SEC Weekday Primer: Chris Walker Is Free Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 4th, 2014

Thank goodness for Tuesday. The weekday portion of the SEC schedule features a bunch of games that don’t move the needle all that much. But Super Tuesday this week brings Chris Walker’s long-awaited release from NCAA limbo and Kentucky’s follow-up to its impressive weekend win over Missouri. There’s also Marshall Henderson on national TV. Yes, thank goodness for Tuesday.

Ole Miss will be in a tough spot if the Wildcats play with the energy they did against Missouri (msn.foxsports.com).

Ole Miss will be in a tough spot if the Wildcats play with the energy they did against Missouri. (Getty)

Don’t Miss This One, Part I

Ole Miss @ Kentucky (Tuesday, 7:00 PM ET). If you’re scratching your head, I get it. Kentucky is fresh off arguably its most complete team effort of the season against Missouri. The Wildcats played hard, played together and got big games from each of their three talented freshmen guards. Ole Miss, on the other hand, got rolled in Knoxville and needed a late rally to beat South Carolina at home. The Vols’ frontcourt overwhelmed the Rebels in the win, and Kentucky isn’t lacking for talented big men. But let me make a case for Ole Miss or, if nothing, at least an intriguing game. The Wildcats enter this game under much different conditions than in their game against Missouri. They are at home; they’re not coming off an embarrassing loss; and they have been patted on the back since Saturday. That could lead to a dip in their overall energy, especially from a young team. The Wildcats almost allowed Missouri to beat them with nothing more than two guards doing most of the scoring. The Rebels have two talented guards themselves in Jarvis Summers and Henderson, and Summers could feast on opportunities if Kentucky’s transition defense is as bad as it was in Columbia. Maybe Kentucky turned a developmental corner in Columbia over the weekend, and if so the Rebels are in trouble. But the chance at an upset is possible here if the Wildcats don’t come to play.

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SEC M5: 02.03.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on February 3rd, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. Kentucky isn’t the only SEC team playing with greater energy these days. LSU‘s effort had been similarly questioned after being pasted at home by Tennessee in their conference opener, and more recently, they had fallen behind by 19 points in a loss to wishy-washy Alabama. But the Tigers followed up their big win against Kentucky last week by racing out to a 15-point halftime lead against Arkansas over the weekend. “We didn’t want to be the team that comes out and gets hit every game,” said Jordan Mickey. “We want to do the hitting ourselves. We want to come out with a lot of energy and hit teams first.” This aggressive play is also attracting more fans to the Maravich Center, as NOLA.com‘s Ron Higgins wrote that the biggest crowd of the season watched the win over Arkansas. Johnny Jones is trying to reinvigorate the Tigers’ fan base, and building on the attention-grabbing Kentucky win with another solid performance should help his cause. It also helped the Tigers’ NCAA cause because they avoided a letdown after an important resume-building win (LSU lost to Alabama after beating Missouri).
  2. Michael Frazier‘s emergence as a reliable scoring option for Florida has been largely overshadowed by Casey Prather’s SEC Player of the Year level season. The sophomore guard led the Gators in scoring (21 points) against hapless Texas A&M, and the way he got those points indicates significant growth in his offensive attack. “Frazier matched a career high with 21 points but only got nine of those points on three-pointers (3-of-11 from beyond the arc),” writes Kevin Brockway of the Gainesville Sun. “Frazier went to the free throw line eight times and if he can do that while making three-point shots, it will boost both his scoring and UF’s scoring.” Frazier has essentially been a three-point specialist this season (taking 75 percent of his shots from deep), and a very good one at that (43.3% 3FG). It’ll be interesting to see he continues to explore driving opportunities as the season winds on. A game against an overmatched opponent like the Aggies is certainly a good chance to try new things.
  3. Auburn is going streaking. The Tigers won their second straight game by beating Georgia on Saturday, and had five players score in double figures in a conference game for the first time since 2010. That’s a stark change from a team that has been in a dead heat with Missouri to see which can get the highest percentage of their offense from the fewest players. The Tigers now head to South Carolina, where a third-straight win is not inconceivable. Despite these recent wins, Tony Barbee‘s job is still probably in jeopardy. The folks at College and Magnolia offered up Toledo’s Tod Kowalczyk as a potential replacement. While they make a good point about his history building up moribund programs (Wisconsin-Green Bay and Toledo), he has no connection to the South. This isn’t a fatal strike against him, but his entire Division I coaching career has been spent on the East Coast (Rutgers, Rider, New Hampshire) or the Midwest (Marquette, Wisconsin-Green Bay, Toledo). He’d be at an immediate recruiting disadvantage because at the moment Auburn is probably best served by recruiting regionally. Some hard work and a couple smart assistant coaching hires could fix this, but Kowalczyk would still be coming from behind at the start.
  4. Don’t look now, but Vanderbilt is on a three-game winning streak and in the thick of the SEC race. Kevin Stallings dipped into his bag of tricks and used a zone more against Mississippi State for a number of reasons. The Tennesseans‘ Nick Cole wrote, “Although typically a man-to-man team, Vanderbilt utilized a zone defense for much of the game to shield against fatigue for its seven-man rotation, as well as to force the Bulldogs, who are last in the league in three-point shooting percentage, into being a jump-shooting team.” Using the zone to save the Commodores’ legs isn’t a bad idea, since Vanderbilt’s season has essentially become a prolonged tournament with their small rotation. Kyle Fuller has been one the hardest working men in the South, logging 40 minutes in five of Vanderbilt’s eight conference games. But maybe enough is enough when it comes to that storyline. The Commodores have played well in the SEC, regardless of how many players see the court every night.
  5. Last week nearly spelled the end of Ole Miss’ NCAA tournament bid. The Rebels were roughed up by Tennessee in Knoxville, and then trailed South Carolina by nine with under 6 minutes left… at home. But Jarvis Summers led an Ole Miss rally, and Red Cup Rebellion summed up its importance. “The importance of winning this game can’t be overstated. Well, let me rephrase: The importance of not losing this game can’t be overstated. The Gamecocks came in with an RPI of #127, and losing to them on the Rebels’ home court could have doomed any shot for the Tournament.” This was the second time the Rebels staved off a potentially resume-tanking loss to South Carolina, as they won earlier by only one point in Columbia. The Rebels play Missouri, Florida and Kentucky (twice) in February, so winning the games they are favored in is even more important. They did that on Saturday, but not without some tense moments in Oxford. LaDarius White (12 points) reached double figures for the third time in four games, and has been nice perimeter counterpart to Summers and Marshall Henderson.
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SEC Weekday Primer: Tennessee, Ole Miss Fight for Conference Position

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 28th, 2014

Another week in the SEC brings another slate of games that will play a big role in determining whether the conference has more than two bids to the NCAA Tournament. But there’s also a cannibalistic aspect to the upcoming weekday games: Ole Miss and Tennessee play in Knoxville, while Missouri and Arkansas face off in Fayetteville. Each team is in need of a big win, but two are guaranteed to fall further back in their search for a resume-booster.

Jarnell Stokes needs some perimeter help when he faces Ole Miss.

Jarnell Stokes needs some perimeter help when he faces Ole Miss.

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

The Rebels face their stiffest conference test to date in Knoxville, but have built up some momentum with a four-game winning streak. Tennessee, on the other hand, is coming off a 26.8 percent shooting performance in a loss to Florida. The Gators are an elite defensive team, but there’s no excuse for the Vols to only get five field goals (five!) from players other than Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon. Two seniors will need to shake off their recent struggles to provide Tennessee with a spark on the perimeter. Jordan McRae is coming off an understandably-deflating 1-of-15 shooting performance, and Antonio Barton is 3-of-19 from three over the last five games. The Vols do need a spark, because a loss would drop them to 3-4 in league play before they embark on two consecutive road games. The game is equally important for Ole Miss, which has an opportunity to pick up just its second quality win of the year (the other being at home to LSU). The Rebels’ interior defense is a key to this game. Sebastian Saiz (20 percent defensive rebounding percentage) and Aaron Jones (9.9 percent block percentage) will be a big part of the Rebels’ effort to contain Stokes and Maymon. And of course there is Marshall Henderson, who after a recent shouting match with Rick Ray, could be on the verge of something Deadspin-worthy.

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SEC M5: 01.27.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 27th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. Florida has been a saving grace for the SEC this season, and its defense could lead the Gators all the way to the final weekend of the NCAA TournamentSI.com‘s Michael Beller outlined the reasons Florida has frustrated teams this year so much on offense. “What is it that the Gators do so well defensively? First, they generally force their opponents into tough two-point shots. Teams have shot 41.4 percent on two-pointers against Florida this season, which ranks ninth-best in the country. Second, they take the ball away with aplomb, forcing turnovers on 21.9 percent of their opponents’ possessions. In other words, they don’t allow many easy buckets, and create transition opportunities for themselves by turning over their opponents on a regular basis.” Florida flustered Tennessee’s Jordan McRae into one of the worst shooting days of his career on Saturday, holding him to 1-of-15 shooting from the field. Not only do they have the ability to shut down perimeter players, but their frontcourt is incredibly versatile. Patric Young has the size to match up with other low post bruisers, while Will Yeguete and Dorian-Finney Smith are quick enough to stay with stretch fours and still contribute on the glass.
  2. We’re far enough into the season where a weakness narrative has emerged for each of the nation’s elite freshmen, and one of the knocks on Kentucky’s Julius Randle is his relatively short wingspanSBNation’s Jonathan Tjarks described Randle as being “built like a Tyrannosauras Rex: all torso and no arms.” CBSSports.com‘s Matt Moore wrote a great defense of Randle’s offensive game, with a ton of GIFs that show his creativity in finding ways to score. Moore likes the freshman forward’s touch around rim, muscular frame, and driving potential, thinking that there’s a chance he could be “a natural at finding ways to score,” much like Zach Randolph. At this point most NBA general managers probably view Randle as a clear cut below Jabari Parker, Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins given his athletic “limitations,” and the effect they have on his long-term potential. But unlike Wiggins, and to a lesser extent, Embiid, the player he will ultimately become isn’t a mystery. Your favorite NBA team probably isn’t winning a championship with Randle as its best player. However, he’s got a refined offensive skill set and enough potential that he could become a key cog in a perpetual playoff team.
  3. Is Marshall Henderson‘s game evolving? The easy answer is no, as the senior launched 12 three-pointers in the Rebels’ win over Mississippi State over the weekend. But while only two of those threes went down, Henderson still scored 19 points by attacking the basket seemingly more than any other game this season. Sinking treys or not, he helped Ole Miss avoid a potential trap game with one of its toughest games of the SEC season looming Wednesday night in Knoxville. That was the fourth straight win for Andy Kennedy’s team, and they went into halftime with an 11-point lead. The Rebels seem dialed in, but the schedule begins to pick up with that trip to Tennessee followed by games against Kentucky and Missouri in the following week.
  4. Alabama flipped its 2013-14 script on Saturday and actually came out on the winning end of a close game. The Tide gave up a 19-point lead against LSU, and it looked like it’d be another close loss for Anthony Grant but a late Shannon Hale three saved the day for Alabama, much to his relief. “It was a tough, physical battle,” Grant said. “For our guys to step up in the end, the last four minutes, I thought we showed grit and heart and courage and all the things we’ve been looking for all year.” The Tide are still playing hard, which is a good sign for a team with more talent than its 9-10 record would suggest. Hale might also be a bright spot for Grant, as the big man has shown the ability to shoot from distance (36% 3FG), which should fit well alongside Retin Obasohan over the next few years. Hale also showed some play-making abilities against LSU: He had six assists after recording just 16 total in his previous 18 games.
  5. Kevin Stallings‘ team is hovering just above .500 and is only a few games removed from a 23-point loss to LSU. Nonetheless, the Vanderbilt coach needs to be lauded for how his team has overcome its roster pitfalls. The Commodores went on the road and beat Texas A&M Saturday, getting a big performance from James Siakam. At Anchor of Gold, RTC’s very own Christian D’Andrea wrote, “The shorthanded ‘Dores lost Damian Jones to fouls in 24 minutes and battled through below-average showings from Rod Odom and Dai-Jon Parker on Saturday. Fortunately, Siakam was able to put together a huge showing in the paint and at the free throw line to lead his team to victory.” The roster crunch could turn out to be a big boost for Vanderbilt next season and beyond. Stallings won’t reap the benefits of the increased minutes for seniors Odom and Kyle Fuller, but the rest of the team has the opportunity for games like Siakam’s in College Station — opportunities that may not have been there under normal circumstances. In terms of this season, Vanderbilt has only been non-competitive in one SEC game (LSU), and owns a quality win over Missouri as well as the road win in College Station. That’s not bad considering Stallings has to play multiple players 40 minutes a game.
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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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An Under the Radar Marshall Henderson is Good for Ole Miss

Posted by David Changas on January 23rd, 2014

Maybe it’s because his team isn’t as talented as last year. Maybe it’s because we’re used to him now and his act has worn thin.  Maybe he’s simply more mature. Whatever the case, the Marshall Henderson who entertained us with heroic shots, crazy antics, and endless taunts just doesn’t seem to be stirring the pot like he did a year ago. Sure, he still likes to put on a show and pound his chest after a big three or a pretty pass. It appears, though, that Ole Miss’ efforts to have the senior guard tone down his act have succeeded. Prior to the season, the school made the decision to suspend him for three games for his behavior – he missed the season opener and the team’s first two conference games. He completed that suspension, and proceeded to win SEC Player of the Week honors immediately upon his return after wins over LSU and South Carolina. While his scoring average is slightly down from last year (from 20.1 to 19.2 PPG), his assist and turnover numbers are slightly better. His team, which lost frontcourt stalwarts Reginald Buckner and Murphy Holloway to graduation, relies on him more than ever, and if it is going to make a run at a second-consecutive NCAA Tournament bid, will need the formerly volatile, now docile guard to be at his best.

Marshall Henderson Under the Radar? (US Presswire)

Marshall Henderson Under the Radar? (US Presswire)

The efforts that coach Andy Kennedy has made to rein in Henderson’s behavior have been well-chronicled. Kennedy has indicated that the fifth-year senior has not caused any problems whatsoever this year. On Wednesday night, he returned to the place where he first burst onto the scene when the Rebels visited Vanderbilt. His performance Wednesday was subpar – he scored only 11 points, going 3-of-10 from three-point range – but he showed he still has a flair for the dramatic. After Vanderbilt overcame a 13-point deficit early in the second half deficit to take a one-point lead with just over six minutes remaining, Henderson did his thing. “We turn it over, and he gets a three in transition and then he comes back and hits another one right after that. Those were both daggers,” Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings said after the game. “Dai-jon [Parker] did as good a job as you could do on him, and the kid still probably hits the two biggest baskets in the game.” It was yet another example of Henderson displaying his keen ability to come up big in important moments.

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SEC M5: 01.22.14 Edition

Posted by David Changas on January 22nd, 2014

  1. If it’s Super Tuesday, it’s a good bet Kentucky is on center stage. Last night against Texas A&M, Kentucky let the Aggies hang around for most of the first half before coasting to a 68-51 victory to push their conference record to 4-1. The Wildcats got their usual strong performances from Julius Randle (13 points, 11 rebounds) and James Young (15 points, seven rebounds), but also got a game- and season-high 16 points from reserve Alex Poythress. The sophomore forward has been inconsistent since he arrived in Lexington, but has shown signs over the past several weeks that he’s ready to become a more regular contributor. After struggling in the period leading up to conference play, Poythress has now scored in double figures in three of the first five league games and looks to be more comfortable in John Calipari’s system. The head coach has said that Poythress’ biggest hindrance to becoming a more productive player is his own lack of confidence. If he is able to build on his recent performances, he will make Kentucky that much more dangerous as March approaches.
  2. In a game between teams that still have their sights set on the NCAA Tournament, LSU topped Missouri, 77-71, Tuesday night in Baton Rouge. LSU got 14 points and 13 rebounds from stellar freshman Jordan Mickey. The highly-touted freshman has lived up to the hype for head coach Johnny Jones, as he is second on the team to Johnny O’Bryant in both scoring (13.1 PPG) and rebounding (6.9 RPG). This game was a contrast in styles, as LSU’s strength is its frontcourt, while Missouri boasts one of the league’s strongest backcourts but struggles with production up front. It wasn’t surprising, then, that Mickey, O’Bryant, and Shavon Coleman combined for 49 of LSU’s 77 points, while Missouri got all but eight of its points from the guard trio of Jabari Brown (28 points), Jordan Clarkson (19), and Earnest Ross (16). LSU moved to 3-2 in the conference with the win, while Missouri, which came into league play with only one loss, dropped to 2-3.
  3. Although we’re less than a quarter of the way through the conference race, it is difficult to overstate the importance of the meeting between Tennessee and Arkansas tonight in Knoxville. The Vols, which are coming off a solid performance in a loss at Kentucky on Saturday, can ill-afford a home loss, as their NCAA Tournament hopes are tenuous at best. In the latest Rush the Court bracketology, the Vols, though not in the “First Four,” are projected as a 12-seed, meaning they have little room for error themselves. They have a number of games remaining against teams with weak profiles, so a win over the Razorbacks here is imperative. Arkansas, for its part, remarkably has only two conference road wins in Mike Anderson’s tenure in Fayetteville, both of which came against Auburn. The Hogs fell short in overtime against Georgia in Athens on Saturday, and though the beginning of their conference slate has been more difficult than most SEC teams’, a 1-4 start in the league would likely be too much overcome. Given their resume (RPI No. 66), a loss would give them little room for error (they are currently in RTC‘s “First Four Out”), and at some point, Anderson is going to have to win a big game away from Bud Walton Arena if he is going to get Arkansas to the Big Dance for the first time since his arrival.
  4. After missing the previous two games against Auburn and Mississippi State, the SEC’s biggest enigma has returned with a vengeance. Marshall Henderson was named SEC Player of the Week after averaging 22.0 points and 3.5 assists per game in Ole Miss’ overtime home win over LSU, and the Rebels’ first win in Columbia since 2001. Henderson, who launched nearly 11 three-pointers per game last year but has increased that number to 11.5 per game this season, went 9-of-24 from beyond the arc in those two games. For Ole Miss (12-5, 3-1), which has seen its RPI profile (No. 66) improve since the beginning of SEC play, to have any chance of making its second consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance, it knows that it largely will go as Henderson goes. And Vanderbilt’s Kevin Stallings, whose team faces the Rebels in Nashville tonight, knows that stopping Henderson will be the Commodores’ key to victory. The head coach knows all too well what Henderson is capable of doing after witnessing first-hand the craziness in last year’s Ole Miss win at Memorial Gymnasium.
  5. The saga of Florida’s Chris Walker continues unabated, and Florida head coach Billy Donovan indicated on Tuesday that he will not address the situation anymore. Walker, who was Rivals’ No. 6 player in the class of 2013, was admitted to school in December, but is still awaiting clearance by the NCAA Clearinghouse relating to possible impermissible benefits during his AAU days. If he finally becomes eligible, he will add an important piece to an already formidable Gators’ front line. For his part, Donovan has clearly tired of discussing Walker’s status, and knows all he can do is play the guys who are available to him. Still, not many programs can look at the possibility of adding a top-10 recruit this far into the season. With Tennessee’s talented frontcourt duo of Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon coming to Gainesville on Saturday, Donovan would certainly love to have Walker available for that key contest. It’s reasonable to assume that Florida will take care of business at Alabama tonight even without him.
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Ole Miss Emerging as a Dark Horse Candidate for an NCAA Bid

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 21st, 2014

Kentucky and Florida will hear their names called on Selection Sunday — all hell would have to break loose for those two bids to become undone. But is there a third bid, or (gasp) more, out there for the SEC this season? It’s not hard to envision the conference cannibalizing itself to the point that that a potential third bid disappears altogether. But if it does exist, it’s dangling out there for a number of teams to pursue. Tennessee (home loss to Texas A&M), LSU (2-3 in its last five games), Missouri (losses to Georgia and Vanderbilt), and Arkansas (loss to Georgia) are all still viable candidates to do so, but each has slipped lately in its pursuit of it. Ole Miss, however, has built some momentum and is a dark horse for that third bid — assuming, of course, that a third bid turns out to exist.

Jarvis Summers and Ole Miss are a few quality wins away from being a legitimate tournament contender (bigstory.ap.com).

Jarvis Summers and Ole Miss are a few quality wins away from being a legitimate tournament contender (bigstory.ap.com).

The Rebels are a road loss to Mississippi State away from being off to a 4-0 SEC start. That loss in Starkville isn’t a good one, but it came down to the wire and rivalry games are always tricky. Before that, Ole Miss can explain most of its other losses. The Rebels fell in overtime to Oregon (RPI #18) and Dayton (RPI #51), and lost in the final minutes at Kansas State (RPI #32). Not as easy to explain away is a home loss to Mercer, but their RPI (#70) isn’t as bad as it might have seemed (although that will certainly drop during their Atlantic Sun schedule). There are warts, of course, starting with a lack of other quality wins. Ole Miss’ best current win is against LSU (RPI #66), and after that it falls off to Georgia Tech, Penn State or Western Kentucky, each with RPIs north of #120.

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SEC M5: 01.17.14 Edition

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

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  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: 01.13.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on January 13th, 2014

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  1. Missouri, LSU, and Arkansas all took hits to their tournament resumes in their first SEC games. Tennessee now belongs on that inglorious list after blowing a 14-point first half lead and losing to Texas A&M. The Aggies have thrown a wrench into both the Vols’ and Razorbacks’ tournament hopes in less than a week. Alex Caruso is off to a scorching start in SEC play, with 19 assists against 4 turnovers in the Aggies’ two wins. As the folks at Good Bull Hunting write, Texas A&M should continue to cause problems because of their defense. “The season may be pretty ugly thus far, but with A&M’s play on defense, they can never be taken lightly, as Arkansas just experienced.” That was on display in Knoxville, as the Aggies held both Jordan McRae and Jarnell Stokes in single figures. Billy Kennedy’s squad is the early leader for SEC Spoiler of the Year.
  2. Starkville hasn’t been kind to Ole Miss, where they’ve now lost 15 of their last 16 game against their biggest rival. For the Rebels it was yet another close game they weren’t able to close out, similar to losses against Kansas State, Oregon, and Dayton. “Our guys scrap and fight and it’s not always the most pleasing to watch from any vantage point, but we stay in games,” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. “Then it comes down to the stretch and you’ve got to make plays. The games we’ve made plays — like (Auburn on Thursday) — we win. The games we don’t make the plays and Mississippi State does, they win.” At this point the Rebels simply aren’t in the NCAA tournament conversation, especially after losing to RPI #156. For Mississippi State, the win moved them to 11-4, surpassing their win total from last season. Even though their fans didn’t get a chance to boo the suspended Marshall Henderson, the win still must have been satisfying.
  3. Julius Randle was limited to 25 minutes in Kentucky’s win against Vanderbilt because of cramping, which he struggled with against Louisville as well. Randle has the Wildcats’ highest usage rate (27.9%) and is the focus of every opposing defense. John Calipari talked about the toll this is taking on the freshman. “You have to understand, he’s in a dogfight,” Calipari said in his post game news conference. “I think he is the only college player when he catches the ball, he’s got three guys on him. He’s not just running up and down the court. He’s, like, in a football game.” Randle’s conditioning will be something to watch going forward, and the onus falls on Alex Poythress, among others, to keep the power forward position afloat. Poythress has played reasonably well in the 41 minutes he’s logged in SEC play (21 points, 8 rebounds, 4 blocks).
  4. Missouri‘s front court rotation has suddenly grown since the Tigers entered SEC playTorren Jones (13 minutes) and Keanau Post (14 minutes) saw extended minutes against Auburn after both played sparingly during the non-conference season. They combined for 17 rebounds, and this was important because senior Tony Criswell was benched for an undisclosed team violation. Criswell began the year suspended so his absence could easily snowball into more games, and Frank Haith will need to keep relying on Jones and Post. Starting center Ryan Rosburg was in foul trouble much of the game, so it’s encouraging for Missouri that they were still able to win the rebounding battle (44 to 28).
  5. Scottie Wilbekin says his ankle is feeling good, and that’s obviously great news for Florida. “I think (I was) 100 percent, maybe 90 percent, 85,” Wilbekin said. “It wasn’t really hurting that bad. It was just range of motion. It was good. It was all right.” The senior point guard was able to play 35 mostly effective minutes in the Gators’ overtime time in Fayetteville. Injuries appear to be an inevitable part of Florida’s 2013-14 season after early ankle injuries to Wilbekin and Kasey Hill, and the current injuries faced by Wilbekin, Patric Young and Casey Prather. Young was able to play 21 minutes despite knee tendinitis, but Prather sat out and is the major concern for Billy Donovan. It’s always hard to lose a senior starter, but Prather is a little different because, foremost, he’s having a SEC POY-type season and no one else on the roster has his combination of size, length and ball-handling. The status of his knee has become a key to Florida’s season.
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SEC M5: 01.10.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on January 10th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. No Marshall Henderson for Ole MissNo problem, but just barely. The Rebels held off Auburn, but it was a close game throughout and Ole Miss weathered a stretch in which they only scored two points in seven minutes. Overall, Andy Kennedy must be encouraged the Rebels won a game in which Henderson was out and Jarvis Summers was merely pedestrian offensively (14 points on 6 of 17 from the field). Aaron Jones has emerged as one of the better shot blockers in the SEC, and had five blocks against the Tigers, including a key swat with under a minute left. Chris Denson shouldered the offense for Auburn with KT Harrell in foul trouble, and must have made Henderson jealous by putting up 25 shots.
  2. Vanderbilt will be without its leading scorer the rest of the season after sophomore guard Eric McClellan was dismissed for the spring semester. McClellan has a February court date for a misdemeanor charge of theft under $500. In a statement, the sophomore said his goal is to eventually return to the Vanderbilt program. There may be few other options for McClellan, who already transferred once and now carries extra baggage with him. Obviously any criminal charge is a bad one, but luckily for McClellan this doesn’t appear to be a deal breaker when it comes to playing again. Kevin Stallings clearly has a difficult coaching job ahead of him with only seven scholarship players. One positive is that the Commodores did play hard in their first game without McClellan on Tuesday night in Tuscaloosa.
  3.  CBSSports.com’s list of the “30 games to watch in conference play” includes three from our beloved SEC, the highest ranked of which is the March 8 bout between Kentucky and Florida. This game could certainly be the deciding game in the regular season conference race. It will also have a more-defined story line after the initial February 15th game between the two teams (also on the list). In a big league with an unbalanced schedule it’s a treat these teams play twice this season. The final SEC game is the January 25th match up between Florida and Tennessee. This comes at the end of a difficult streak for the Vols, who play at Kentucky and against Arkansas immediately before traveling to Gainesville. Tennessee by default currently occupies the darkhorse position for the regular season crown after their road win against LSU and Missouri’s embarrassing home loss to Georgia.
  4. This week’s statistical nugget from SI.com‘s Luke Winn deals with Florida, who he has at #10 in his latest power rankings. Winn writes about Florida’s dominant defensive first half Wednesday against South Carolina. “The Gamecocks had one point and seven turnovers in their first 10 possessions, and they didn’t get their turnover percentage under 50 until the 25th possession.” Billy Donovan has this Gators’ team playing solid defense, like he often does. Florida has the 57th best effective field goal defense in the country. Dominant defensive first halves have also been the norm: they’re allowing 25.1 points in the first halves of games, the fifth best mark in the nation. Finally, every regular in the Donovan’s rotation has a defensive rating of 93 or less.
  5. Speaking of Florida regulars, Damontre Harris may yet be one of them in future. As impossible as it may have seemed a few weeks ago, the South Carolina transfer who Donovan essentially said would never play at Florida, may work his way onto next year’s team. “We traded some texts over the Christmas break and he realized that he had made a big mistake,” Donovan said. “He wants to work his way back on the team. It’s going to be similar to Scottie Wilbekin’s situation in that he has to meet some terms and conditions. Can he make it? I don’t know, but if he does it will be a great comeback story.” Harris could be an important addition to next year’s Gator team, if he does what Donovan needs him to. Florida will lose Patric Young and Will Yeguete to graduation and there will be a playing time available in the front court. Harris posted a 10.7% block rate during his sophomore year at South Carolina and a shot-blocking presence like that would be warmly welcomed in any lineup.
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A-10 Sends SEC Into Conference Play On Sour Note

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 6th, 2014

There was an unofficial, inadvertent Atlantic 10/SEC Challenge on Saturday, with three games matching up teams between the two conferences. Unlike the official Big 12/SEC challenge, this one didn’t take five weeks to finish. But the SEC again found itself on the short end of the inter-conference match-up as two league teams were sent into conference play with disheartening losses.

Johnny O'Bryant had to watch a good portion of LSU's frustrating home loss to Rhode Island from the bench (thetowntalk.com).

Johnny O’Bryant had to watch a good portion of LSU’s frustrating home loss to Rhode Island from the bench (thetowntalk.com).

  • Richmond @ Florida, the narrow escape. Richmond held a lead in the O-Dome with under seven minutes to go, and it seemed that the Spiders had the recipe to spring the big upset. But Florida outscored the Spiders 22-10 down the stretch and escaped with a win. The up-and-down start for the Gators was probably due to a couple of factors. Scottie Wilbekin had an off game (4-of-13 shooting, two assists) and Richmond often runs a funky, quick version of the Princeton offense. They’re also a solid enough team to take advantage of a better opponent that comes out flat, which describes the Gators on Saturday. The real positive for Florida was that Michael Frazier carried them offensively at times. The sophomore has been very efficient (20.1 PER) and deadly from three (49%), but understandably passive on a team with a number of upperclassmen ahead of him. It’s encouraging for Billy Donovan that Frazier has shown that he can step up when needed.

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