SEC M5: 02.09.15 Edition

Posted by David Changas on February 9th, 2015

SEC_morning5

  1. After missing two games — both losses at South Carolina and Kentucky — Georgia forward Marcus Thornton returned to action for Saturday’s win over Tennessee. His presence gave the Bulldogs some much-needed stability, as the senior is an experienced leader who has been through a lot during his four years in Athens. There had been some concern that Thornton would be out for longer than the two games given the apparent significance of his concussion, but Thornton played 26 minutes and scored eight points. Georgia needed his leadership on the floor more than it needed his scoring, though, and, most importantly, the Bulldogs got the win.
  2. As we creep closer to March, the storyline that will continue to grow is Kentucky’s quest to become the first college basketball team since 1976 to run the table. The Wildcats passed one of their stiffest remaining tests by winning at Florida Saturday night, but the victory did not come easy. As USA Today‘s Nicole Auerbach writes, these are just the types of tests John Calipari’s team needs. While Kentucky coasted through its pre-conference schedule, the Wildcats have now been challenged three times in SEC play and have won in tough environments where they haven’t had their best. The Wildcats still have tough road tests remaining at LSU (Tuesday) and Georgia, plus Arkansas at home, so the odds continue to grow daily that they will run the regular season table.
  3. The story of Sunday was the passing of legendary North Carolina head coach Dean Smith, and several SEC coaches weighed in to pay their respects. Like so many others, Billy Donovan talked about how Smith’s impact on lives was far more important than the 879 wins he racked up. John Calipari took to Twitter to talk about how much he loved and admired Smith. Tennessee’s Donnie Tyndall, Georgia’s Mark Fox, and South Carolina’s Frank Martin also used social media to express their condolences and offer kind words about the legendary coach. And while he spent his entire coaching career in the ACC, it goes without saying that Smith’s legacy transcends not only the conference he was in or even college basketball as a whole, but all of society.
  4. As if things haven’t been bad enough for Missouri this season, they got worse prior to Saturday’s 83-61 home loss to Texas A&M when two Tigers were suspended as a result of a violation of team rules. Montaque Gill-Caesar and Namon Wright, a pair of freshmen who average 9.6 and 5.5 points per game, respectively, will have their situations re-evaluated at some point down the line. The Tigers are also playing without Tramaine Isabell, a player who missed his third game after Kim Anderson found that his behavior toward teammates was “unacceptable.” Anderson’s first year at his alma mater has been very tough — Missouri sits at 1-9 in SEC play and almost certainly will finish in the league’s basement — but he is doing what is necessary to root out some of the problems that were created by his predecessor in an effort to establish that his program will be run the right way.
  5. Tennessee has struggled lately, losing four of five after starting SEC play at 4-1. Leading scorer Josh Richardson scored only two points in the Volunteers’ three-point loss at Georgia Saturday, with both of those coming in the final minutes. Despite the recent shakiness, Donnie Tyndall is not at all ready to give up on his undermanned club and refuses to believe that his team has hit a wall. Without much of an inside presence to speak of, Tennessee is forced to rely upon its limited good shooting to score enough points to win games. Although the Volunteers never seem to be out of a game, they face a very difficult closing stretch unlikely to present many opportunities for wins. Any postseason berth for this team would be an accomplishment, and anyone who has watched Tyndall operate knows he will get the best out of them.
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SEC Season Preview: Missouri Tigers

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on November 11th, 2014

The SEC microsite will preview each of the league teams over the next week, continuing today with Missouri.

Missouri Tigers

Strengths. A fresh start with a familiar face. Frank Haith produced three draft picks over the last two years (Phil Pressey, Alex Oriakhi, Jordan Clarkson), two first team All-SEC players (Pressey, Jabari Brown), and two second team All-SEC players (Clarkson, Laurence Bowers). But all this talent resulted in only one NCAA tournament appearance: an uninspiring second round loss to Colorado State in 2012-13. Missouri never seemed to play up to its potential after a magical first season under Haith, and the defense often looked disjointed. His three-year tenure was also marked with fallout from the Miami NCAA investigation. It’s not that Haith did a bad job in Columbia, it’s just that the program didn’t seem to be trending in the right direction and the fanbase wasn’t exactly crushed when he left for Tulsa after last season. Enter Kim Anderson, the former Missouri player who spent 11 years as an assistant coach under Norm Stewart, and is coming off a 12-year stint at Central Missouri that culminated in a Division II national championship. It might take time for Anderson to readjust to the Division I level, but his hire has created excitement among the fanbase, and along with six newcomers on the court, provides Missouri with a fresh start.

Jonathan Williams is looking to take a big step forward in his sophomore season (columbiamissourian.com).

Jonathan Williams is looking to take a big step forward in his sophomore season. (columbiamissourian.com)

Weaknesses. Scoring. Two numbers highlighted by the Columbia Tribune’s Steve Walentik speak for themselves: the Tigers are replacing 78 percent of their scoring from last season and Jonathan Williams is their leading returning scorer at just 5.8 points per game. To be fair, there weren’t a lot of scoring opportunities for players other than Clarkson, Brown, and Earnest Ross last year. Still, points will have to come from somewhere. Williams and Wes Clark should improve on their freshmen seasons, and Baylor transfer Deuce Bello has a chance to play a big role in the backcourt. The same can be said for Hawaii graduate transfer Keith Shamburger, but he figures to be more of a distributor than scorer. Freshman forward and late signee Montaque “Teki” Gill-Caesar has picked up rave reviews over the summer, and Jakeenan Gant and Namon Wright are top-100 Haith recruits that Anderson was able to hang on to. Despite the upside there are a lot of offensive question marks. Williams and Clark didn’t show the potential to be primary scoring threats in their first years, and Bello was just a role player during his two seasons in Waco. The other three players are just freshmen, and as a whole it doesn’t seem like there is much three-point shooting ability on the roster. Read the rest of this entry »

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Missouri at Risk of Losing NCAA Bid and Its Two Best Players

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

Once the season is complete, Frank Haith might have just lost out on an NCAA Tournament bid as well as the two players who have kept his team afloat this season. Jordan Clarkson and Jabari Brown have been doing their best to put Missouri on the happy side of the NCAA bubble, but 61 combined points against Kentucky and 29 against Florida’s meat-grinder defense didn’t lead to victories. Now the Tigers are out of chances for a sparkling regular season conference wins. With an RPI in the 50s and nine games remaining against mostly equivalent or worse profiled teams, the Tigers cannot afford to drop another “should-win” game. Despite the best efforts of Clarkson and Brown, there’s a better-than-reasonable chance that Missouri will come up empty on Selection Sunday, and to make matters worse, NBADraft.net projects the two guards as top 33 picks in its latest mock NBA Draft.

Jabari Brown and Jordan Clarkson could each be headed to the NBA after this season, leaving Frank Haith in a difficult position (bigstory.ap.org).

Brown and Clarkson could each be headed to the NBA after this season, leaving Frank Haith in a difficult position (Credit: AP).

Are there good reasons for the duo to stay in Columbia past this season? Of course there are. Both are too right-hand dominant going to the rim, and Clarkson’s value stands to skyrocket if he became a more refined distributor with a more consistent outside shot. Then there’s the  issue of the abnormally deep draft class this season. Still, the pull of the NBA might be strong for two transfers who already lost a year of real game action, and people have begun to take notice of the pair’s talents: “[Brown] is getting everybody’s attention. Everybody understands what he is doing. He has done it against great defenses and people that have put an emphasis and a focus on him. That is a tribute to him offensively, how good and talented he is,” said Billy Donovan. You can never fault a player for striking while the iron is hot. Brown is quite frankly playing like an ideal NBA shooting guard with his three-point shooting and improved slashing ability. Clarkson is an intriguing point guard prospect with great size and superior athleticism. There may be no time like this spring for the two to throw their names into the NBA pot.

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