SEC Freshman Watch: Breaking Down the “East’s” Most Effective Newcomers

Posted by Christian D'Andrea on February 12th, 2013

Christian D’Andrea is a SEC Microsite Contributor and an editor at Anchor of Gold and Nashville Sports Hub. You can reach him on Twitter @TrainIsland. You can find past editions of the SEC Freshman Watch here (East) and here (West).

The SEC conference slate is more than halfway complete, and the league’s freshmen have begun to stabilize in their fourth month of NCAA competition. As expected, some first-year players are starting to wilt under the grind of the college schedule, while some surprising players are getting stronger as the year goes on. Kentucky has rebounded from early adversity to rejoin the Top 25 rankings, while Georgia, who once sat in the SEC basement with a 1-4 record, has ridden a five-game winning streak to stake its claim as a mid-tier team.

Noel's D is Keying the UK Resurgence (Photo credit: AP).

Noel’s D is Keying the UK Resurgence (Photo credit: AP).

These teams are getting big contributions from freshman play-makers to reboot their seasons. The Wildcats are playing well through Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin’s growing pains thanks in part to the burgeoning defense of Nerlens Noel in the middle. Georgia is riding Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to key wins, but Charles Mann has turned into the Bulldogs’ third-leading scorer and Brandon Morris is becoming a pesky defender on the wing. Even South Carolina, mired in a 2-8 SEC season so far, can take solace in Michael Carrera’s scrappy production in the Gamecock frontcourt. Let’s take a closer look at how these first-year players have performed since SEC play got underway. This week, we’ll go back and examine how the freshmen of the former SEC East are doing.

Kentucky: Nerlens Noel has stepped his game up defensively for the Wildcats, and that’s been a big piece of Kentucky’s charge back into the Top 25. UK has won five straight heading into Tuesday night’s showdown with Florida, and Noel has averaged 5.2 blocks and 10.2 rebounds in that span. His offense is still a work in progress, but his impact has been undeniable.

Kentucky Freshmen 2/12

Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin have been trending in the opposite direction, as they’ve taken a back seat to Noel as the season has worn on. Poythress’s minutes and scoring have dropped as the athletic freshman has struggled with fouls (four per game in his last six contests). Goodwin has struggled as a shooter and a ball-handler recently. He hasn’t made a three-pointer in his last eight games (0-of-10) and his assists have dropped (while his turnovers have increased) as the Wildcats have faced tougher opponents.

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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.
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Award Tour: Trey Burke Is The Best Player In The Country

Posted by DCassilo on February 8th, 2013

David Cassilo is an RTC columnist who also writes about college basketball for SLAM magazine. You can follow him at @dcassilo.

After weeks and weeks of coming close, Trey Burke has finally broken through and grabbed the #1 spot. It’s a long time coming, as Burke embodies everything you want in a player. He’s a scorer that can take over the game. He’s an unselfish player that likes to get his teammates involved. He’s a leader, who steps up in big moments and keeps his team focused. Look no further than his block of Aaron Craft’s potential game-tying shot on Tuesday as to why there’s nobody like him in the country. Michigan is in good hands come March.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR

10. Victor Oladipo – Indiana (Last Week – NR)
2012-13 stats: 13.8 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 2.3 SPG

The Hoosiers can beat any team on any given day if Victor Oladipo has a good game.

The Hoosiers can beat any team on any given day, if Victor Oladipo has a good game.

I’ll reluctantly include Oladipo, partly because there’s no one better and partly because you almost have to at this point. I don’t blame him, but the hype surrounding him has really surprised me. I just don’t see why people say he’s better than some one like Otto Porter Jr., who puts up equal if not better stats, when Oladipo has Zeller down low and Porter Jr. lost his second-best player to suspension. This week: February 10 at Ohio State, February 13 vs. Nebraska

9. Nate Wolters – South Dakota State (Last week – NR)
2012-13 stats: 22.1 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 5.5 APG

I don’t care what conference he’s in and how good his team is, Wolters is without question one of the 10 best players in the country. In case you missed it, he scored 53 points against IPFW on Thursday night. And as his numbers above show, he’s well-rounded too. This week: February 9 at Oakland, February 14 vs. IUPUI

8. Otto Porter Jr. – Georgetown (Last Week – 6)
2012-13 stats: 14.8 PPG, 7.8 RPG

Porter Jr. played just once this week and had 11 points and seven rebounds in a win over St. John’s. He’s shot at least 50 percent from the field in five of his last six games. This week: February 9 at Rutgers, February 11 vs. Marquette

7. Ben McLemore – Kansas (Last week – 7)
2012-13 stats: 16.3 PPG, 5.5 RPG

It was a rough week for Kansas, but McLemore was only partially to blame. He had 23 points, his second-most in Big 12 play, in the loss to Oklahoma State, so he can be absolved for the game. Against TCU, though, his 0-for-6 3-point shooting was part of a dreadful night for the Jayhawks. This week: February 9 vs. Oklahoma, February 11 vs. Kansas State Read the rest of this entry »

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Ten Tuesday (Wednesday) Scribbles: On Underwhelming Teams, Soft Schedules, Wisconsin and More…

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 6th, 2013

tuesdayscribblesBrian Otskey is an RTC columnist. Every Tuesday during the regular season he’ll be giving his 10 thoughts on the previous week’s action. You can find him on Twitter @botskey

  1. The Super Bowl marks the beginning of a two month stretch where college basketball dominates the national sports scene. From now until April 8, the focus will be squarely on our terrific sport. Sure it can be frustrating for the diehard fans that have been following every game since early November but the attention of the casual fans is what drives coverage and television ratings. The unfortunate reality is that without casual fan interest, college basketball would exclusively be a niche sport. We all have had that NCAA Tournament pool experience where the person who starts watching in February or March and knows very little other than team names and rankings wins the pool while the person who studies the efficiency metrics and knows that Travis Trice is a great three point shooter but awful inside the arc (h/t Luke Winn) finishes near the bottom of the pool standings. Nevertheless, it is an exciting time of year as bubble talk, last four in and last four out quickly creep into the daily sports conversation. Games like Tuesday night’s Ohio State/Michigan classic are what drive interest in the sport. We’ve been treated to plenty of great games this season but this one couldn’t have come at a better time, a time when most of America is now squarely focused on college basketball. Strap in, it’s going to be really fun as we head into the part of the season where every game is so big and teams make their final push towards March.
  2. As we move into this crucial part of the season, the issue of teams peaking early can become a concern for some. The season is a process, an evolution if you will, and not every team is playing its best basketball come March. As I look across the nation, there are a few teams that may have already peaked or are peaking right now and may not be able to sustain their current level of play into March. Oregon, NC State, Miami and Butler come to mind. Two losses to the Bay Area schools have put a sour taste in everyone’s mouth. Is it a short term blip or a sign of things to come for the Ducks? Their ability to score and propensity for turnovers are causes for concern but Oregon’s defense is surprisingly solid. NC State’s issue is just the opposite. The Wolfpack certainly can score, although their offense was shut down in losses to Maryland and Virginia. However, defense has been a problem all year and NC State’s efficiency, ranked #141 in the country, is simply not at a level where you can win games consistently. Chances are the Wolfpack have already peaked and their inability to stop teams will catch up to them eventually. Miami is a case of a team that may be peaking as we speak. The Hurricanes have won 10 consecutive games in a variety of different ways. This fact (meaning they can play different styles/speeds) combined with a defensive efficiency ranked fourth in the country suggest Miami can sustain this level of play. Concerns for the Hurricanes include three point shooting, free throw shooting and offensive rebounding but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Miami hold steady, at least for the next few weeks. Butler is an interesting case. The Bulldogs are 18-4 (5-2) but have lost two of their four games since the emotional win over Gonzaga on January 19 while also struggling through a win over lowly Rhode Island. Butler’s league isn’t as tough as the other teams mentioned here so it will likely enter the NCAA Tournament with a very strong record. Of concern is the BU defense which is not at the elite level it was when the Bulldogs first went to the national title game three years ago. However, it would be foolish to doubt Brad Stevens and his group. With a soft schedule down the stretch, there is still time for Butler to pile up wins and gather confidence heading into the tournament. I would say Butler has not peaked yet despite some major wins already on its resume. Look out for the Bulldogs next month.

    C.J. Leslie and NC State may have peaked early (E. Hyman/RNO)

    C.J. Leslie and NC State may have peaked early (E. Hyman/RNO)

  3. As we head into February and the regular season begins to wind down, I figure this is a good time to look at a few of America’s underwhelming teams. There are teams out there with gaudy records but few quality wins or those who just haven’t gotten on track relative to preseason expectations. Notre Dame, UNLV, UCLA and Missouri come to mind immediately. Notre Dame is 18-5 and 6-4 in the Big East which appears good on the surface but this was a team many thought would finish third in that rugged conference. However, a closer inspection reveals the Irish have just two quality wins on their resume (Kentucky (maybe) and at Cincinnati). In Big East play, Notre Dame has lost twice on its home court, something that has been almost unheard of over the years in South Bend. Notre Dame has never been a defensive juggernaut under Mike Brey but this is arguably his worst defensive team in 13 years at the helm. UNLV is a team with lots of talent that always leaves you wanting more, always following up a stretch of good play with a disappointing loss. The Rebels struggle away from Vegas which is understandable but you would still like to see them beat a few good teams on the road. They have failed to do that. UNLV can still turn it around but I feel like we’ve seen this movie before. Three consecutive first round NCAA flameouts show that UNLV isn’t quite ready for primetime. In fact, the Rebels have not won a postseason game since a first round victory over Kent State in 2008. UCLA is still a work in progress but there is no denying it has been underwhelming. The Bruins have lost three of their last four games since winning 10 straight games after a disappointing 5-3 start. Defense has been a concern all season long but it’s the offense that has scuttled of late. Five of UCLA’s final seven games are on the road and one of the home games is against Arizona. Things could get a little dicey down the stretch for the Bruins. Missouri is the team I feel is the most overrated of all. Despite a resume that lacks one single freaking SEC road win and non-conference wins over fading Illinois and mediocre Stanford, the Tigers continue to be ranked in both major polls. Missouri is not a good defensive team and has given up a lot of points to pretty much every good team it has played. Phil Pressey can be a great distributor but he’s also a turnover machine and a poor jump shooter. Mizzou will probably make the NCAA Tournament but an early departure is highly likely. Read the rest of this entry »
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Award Tour: Fabulous Week For Freshmen; Jim Larranaga Is New No. 1 Coach

Posted by DCassilo on February 1st, 2013

awardtour

David Cassilo is an RTC columnist who also writes about college basketball for SLAM magazine. You can follow him at @dcassilo.

What a couple of days it was for our freshmen across college basketball. On Tuesday, there was Nerlens Noel, who provided one of college basketball’s best performances of the year by blocking 12 shots in Kentucky’s win over Ole Miss. Meanwhile, his teammate Archie Goodwin posted 24 points, six rebounds and four assists. A day later it was Baylor’s Isaiah Austin stealing the show with 19 points and 20 rebounds. Elsewhere in the Big 12, Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart had 21 points, six rebounds, seven assists and four steals. Anyone who believes talent is down this year for the freshman class just hasn’t been paying attention.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR

10. Anthony Bennett – UNLV (Last week – 8)
2012-13 stats: 18.1 PPG, 8.6 RPG

After starting the season on fire, Bennett has not been nearly as dominant in the Mountain West Conference. He clings to a spot this week after averaging 15 points and seven rebounds over his last two games. This week: February 2 at Boise State, February 6 at Fresno State

9. Cody Zeller – Indiana (Last Week – 9)
2012-13 stats: 16.1 PPG, 8.2 RPG

Zeller has drawn a lot of criticism this season, mainly because of expectations that were too high in the first place. When the dust settles, he’s still the top scorer and rebounder on the third-best team in the country. This week: February 2 vs. Michigan, February 7 at Illinois

8. Kelly Olynyk – Gonzaga (Last Week – 7)
2012-13 stats: 18 PPG, 6.9 RPG

Kelly Olynyk is Making Waves For More Reasons Than His Haircut This Season

Kelly Olynyk is Making Waves For More Reasons Than His Haircut This Season.

With the below-average competition in the West Coast Conference, Olynyk isn’t posting monster numbers lately because he really doesn’t have to. He’s coming off a week in which he averaged 14 points and seven rebounds, while the Bulldogs cruised to two victories. This week: February 2 at San Diego, February 7 vs. Pepperdine

7. Ben McLemore – Kansas (Last week – 6)
2012-13 stats: 16.1 PPG, 5.4 RPG

Early foul trouble against West Virginia on Monday had McLemore destined for his worst game in ages. But he still found a way to finish with a solid 13 points and four rebounds. It must be nice to have a freshman that you can pencil in for at least those numbers every night. This week: February 2 vs. Oklahoma State, February 6 at TCU

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Freeze Frame: Capturing Nerlens Noel’s Defensive Impact Against Ole Miss

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 31st, 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.

Kentucky needed a signature win on its resume, and that’s exactly what it got when the Wildcats defeated the fighting Marshall Hendersons of Ole Miss in Oxford on Tuesday night. All the attention was on the Rebels’ Henderson, but it was a 6’11″ freshman without a single field goal in the game who had the largest impact on the outcome. Nerlens Noel blocked a school record 12 blocks (though one was actually blocked by Kyle Wiltjer but credited to Noel) on his way to one of the finest performances of his young career. Perhaps the most impressive statistic of all is that Noel blocked five of his 12 total blocks with less than six minutes to go in the second half while saddled with four fouls.

How was Noel so effective? Most players play with hesitation when so close to fouling out of the game, but he did not. He was an even bigger part of Kentucky’s defense down the stretch because the Rebels suspected his weakness in the middle and tried to exploit it. But man were they wrong. What Andy Kennedy’s squad did not anticipate was that Noel would not back off even with the risk of watching the end of a close game next to John Calipari on the bench. But how exactly did he not pick up his fifth foul? As aggressive as he was in attempting to swat the ball into the upper deck of the Tad Pad, he kept the angle of his body straight up and down to avoid any extra contact.

Straight up and down.

Straight up and down.

Note how Noel jumped straight up without making any contact with the shooter. He has an uncanny ability to make contact up top with the ball and nothing else. Despite the fact that Ole Miss drove toward him repeatedly in an attempt to draw his fifth foul, Noel finished the game on the floor. Another key to Noel’s shot-swatting party on defense is how quickly he bounces back from an initial jump. Noel’s “bounceability” led the great Mike Decourcy to compare his defensive game to that of Bill Russell. And here’s why:

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Handicapping the SEC POY Race Heading Into February

Posted by Christian D'Andrea on January 29th, 2013

Christian D’Andrea is a microsite contributor and an editor at Anchor of Gold and Nashville Sports Hub. You can complain about his terrible oddsmaking in the comments, or find him on Twitter @TrainIsland.

The first three weeks of conference play have come and gone in the SEC, and we’ve uncovered some revelations about the league. Ole Miss, for example, showed that a weak non-conference schedule camouflaged an emerging team. Florida, who hasn’t played a league game that it hasn’t won by 17 points or more, is every bit the beast they were expected to be. Missouri and Kentucky, on the other hand, have struggled despite talented rosters. What’s less clear is who the best player in the conference is. Several athletes have stepped up this year, some big men like Nerlens Noel and Reginald Buckner to guards like Phil Pressey and Kenny Boynton. They’ll all have their chance to join legends like Shaquille O’Neal, Charles Barkley, Bernard King, and Dan Langhi in earning SEC Player of the Year honors. So far, a surprising player leads the pack as January winds to a close. Ole Miss is 6-0 in conference play, and a big part of that revival has been thanks to Marshall Henderson’s shooting. He’s not the only one with his eyes on the SEC POY hardware, though. Let’s take a look at who is gunning for league honors, and where their odds stand nearly 20 games into the season.

The Frontrunners

As If Enough Hadn't Been Written About Him Already This Week... (AP)

As If Enough Hadn’t Been Written About Him Already This Week… (AP)

  • Marshall Henderson, Ole Miss (5:1 odds to win POY)  - Well this is certainly surprising – at least to people not named Marshall Henderson. Henderson has been the catalyst behind Ole Miss’ surprising season by leading his team in scoring and swagger. The cocksure shooter has willed Mississippi to a 6-0 start in conference play. He leads the SEC in scoring and his shooting touch has pulled the Rebels out of tight games against Auburn, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt. Henderson has plenty of negatives, though. He’s shooting less than 40 percent from the field and a big function of his game is having players like Reginald Buckner and Murphy Holloway up front to clean up his mess. He’s also an unreliable passer who averages more turnovers than assists from the backcourt. Still, he’s been the focal point of Mississippi’s 2013 revival, and his scoring and ability to come up big in the clutch have made him the POY front-runner as January winds down.

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SEC M5: 01.29.13 Edition

Posted by DPerry on January 29th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. SEC basketball hasn’t won a lot of weekends so far this season, but in the college basketball animated GIF game, Marshall Henderson provided a dominant performance over the weekend. Ole Miss went to Auburn expecting an easy victory, but thanks to a 4-of-17 showing at the free throw line, the Rebels barely escaped with the W. Let’s be honest, though: If you clicked on the link, you’ll realize that the game is secondary to what happened in the immediate aftermath. I’m having a tough time choosing which part of this five-second clip involving Henderson is my favorite. Is it the striped sweater guy who knows only one insult? Or is it the 70-something in the front row playing the role of disappointed grandfather? No, for my money, it’s the cheesing security guard in the white collared shirt. It’s like he knew he was about be thrust into temporary Internet stardom, and didn’t want his mom to see him dropping an F-bomb or flipping the bird. This Marshall Henderson microsite writer salutes you, Auburn security guard.
  2. Dealing with Henderson’s attempts to incite and annoy has to be a concern for many SEC coaches. However, don’t count John Calipari among them. When asked about how he wants his young Kentucky team to respond when they travel to Oxford tonight, he took an unorthodox approach. “Oh, I’d like us to lose our composure,” he told the Louisville Courier-Journal. “That’s what I’m looking for. Like, lose your composure. Get mad. Get angry. Be mad to be great.” Henderson’s three-point percentage (35.7%) isn’t terrifying at face value, but checking a player who is willing to shoot from almost anywhere over the half-court line is bound to throw your team defense for a loop. Look for Archie Goodwin to get the first opportunity to defend the unabashed gunner, but if he doesn’t show the willingness to chase him for the entire shot clock, Julius Mays should get the call.
  3. Scottie Wilbekin, after averaging 15 points, six assists, and two rebounds per game, was named the SEC Player of the Week on Monday. The junior point guard took a while to round in to shape this year thanks to an early-season suspension, but he keyed two Florida road blowouts in the past week at Georgia and Mississippi State. The most surprising aspect of his game is his vastly improved shooting stroke. In limited minutes, Wilbekin had shot only 35% and 43% from the floor in his first two Gator campaigns, but with the benefit of increased court time (not to mention several teammates who can score), he’s sitting at an impressive 48% this season. He’s been on fire recently, shooting 18-of-28 in his last three outings. The Gators host Mississippi on Saturday, and being able to count on scoring from the one-spot makes the Rebels’ task even more daunting.
  4. Nerlens Noel took home his second straight SEC Freshman of the Week honor after another couple of dominant defensive performances last week. In a loss to Alabama and a victory over LSU, the post presence racked up 18 points, 21 rebounds, and 13 blocks. He’s currently riding a streak of five games with six or more blocks. Making his defensive supremacy even more impressive is his ability to challenge shots without fouling, only picking up one in each game. Kentucky’s struggles have made it tough for Noel to receive the credit he deserves (and during the Auburn-Kentucky broadcast, Charles Barkley made it clear that no UK freshman had yet impressed him), but his irresistible recent form has forced the rest of the country to take notice.
  5. I hope you’ve had your fill of the SEC/Big East Challenge, because the event won’t continue past this season. “This was the final year of our contract for a basketball invent involving the Big East Conference,” SEC spokesman Craig Pinkerton said via e-mail. “Playing an event such as the SEC/Big East Challenge has provided a great opportunity to highlight our teams as well as the sport early in the season. We are continuing to explore our options for continuing an event like this.” The concept of an organized series of match-ups between the conferences was enticing, but it never truly delivered. The SEC hasn’t had the depth in quality that their Big East counterparts enjoyed over the past few years, resulting in only seven of the 40 games featuring two ranked teams. Of course, these details probably aren’t important. Any event that had to claim responsibility for the Tennessee-Georgetown disaster doesn’t deserve to be saved.
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Uncertainties About Guard Play Remain After Kentucky Escapes LSU

Posted by Will Tucker on January 27th, 2013

Will Tucker is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Saturday’s Kentucky-LSU game in Lexington.

The name on the lips of everyone in Rupp Arena on Saturday was that of Alex Poythress, after his Wildcats dispatched a slumping LSU team, 75-70. The mercurial forward, whose production and motor had yet to match the expectations set by his high draft stock, notched his first college double-double with 20 point and 12 rebounds in 30 minutes. The performance absolved him of the forgettable 15 minutes he logged before fouling out in last week’s loss to Alabama. It also discouraged much discussion of the somewhat perplexing showing from Kentucky’s backcourt trio of Ryan Harrow, Julius Mays, and Archie Goodwin. While John Calipari’s guards each put together efficient stat lines and rebounded from a (generally) dismal game in Tuscaloosa, their disjointed half court execution left several lingering questions about Kentucky’s guard play.

(Credit Clay Jackson)

The backcourt is still a source of headaches for Calipari (Credit Clay Jackson)

While there was plenty of blame to go around after Kentucky’s ugly 59-55 loss to Alabama, much of it laid with Harrow and Goodwin for shooting their team out of the game. The two combined to score 13 points on 5-24 shooting (20.8%), and dished out as many turnovers as assists (4). For his part, Mays hit four of his five three-point attempts and was the only Wildcat with a positive +/- rating in what was only the second time he had scored in double digits since mid-December. John Calipari’s backcourt triumvirate was as much of a wildcard heading into yesterday’s game as Poythress. That former Kentucky Mr. Basketball Anthony Hickey would be looking to exact revenge on his home turf for two losses against Kentucky last year placed even more pressure on his would-be defenders.

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Award Tour: Ben McLemore and Brad Stevens Reach No. 1 For the First Time

Posted by DCassilo on January 25th, 2013

awardtour

David Cassilo is an RTC columnist who also writes about college basketball for SLAM magazine. You can follow him at @dcassilo.

The two players I have the most trouble with every week are Russ Smith and Michael Carter-Williams. With Smith, it’s because his on-ball defense, arguably his biggest strength, doesn’t show up in box scores or highlights, so I need to watch his entire games to stay up to speed. And I have to be honest, his reputation sometimes gives him credit in games he doesn’t deserve it. Couple that with a streaky jump shot, and he falls short of the top-10. As for MCW, I have a real problem ranking him because he’s a terrible shooter and a turnover machine. People say he makes the big shots, but if he made them in the first half or didn’t keep giving the ball away, there wouldn’t be big shots to make. So like it or not, that’s why those two guys aren’t on the list at this juncture.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR

10. Otto Porter Jr. – Georgetown (Last week – NR)
2012-13 stats: 14.6 PPG, 7.7 RPG

Since the Hoyas’ second-leading scorer, Greg Whittington, was ruled ineligible, Porter has raised his game to another level. Over his last four games, he’s averaging 19.8 PPG and 9.3 RPG and played a full 40 minutes in Georgetown’s upset win at Notre Dame. This week: January 26 vs. Louisville, January 30 vs. Seton Hall

9. Cody Zeller – Indiana (Last Week – 5)
2012-13 stats: 16.4 PPG, 8.2 RPG

Indiana and Cody Zeller Also Finished Strong in the Big Ten (AP Photo/D. Cummings)

Cody Zeller has a lot of work to do to get back up the rankings. (AP Photo/D. Cummings)

Zeller did not register a single field goal on Wednesday against Penn State, but prior to that, he had back-to-back games of at least 20/10. While people have made the case that Victor Oladipo is more valuable to the Hoosiers, I still think Zeller will dictate the big games. This week: January 27 vs. Michigan State, January 30 at Purdue

8. Anthony Bennett – UNLV (Last week – 6)
2012-13 stats: 18.4 PPG, 8.6 RPG

Against Wyoming on Thursday, Bennett’s scoring finally returned, as he finished with 17 points. But the rebounding has disappeared. Bennett has just 13 boards over his last three games. Once a double-double machine, it will be interesting to see if he gets it back.  This week: January 29 vs. Nevada

7. Kelly Olynyk – Gonzaga (Last week – 10)
2012-13 stats: 18.5 PPG, 6.9 RPG

For those who didn’t see it late Thursday night, Olynyk had a night to remember against BYU. He went 9-of-9 from the field and 8-of-8 from the free throw line en route to 26 points, nine rebounds and five assists. Make sure to catch him next time he’s on TV because he’s fun to watch. This week: January 26 vs. San Francisco, January 31 at Loyola Marymount

6. Ben McLemore – Kansas (Last week – 8)
2012-13 stats: 16.1 PPG, 5.4 RPG

Since breaking out against Iowa State to start Big 12 play, McLemore has been a steady contributor for the Jayhawks. Although teams are devoting more defensive attention to him, he finds a way to get his points. This week: January 26 vs. Oklahoma, January 28 at West Virginia Read the rest of this entry »

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SEC M5: 01.22.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 22nd, 2013

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  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:


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SEC M5: 01.21.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 21st, 2013

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  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.
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