy Holloway. So when LSU and its frontcourt bursting with talent rolled into Oxford it seemed obvious which team would have the advantage down low. But freshman Sebastian Saiz had a breakout game (20 points on 8-of-11 shooting, nine rebounds) and Jordan Mickey and Johnny O’Bryant were held to just eight points combined. “It’s amazing when the ball goes in the basket, and what that does for your confidence,” Kennedy said. “[Saiz] made a couple [shots] early. They were really extended on Marshall, and when teams play that way, we have to take advantage of it behind the zone. We have to finish plays, and Saiz finished the plays. It’s something we’ve been sorely missing.” Henderson is a lot of things, and one of them is an effective decoy (see: Jarvis Summers’ game tying-three against Oregon). There will be easy opportunities for Saiz throughout the rest of the season, so we may not have seen his last big game.
  3. Marshall Henderson is “going back to me,” and we’ll probably all end up better (or at least more entertained) for it. The Dagger’s Kyle Ringo wrote about the tight rope Andy Kennedy may have to walk as the excitable Henderson reaches the end of his career. “He is a senior with 15 regular-season games remaining in his career. If he goes a bit overboard with his showmanship or showboating and taunting, will the school step in and risk short-circuiting another possible NCAA tournament appearance by suspending him again?” Henderson hasn’t done anything this season to attract Deadspin‘s attention, but he does need to keep the shenanigans in check. Unlike LSU and Missouri, Ole Miss is a middle-tier SEC team that has a bit of momentum going its way. We’ve written this countless times, but the conference has a soft underbelly begging for a team to rise up and stockpile a number of wins. The Rebels have the talent to be that team, but only with Henderson on the court in a productive way. 
  4. SI.com‘s Seth Davis doesn’t seem that bullish on Frank Martin‘s prospects at South Carolina. In his weekly mailbag, Davis writs that Martin might be able to turn the program arond in the “long LONG run” and noted that he took the job mostly because he hated his athletic director at Kansas State. Maybe I’m just an SEC apologist (which is not an easy job these days), but the second-year Gamecock coach deserves some more slack here. He didn’t inherit much talent from Darrin Horn, and he lost some of what he did have to the transfer rule. While the Gamecocks are off to an 0-3 conference start, none of the losses were that alarming (going to Gainesville isn’t easy, after all). He’s starting three freshmen and a sophomore, so counting out a significant turnaround by a proven coach seems premature.
  5. But things won’t get easier for Martin this season, as Villanova transfer Tyrone Johnson is now out indefinitely after fracturing his right foot against Texas A&M. Johnson is second on the team in scoring (11.6 PPG), and while he didn’t start against the Aggies, he is also the team leader in minutes (27.3 MPG). This is the second major in-season loss to South Carolina’s backcourt after Bruce Ellington left the team to train for the NFL Draft. While it hurts to lose Johnson, it’s not the end of the world for Martin. A bid to the NIT is a pipe dream after its start, and getting heavy minutes for Duane Notice and Sindarius Thornwell can only help in the seasons to come when a postseason invite may not be so unrealistic.
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SEC M5: 01.15.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 15th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. Arkansas‘ NCAA tournament hopes yo-yo’d with every twist in last night’s game against Kentucky, and reached a fever pitch with Michael Qualls’ game-winning putback dunk. If you get points for “significance” in the Dunk of the Year contest, Qualls has to be the runaway winner. As David pointed out last week, the Razorbacks had a golden opportunity to make a statement with homes games against Florida and Kentucky, and although they let the Florida game slip away, they were able to follow it up with one of the few available statement wins in the SEC. This was an “effort” win for Arkansas, as they were outrebounded by 18 and outshot (48.2% to 37.7%) by Kentucky, but the Razorbacks had their usual turnover advantage (+11), and made the plays they needed to despite a disjointed half-court offense. Still, the win over the Wildcats and an better-than-even conference record likely won’t be enough to impress the selection committee. Games at Mizzou and Rupp Arena are the only remaining  opportunities for a statement win, but notching a handful of road wins against any other team would be a big help.
  2. Through all the injuries and suspensions one thing has remained the same at Florida this year: Billy Donovan can put out a dynamite defense. Despite missing Casey Prather last night, the Gators held Georgia to 33.3 percent shooting and ended the Bulldogs’ two-game conference winning streak. Leading the way for Florida offensively was Michael Frazier with 21 points. The sophomore picked up the Gators with big baskets late against Richmond, and picked them up again with Prather on the bench. That he’s shown the ability to lead by example obviously bodes well for the Gators; chances this year, and could be key for next season as well. He’ll be looked at to become a team leader with Scottie Wilbekin, Prather and Patric Young all expiring their eligibility.
  3. Growing pains or not, Frank Haith is determined to give more time to Missouri‘s first-year players. “I’ve got to get them out there,” Haith said yesterday. “I want them getting court time, so we’re going to sacrifice it getting them in there early and just letting them play through it. They’re going to make some mistakes. We’re not going to be fluid, but I think it helps us in the long run.” Torren JonesKeanau Post and Shane Rector have each seen the court more since SEC play began, after none of three saw significant action in close games against Illinois, North Carolina State and Long Beach State. Playing for the future might be more vital than usual for this year’s Tigers. Tony Criswell and Earnest Ross will be out of eligibility and Jordan Clarkson is very likely to leave for the NBA. Haith is a foolish decision from Jabari Brown away from having very little experience next year.
  4. Instead of investing in the next Google, SI.com‘s Luke Winn used his clairvoyant powers to reveal the eight teams that have a chance to win the national championship. Despite the RPI-beating the SEC has taken this year, Winn’s eight ball reliable predictive formula based on offensive and defensive efficiency ratings turned out SEC stalwarts Kentucky and Florida. Winn has found that national champions usually rank in the top 10 in offensive and defensive efficiency, and while neither team is there, both have room to grow and that’s why they’re attractive picks. Kentucky’s youth and talent mean its numbers will likely improve, while Florida hasn’t had a fully healthy roster yet, and (possibly) has Chris Walker on the way.
  5. Billy Kennedy has been on a roller coaster ride the last few weeks since he’s reportedly coaching for his job. The Aggies dropped an embarrassing game at home to North Texas, but have begun conference play with sold wins against Arkansas and at Tennessee. Aggiesports.com‘s Aubrey Bloom writes that what Kennedy needs to do to save his job is not an easy question. “That’s a simple question that has a complicated answer because an athletic director can’t just take a simple ‘x wins is enough’ approach. You have to look at the entire picture at the end of the year.” The entire picture may be pretty good for Kennedy, though, by season’s end. The Aggies have played excellent defense thus far, limiting opponents to just 37.9 percent from the field. Its offense hasn’t been as rosy, but Alex Caruso is emerging as one of the better, if not unconventional, play-makers in the conference, and Jamal Jones has also been a nice offensive surprise on the perimeter. Perhaps with some momentum, the pieces are there for Kennedy to hang around College Station for at least another year.
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Prather, Randle, Clarkson Emerge as Favorites for SEC POY

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on January 7th, 2014

Conference play finally gets underway tonight, so there’s no better time than now to look at which players have emerged as the top contenders for SEC Player of the Year. The following list definitely omits a number of worthy candidates, but as with any list, debate is encouraged through social media and in the comments section. Also, overall team success was definitely a factor, but not a definitive one. Here are the players who have set themselves up in the non-conference season for a run at SEC POY:

Casey Prather, Florida (17.3 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 28.5 PER, 61.4% eFG, 94.2 dRTG)

It's never too late: Casey Prather has broken out in his senior season (msn.foxsports.com).

It’s never too late: Casey Prather has broken out in his senior season (msn.foxsports.com).

If you’d have asked a Florida fan before the season which Gator would have the biggest impact this year, Prather might’ve been the fifth or sixth player mentioned. But he’s easily topped that list thus far for Florida, turning himself into one of the best players in the SEC. The senior is playing 12 more minutes per game this year, and has built on the solid peripherals that he posted in his junior season. Prather’s emergence has been key for a team that had many important players either suspended or injured to begin the season. The big pluses of his talent (getting to the rim and playing defense) are generally sustainable attributes that should help Florida win a lot of games in SEC play. Florida is the conference’s highest-ranked team right now and Prather has been their best player. For those reasons, he deserves to be at the front of the POY discussion.

Julius Randle, Kentucky (18.1 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 28 PER, 56.6% eFG, 94.7 dRTG)

Read the rest of this entry »

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SEC Stock Watch Reactions

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 7th, 2014

SI.com‘s Seth Davis is buying up the SEC. In his “Hoop Thoughts Stock Watch” piece published on Monday, he was overall pretty bullish on the SEC: “buying” four teams, “holding” on another, and “selling” two more. But there’s a qualifier. Davis likes several SEC teams’ chances because they play in a weakened basketball league and will have ample opportunities to pad their records. Let’s join the comment section denizens and react to a few of Davis’ decisions that we disagree with. 

Cuonzo Martin may indeed have his first tournament team at Tennessee, but he needs to find a point guard (msn.foxsports.com).

Cuonzo Martin may indeed have his first NCAA Tournament team at Tennessee, but he needs to find a point guard (Credit: FoxSports).

  • TennesseeDavis = BuyRTC = Sell. This is a close call, but a single dominant win against an up-and-down Virginia team isn’t enough to push the Vols into the buy category. You can’t help but glare at the talent the Vols can put on the floor, and Tennessee is one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country. Cuonzo Martin might very well have his first NCAA Tournament team, and one that has the horses to make a run to the second weekend. But the point guard position still isn’t ironed out, as Antonio Barton would be best served playing off the ball where his three-point shooting can be utilized in creating space for Jarnell Stokes. The answer might be freshman Darius Thompson, but he’s turned it over too much and played only 13 minutes against Virginia. Read the rest of this entry »
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SEC M5: 01.06.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on January 6th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. Alabama enters SEC play at a disappointing 6-7 after slogging through the third toughest non-conference schedule in the country. “In the SEC, no game’s going to be easy,” Trevor Releford said. “It’s going to be a fight every night. I think it helped the young guys a lot to prepare them for what’s ahead. I think they’re ready for it and I think everybody on our team as well will be.” One of the young players who will be worth watching is guard Retin Obasohan. He was in a massive slump before getting somewhat back on track against Robert Morris. He had a combined 16 points in the three previous games, and got to the line only 8 times. While he didn’t get to the line much on Saturday, he did convert two of three three-point attempts, and his development from deep will be key. The sophomore takes 50% of his shots at the rim and things will become wide open for him if he improves on his 25% 3-point shooting.
  2. Unlike most of Missouri‘s games this season, Jordan Clarkson did not play a starring role Saturday. Instead, he had a ho-hum 11 points and got to the line only 3 times in the Tigers’ win against Long Beach State. But Missouri was able to survive a sluggish start against the 49ers because of an efficient 22 points from Jabari Brown (8 of 12) and 18 from Earnest Ross. Each of Frank Haith’s “Big Three” enter conference play with usage rates above 23% and scoring at least 14 points per game. Haith has been able to give each player enough touches because there frankly isn’t anyone else that demands the ball. Ryan Rosburg did pick up 11 rebounds against Long Beach State, and he’ll need to continue to crash the boards and improve on his 12.3% rebounding percentage as SEC play begins.
  3. Here’s your players/minutes watch for Arkansas33-point against UT-San Antonio: Mike Anderson got 12 players in for at least 12 minutes. That’s five wins for the Razorbacks by at least 29 points since December 3, all obviously coming in the friendly confines of Bud Walton Arena. As Brian pointed out yesterday, Arkansas needs to show it can win more than one game on the road before they can be taken seriously. Alandise Harris made the most of his 14 minutes with seven points, three rebounds, three assists, and a steal. The Houston transfer was the Razorbacks’ leading scorer in their first few games, but has slid back to third on the team (10.5). Still he’s been a valuable, balanced piece for Anderson as he leads in the SEC in defensive rating (85.3).
  4. Don’t look now but Auburn is on a four-game winning streak heading into conference play. Their list of victims doesn’t include any eye-grabbers, but included are two power conference teams (Clemson and Boston College). And after the dreadful loss to Northwestern State earlier in the year, no win can be discounted. Tony Barbee’s team avoided another embarrassing loss and has a one-two punch in Chris Denson and KT Harrell that will be difficult to deal with. Each guard knows what he does well and plays to it. Denson isn’t a good three-point shooter so he takes a remarkable 66% of his shots at the rim. Harrell is the opposite, and takes 45% percent of his shots from deep and connects on 42% of them.
  5. SEC play will be great fun for Commodores fans if Vanderbilt shoots the way they did Saturday against Northeastern. Kevin Stallings squad shot 62.5% overall and 66.7% from three. “You never expect to shoot the ball like that,” [Stallings] said. “I thought our guys did a really good job this week in preparation for their defenses. They play a zone that has given a lot of people trouble, and they went to it in the first half and we knew they would if we had any success against their man. We were very prepared, and our guys executed extremely well on their shots.” Every Commodore besides Dai-Jon Parker shot better than 50% for the game. While this is impressive, it did come against 270th best field goal defense in the country, and Vanderbilt won’t see a unit that bad the rest of the way. The more sustainable (and realistic) path to victory for the Commodores is the excellent field goal defense they’ve played this season. Vanderbilt has the 40th best effective field goal defense (allowing opponents to shoot just 44.8%) and 8th best three-point defense (27.2%).
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