SEC M5: 03.26.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on March 26th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. Billy Donovan has a great chance to win his third national title at Florida. If that were to happen, the pull of the NBA (which temporarily swooped him up for a few days in 2007) would seem even stronger. But that nightmare scenario for Gators fans became less likely on Tuesday as Donovan signed a contract extension that runs through 2018-19 at $3.5 million a year. This is big news for Florida, but it’s also important for the SEC as a whole as it struggles to boost its overall basketball profile. As long as Donovan is at Florida and John Calipari is at Kentucky there’s a good bet the conference will have two strong contenders that demand national attention every season. That’s not a bad base from which to build.
  2. The storm that had been brewing around Cuonzo Martin might have reached a fever pitch had Tennessee lost its First Four game to Iowa. Auburn had just snatched up Bruce Pearl, and the thousands of people that signed an online petition to return Pearl to his perch in Knoxville would’ve had quite a bit of ammunition. Getting to the Sweet Sixteen, however, can cure a lot of ills. A few hundred fans greeted the Vols as they flew in from Raleigh at 2:30 in the morning, and the Tennessee allotment for an ultra-tough ticket in Indianapolis sold out quickly. It turns out that winning at this time of year gets people’s attention in a positive way. An interesting subplot to the Vols’s upcoming game against Michigan is Martin coaching against Glenn Robinson III, since he played with Robinson’s father, the Big Dog, at Purdue.
  3. Not surprisingly, Gary Parrish has the Kentucky-Louisville game as one of the games he can’t wait to watch in the Sweet Sixteen. The magnitude of this game doesn’t top the one two years ago in the Final Four, but it comes close since it’ll be played less than 200 miles from each school’s campus. And of course there is the ever-present intrigue of two highly-quotable coaches, and Rick Pitino’s history at Kentucky. The current state of this rivalry has so many sideshows and subplots that we as a college basketball audience need to be thankful for getting two NCAA Tournament games between the two powerhouse schools in the last three years.
  4. Arkansas’ season finally came to an end late Sunday night with a 75-64 loss at Cal. It was the Razorbacks’ first game in the state of California since 1973, which seems like an especially long time. Fittingly the season ended with a road loss, but there were plenty of positives in Arkansas’ 2013-14 campaign. The late collapse that washed away a likely NCAA bid can’t be sugarcoated, but this was the Razorbacks first 20-win season since 2007-08 and Mike Anderson picked up a postseason win in the NIT. Rashad Madden and Bobby Portis (if he returns) will form a solid duo next year, with Portis a legitimate contender for preseason SEC Player of the Year. Anderson’s recruiting class isn’t as highly-ranked as it was this year (two three-stars, a two-star and an unranked player on Rivals.com), but Anderson had great success with less-heralded recruits at Missouri.
  5. LSU was also shown the door in the NIT on Sunday, courtesy of a blistering shooting performance from SMU (57.9% FG, 9-of-14 from three). It was good to see Andre Stringer (15 points) and Shavon Coleman (eight points, seven rebounds, four steals) go out with nice games. Like Arkansas, we’ll look at the bright side of things for the Tigers. Johnny Jones got himself a postseason win and finished with an RPI almost 20 spots higher than last year. The Tigers may also have some of the best long-term prospects in the SEC outside of Kentucky and Florida. Jones has proven he can bring in talent (Jordan Mickey, Jarell Martin, incoming five-star freshman Ben Simmons), and that’s the fastest way to ascend in the standings. If Mickey, Martin and Johnny O’Bryant stick around (a big if), LSU has to be in the discussion as a favorite to win the league next year.
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Suspensions Compound Arkansas’ Disastrous Week

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 2nd, 2014

Talk about a rough week. Arkansas suffered a rare home loss to Missouri early in the week and then wasn’t able to shake its road struggles in a 14-point loss to LSU in Baton Rouge. The biggest story for the Razorbacks, however, was who didn’t suit up in yesterday’s game. Michael Qualls and Alandise Harris were suspended from the team indefinitely, removing two major pieces from Mike Anderson‘s rotation. The suspensions couldn’t come at a worse time for the Razorbacks as their NCAA Tournament hopes are on critical life support after losing four of their last five games. Qualls, in particular, will be especially tough to replace. The sophomore averages the second most minutes per game (25.3 MPG), and at 6’6” has size and athleticism that Arkansas doesn’t otherwise have on the wing. The latest personnel crunch also deals a heavy blow to Anderson’s preferred ability to run his pressure system.

Suspensions should accelerate Moses Kingsley's development at Arkansas (wholehogsports.com).

Suspensions should accelerate Moses Kingsley’s development at Arkansas (wholehogsports.com).

We try to stay positive on this microsite (which isn’t always easy), so where’s the silver lining for Arkansas after this latest setback? One such positive could be that Moses Kingsley will need to pick up some of Harris’ minutes. The freshman has incredible peripheral numbers in his small sample size of minutes, including the best PER (27.7), rebounding percentage (17.1%), and block percentage (15.6%) on the team. Now, those are all-conference numbers in a vacuum, and Anderson is no fool. He’s clearly putting Kingsley in a position to succeed by not overexposing him at this point. Still, his talent and upside are enticing. Against LSU he saw 19 minutes of action and logged three points, four rebounds and three blocks during that time. Those aren’t world-beating numbers, but they aren’t terrible for a raw rookie either. These suspensions could mean that Kingsley gets an opportunity to turn into an impressive low post defensive presence, and that development just got fast-tracked.

Qualls’ minutes will be distributed amongst Arkansas’ bevy of guards, but Rashad Madden (who has seen his minutes increase in SEC play) will bear an even greater scoring load than he already had. The junior has been one of the best shooters in the league (with a 65.7 true shooting percentage, third in the SEC), and it’ll be interesting to see how he responds to becoming the true perimeter offensive focus. Arkansas has two winnable games versus Alabama and at Vanderbilt next week, but those looked that way with a full-strength Razorbacks squad. They just became that much tougher, and Anderson’s team simply can’t afford to lose either one if there is any chance of a return to the bubble.

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Well-Rounded Jabari Brown Leading Missouri Revival

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 29th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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SEC M5: 12.13.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on December 13th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. The disaster light was flashing for Arkansas at halftime against Savannah State, as the Razorbacks only led the low-major by two points. But a 27-point edge in the second half led to an easy win in what was the only SEC game last night. Leading scorer Michael Qualls was suspended for the first half for being late to practice, and Rashad Madden picked him up by scoring a career high 21 points. Alandise Harris has cooled off after a hot scoring start, and it could be that freshman Moses Kingsley (seven rebounds in just 13 minutes) gradually gets some of Harris’ minutes. Also, only 5,654 people showed up at Bud Walton Arena for the game. There are a number of reasonable explanations for this: bad weather, final exams, lackluster opponent, and so on. But if Anderson doesn’t make strides this season with his team’s product on the court, the dwindling attendance figures are another mark against him.
  2. Is Big Blue Nation losing interest in the Wildcats? Kentucky.com‘s John Clay reports that attendance has been dropping at Rupp Arena since 2009. However, the incremental drop is from an average of 23,868 through the first seven games in 2009 (John Calipari’s first season) to 21,799 in that same span this season. Clay writes that, “all numbers are relative. UK still draws more fanatics for an intrasquad basketball scrimmage than most schools seat for an actual game. And across the country, low college sports attendance has turned viral.” In my view, when attendance is still over 20,000, any drop is a small pittance and especially so in a difficult economy. Scores of NBA teams would salivate at the thought of having that many fans in the seats each night. And to answer the (sarcastic) question that began this paragraph, no, Big Blue Nation likes its team just fine.
  3. Billy Donovan‘s 1-3-1 zone defense was humming against Kansas on Tuesday night, so much so that ESPN.com‘s Myron Medcalf thinks Florida’s first half performance was one of the most dominant ever against the Jayhawks. He writes, “there were 16 — yes, 16 — Kansas turnovers in the first half thanks to Florida’s frustrating 1-3-1 zone. Per ESPN Stats & Information, Kansas committed turnovers on nine of its 18 possessions and went 4-for-15 from the field against the 1-3-1.” What makes this Florida team so potent in the zone would seem to be the length it can put at the top with Casey Prather or Dorian Finney-Smith, the experience of Will Yeguete and Patric Young in the middle, and the ball-hawking skills of Scottie Willbekin at the bottom. The hubbub over the new hand-check rule seems to have died down, but they are still in place. That makes Donovan’s zone that much more effective.
  4. The SEC has two players in this week’s CBSSports‘ National Player of the Year Watch. Kentucky’s Julius Randle occupies the fifth spot in the rankings, and Missouri’s Jordan Clarkson checks in at number nine. Randle logged four assists each against Providence and Baylor, and this will be an interesting part of his development to watch. The double teams and zone defenses focused on him will obviously come all season, so Randle needs to find ways to make opponents pay for their decisions. Clarkson saw better competition last week with games against West Virginia and UCLA, but his scoring figures didn’t suffer. The former Tulsa guard is currently the SEC’s leading scorer, and he could end up having the most impact of any conference transfer by season’s end.
  5. What’s on tap: A litmus test for Mississippi State, kind of. The Bulldogs mark the fourth SEC team Southeastern Louisiana (the school where Billy Kennedy first made his name as a head coach) will play this season. The Lions have been bludgeoned by Missouri (35 points), LSU (23 points) and Arkansas (46 points). Can Rick Ray’s team follow suit? After two narrow wins against smaller conference schools and a loss at TCU, any sort of win will be enough. The match-up could present an opportunity for Gavin Ware to rebound from a recent string of bad games. Due to foul trouble and double teams, the sophomore forward has scored only 13 points in his last three games, but Southeastern Louisiana gave up relatively big scoring nights to Bobby Portis, Coty Clarke, Jordan Mickey and Johnny O’Bryant on the interior.
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SEC Morning Five: 11.28.11 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on November 28th, 2011

 

 

 

 

  1. The injuries keep coming for the SEC and college basketball. Florida‘s starting forward Erik Murphy has a torn meniscus in his right knee and will be out indefinitely according to The Gainesville Sun. Murphy injured his knee in practice on Thursday. “It does appear he has some form of a meniscus tear,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “How severe or how long he will be out, we’d probably find out a lot more on Monday. He’s out for the game (against Stetson) Monday and I’d assume he would be out for the next week as well.” Florida has a big game this week against Syracuse in the Big East/SEC challenge on Friday. The Gators played Ohio State earlier this season in an another top 10 match-up, and Murphy was crucial to Florida’s offense. He scored 14 points and grabbed three rebounds in 24 minutes of play against the Buckeyes. Donovan seems optimistic that Murphy will return soon.
  2. Another SEC team that has been hit hard with injuries is looking to its freshmen to lead the way. BJ Young, Rashad Madden, Hunter Mickelson, and Devonta Abron combined to score 53 points for Arkansas in their win over Grambling State. All four posted career-highs in points, and Mickelson grabbed a career-high eight rebounds as well. “When those guys came off the bench, I thought they took the tempo up a notch for us and really got us into our transition game,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. “They got the most minutes of any of the guys out there, so to me, that’s a reflection of their play. I thought they were at times pretty impressive.” The development of the Hogs’ four freshmen is key as Arkansas is left with only nine scholarship players this season. All four will get plenty of opportunities moving forward as the Razorbacks’ leading scorer and rebounder, Marshawn Powell, is out for the remainder of the season with a torn ligaments in his knee.
  3. Kentucky recorded only four turnovers in an 87-63 win over Portland on Saturday night. The four turnovers are the lowest for the Wildcats since a 1993 NCAA Tournament game against Utah (two turnovers). Much has been made of freshman Marquis Teague‘s ability to lead Kentucky at the point guard position, but he led the way with eight assists and zero turnovers. Teague added 14 points and four steals, and looked increasingly more comfortable in his role. That is a good sign for the Wildcats as they prepare for a big week with a matchup against St. John’s on Thursday and the much anticipated game against North Carolina on Saturday.
  4. Kentucky coach John Calipari sent out shock waves in Big Blue Nation on Sunday as he asked a (hypothetical?) question to Cats’ fans. Calipari asked via his website CoachCal.com which non-conference team the Kentucky faithful would like to see dropped from the schedule if necessary. The SEC could add two additional conference games to each team’s schedule with the addition of two league members beginning next season. Calipari writes, “If we had to – and this doesn’t mean we have to at this point because we still have 16 league games – but if we had to drop one series and there were no other options, who would it be? Would it be North Carolina, Indiana or Louisville?” For what it’s worth, college basketball is better with these high powered non-conference games, but it’s understandable if that is not in the best interests of Kentucky basketball. Regardless, Kentucky and Louisville is one of the best rivalries in the game, and it has to keep going if for nothing more than the drama of Calipari vs. Rick Pitino.
  5. Auburn set a school record with 17 blocked shots in their win on Friday night against Nicholls State.  Rob Chubb and Willy Kouassi led the way with five blocks each. Kenny Gabriel blocked four more. The 17 blocks put Tigers tied for second with Kentucky (17 blocks against Morehead State in 1998) for the all-time single-game SEC list. Auburn head coach Tony Barbee was impressed, but wants to keep seeing improvement. “We still, as a program, have to grow and develop that confidence,” Barbee said. “The only way you do that is by winning. These guys are hungry, but I want them to be better and they know that. We can be better.” The Tigers improved to 3-0 with this win, and face a rebuilding Seton Hall team on Friday. The Tigers have been a solid club defensively, but offensively are still a work in progress. According to KenPom.com, Auburn ranks 170th in adjusted offensive efficiency. Barbee will have to find some scoring to continue to see his team accumulate victories.
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Analyzing the Top Ten Recruiting Classes of 2011

Posted by zhayes9 on October 7th, 2011

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court.

In this era of one-and-done, where every touted freshman and blue-chip prospect must lace up the sneakers in college for at least a season, recruiting has never been more important.

As recently as a decade ago, programs were built, legacies were formed and trophies were hoisted on the basis of developing and grooming four-year players. In 2003, freshman Carmelo Anthony bucked that trend by carrying his Syracuse team to a national title. When David Stern instituted an age limit to participate professionally, impact players such as Greg Oden, Kevin Love and Derrick Rose may have only dipped their toes in the collegiate water, but the Final Four berths won’t soon be forgotten.

This upcoming season, college basketball hasn’t been gutted as dramatically as in the past. Assumed lottery picks passed on the immediate NBA riches whether in fears of a prolonged lockout or simply to accomplish goals left unmet. A plethora of battle-tested seniors also make their dramatic return. Despite this welcomed development, freshmen will still have their say in who grabs the four all-important #1 seeds and who ultimately graces the hardwood in Indianapolis next April.

Here are the ten teams primed to receive a substantial contribution from their talented newcomers this upcoming season:

1. Kentucky- Brandon Knight is the latest Calipari-coached freshman to bolt early for the pros. Luckily for Big Blue, their coach’s recruiting skills hasn’t eroded in the least bit. In pretty much any other freshman class in the country, Kyle Wiltjer would top the list; in Lexington, he’s easily the fourth-best rookie on the squad. The headliner is center Anthony Davis, the early favorite to be selected first overall in the 2012 NBA Draft.  The Chicago native reminds many scouts of a young Kevin Garnett with his tremendous versatility, remarkable athleticism and exceptional rebounding abilities. Formerly a lightly-recruited guard prior to a timely growth spurt, Davis is more than comfortable handling the ball around the perimeter. Taking over at point guard for Knight is Marquis Teague, a lightning-fast lead guard and the younger brother of former Wake Forest and current Hawks reserve Jeff Teague. Teague is a better fit for Calipari’s preferred dribble-drive motion offense than the ball-screen dependent Knight. The third potential freshman starter is St. Patrick’s own Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Gilchrist is an intense competitor and will be absolute joy for Calipari to coach. Witjer should prove a valuable backup big man with a refined perimeter game.

Anthony Davis/kentuckysportsradio.com

2. Duke- Losing your three most productive players – two face-of-the-program seniors and a point guard that just happened to be chosen #1 overall — would result in a multi-year rebuilding process at most schools. Most schools aren’t Duke, and the Blue Devils are once again expected to compete in the top ten. The biggest reason why is Austin Rivers. Easily the best scoring guard in the freshman ranks, Rivers is a legitimate threat to average 17-20 PPG during his first (and likely only) season in Durham. Rivers does possess the ability to create his own shot, but could struggle to get opportune looks until Seth Curry develops a comfort level at point guard. Oak Hill’s Quinn Cook is expected to compete for minutes at the point once he recovers from a knee injury. He appears destined to be Duke’s floor general of the future. Cook is a born leader that has one priority: to create scoring opportunities for his teammates. How deep Coach K opts to utilize his bench will determine the playing time of wings Michael Gbinije and Alex Murphy, along with the third Plumlee brother, Marshall Plumlee. All three will be regular contributors down the road. Once Murphy develops some strength, he could be the best of the lot as a scoring threat with sneaky athleticism.

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