ATB: Upset Night in the Mid-South

Posted by rtmsf on December 15th, 2010

The Lede.  Is there such a thing as an RTC Jinx?  Some might think so after a couple of our recent feature articles.  On Monday, we wrote a piece discussing how a couple of coaches who endured fairly miserable offseasons have turned water to wine with their teams so far this year — Louisville’s Rick Pitino and Tennessee’s Bruce Pearl.  On Tuesday, Zach Hayes split the difference with his Contenders & Pretenders article, putting the Vols as a top contender while categorizing the Cards as a pretender.   Of course, the thematic logic behind these articles still hold — Pearl and Pitino are having good seasons and UT is still a contender — but with both teams suffering pronounced home upsets against true mid-majors tonight, we’re starting to wonder if the RTC jinx is in effect.

Tough Night in Knoxville (GoVolsXtra)

Your Watercooler MomentThe Burden of Expectations Doesn’t Suit Bruce Pearl.  There’s no doubt that Bruce Pearl is a phenomenal coach.  The fact that he’s made Tennessee basketball (on the men’s side) relevant in the sport is all anyone really needs to say.  He’s won 133 games in six years, put up a banner for an SEC regular season championship, gotten the Vols to an Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament, and repeatedly knocked off elite teams in regular season matchups.  But he’s at his best when little is expected of him and his team.  During his first year in Knoxville, with UT coming off a 14-17 season the year before, the Vols throttled #2 Texas in an early-season matchup in Knoxville.  A couple of years later, his team went into #1 Memphis’ house and knocked the cocky Tigers off their perch.  Just last year, mere days after his team imploded as a result of the Tyler Smith guns/drugs fiasco, Tennessee knocked off #1 Kansas.  On Saturday, as we all still have fresh in our minds, the Vols blew up #3 Pittsburgh in their own backyard.  When Pearl can convince his team that they’re their backs are up against the wall, that nobody believes in them, that they’re the plucky little underdogs from down south… he’s fantastic.  When instead his team is suddenly thrust in the role of The Hunted, as the Vols are every time they defeat one of the above list of teams, they fall, and they fall hard.  Whether Oklahoma State, Vanderbilt, a bad Kentucky team or Oakland, Tennessee just isn’t comfortable playing the part of alpha dog.  And until they shed that mentality, they’ll never become a serious contender for the national championship.

Upset of the Night #1Oakland 89, Tennessee 82.  Obviously, any time a top ten team loses to a mid-major, even one with an NBA draft pick such as Keith Benson on its roster, it’s a major upset.  This had all the makings of a trap game, with Tennessee coming off its huge upset victory over Pittsburgh last weekend, and the Golden Grizzlies entering Knoxville as a two-time NCAA participant having already played the likes of Michigan State, West Virginia, Purdue and Illinois.  They hadn’t actually beaten any of those teams,  although Greg Kampe’s team came painfully close over the weekend against MSU.  Oakland wasn’t fazed when they found themselves down eleven at halftime tonight, nor did they get rattled when Benson cooled off after a 20-point first half (he finished with 26/10).  Instead, they actually got better, using the quickness of Ledrick Eackles and Larry Wright to break down the UT defense and get easy looks for everyone else.  A 13-0 Oakland run in the late second half put the GGs ahead for good, as a shocked Tennessee crowd endured both the men’s and women’s teams losing on the same dark, cold evening.  There are several reasons for this upset win on both sides, but if you wanted to point fingers at something other than the dreaded Letdown, try looking directly at Scotty Hopson.  The UT star who was transcendent on Saturday must have been reading about himself in the interim, because he played more like the same old inconsistent player of old (1-7 for seven points) than this year’s new, improved version.  The other issue tonight was Tennessee’s defense — the swarming spaghetti monster of arms and legs that we saw over the weekend looked frozen in place tonight, and Oakland exploited the Vol statues, hitting for 54%, the season high against the UT defense by far.  As UT’s Melvin Goins said after the game, “the hunger wasn’t there as much [as against Pitt].”  And therein lies the difference between a very good and a great team — the great ones stay hungry, even against schools named Oakland.

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Checking in on… the SEC

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 8th, 2010

Jared Quillen is the RTC correspondent for the SEC.

A Look Back

  • Count me as one who didn’t see Festus Ezeli coming.  Vanderbilt’s player with the coolest name in the Southeastern Conference was named SEC player of the week for his superior play against Western Kentucky and Belmont, averaging 19.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.0 blocks including a 24/10 performance against Belmont.  He now sports numbers of 13.3 points, 7.8 rebounds and two blocks per game.   And he’s doing it in only 21.3 minutes an outing.   He also leads the SEC in field goal percentage at 67.7%.  No bad for a guy who last year averaged 3.8 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per contest.  I for one was critical of Vanderbilit in the preseason claiming they would be weak inside after losing AJ Ogilvy.  Uncle Festus has done a fantastic job thus far and will be pivotal in some of the close SEC contests that Vanderbilt is likely to face in the stacked SEC East.
  • Speaking of Vanderbilt, three different Vanderbilt players — Brad Tinsley, John Jenkins and Festus Ezeli — have been named player of the week.  Tennessee’s Scotty Hopson is the only other player in the league to be given the honor.  Also, Kentucky’s Terrence Jones and Tennessee’s Tobias Harris have been trading off freshman of the week honors.  If the pattern holds, it’s Jones’ week, a sight Wildcats fans would welcome after Jones’ horrendous 3-17 foul-out performance against North Carolina on Saturday.
  • In other Wildcat news, after Auburn football’s Cam Newton was declared eligible by the NCAA, the University of Kentucky opted to re-submit their case for Enes Kanter’s eligibility from a different angle rather than go through the appeals process.  The NCAA explained their decision to allow Newton to play by stating that there was no evidence that Newton had any idea that his father was shopping his skills to universities for pay.  In the NCAA’s eyes, as Newton was unaware that there was any issue with his amateurism, he should remain eligible to play.  UK hopes that the NCAA will hold form in what it sees as a similar case with a precedent and pass down a favorable ruling on Kanter, who is a Turkish national that received benefits above expenses while playing for a professional team in his homeland.  Kanter, his family and the school maintain that Kanter intended to play college basketball all along and did not intentionally violate any rules.  The NCAA allows foreign players to play on professional teams and maintain their amateurism so long as they do not receive benefits above expenses.
  • Auburn and Missisippi State have yet to play a road game.  Auburn at least will head to Pittsburgh to play Rutgers in a neutral site game as part of the SEC/Big East Invitational.  Mississippi State, however, will be relaxing at home this week as they won’t hit the road until December 18, when they face Virginia Tech.  Hey, isn’t that when Renardo Sidney finally plays?

Power Rankings

  1. Tennessee (6-0): Tennessee is the lone undefeated team in the SEC.  Plus they didn’t play this week, which means their record went untarnished.  The Volunteers are taking an 11-day break while they prepare for Pittsburgh.  I guess it’s kind of tough to recover after facing Middle Tennessee at home.
  2. Vanderbilt (7-1): Vanderbilt just keeps climbing.  Their only loss is to West Virginia.  No shame in that, and should they beat Missouri on Wednesday, they are all but guaranteed a top 25 ranking – A pleasant surprise for a team that was picked to finish fifth in East by the media, this writer included.
  3. South Carolina (6-1): Like Vanderbilt, South Carolina continues to impress.  Their sole blemish is a hard-fought loss to Michigan State in their second game of the year.  Again, no shame in that.  This week, they beat Delaware State and then beat Clemson in a 64-60 thriller that came down to the final minute, just the way you like to beat an in-state rival.
  4. Georgia (6-2) After two straight tough losses to Notre Dame and Temple, Georgia has won three in a row.  One of those is a three-point win against Manhattan, a team that is now 2-6 and hasn’t made the Tournament since 2004.  Georgia followed that up with a 66-64 win over UAB and a 73-72 close call against rival Geogia Tech.  With Trey Thompkins playing better after a couple of unsteady early games, all should be back on track in Athens.  Thompkins is averaging 19.7 points and 7.7 rebounds and shooting well after scoring 13 in each of his first two games on 37% from the field.
  5. Kentucky (5-2): What to do with Kentucky?  They lost to North Carolina in their only game this week, so perhaps they should go lower than some other teams on this list, but to drop them to sixth or below seems absurd.  Kentucky had no answer for Tyler Zeller on Saturday and the hole inside became a gaping chasm on Saturday when big men Terrence Jones, Josh Harrellson and Eloy Vargas combined for 15 fouls, 3 turnovers, 1 assist and only 13 points on 5-19 shooting.  I can hear the “Free Enes” chants coming from UK’s campus even with my headphones blasting Smashing Pumpkins.  (Hey, I’m a nineties kid).
  6. Arkansas (5-1): Arkansas went 2-0 this week against Oklahoma and Troy.  But then again, who in the SEC hasn’t beaten these teams?  Kentucky beat Oklahoma and the Sooners have lost four since and the SEC is beating up on Troy left and right.  The Trojans have already taken their licks from Alabama and Mississippi State and now Arkansas.  Their lone win is against Division-II Huntington (AL).  Coach Pelphrey, I’d love to rank you higher this week, but I can’t against these teams.  Come back with a couple more wins next week and we’ll talk.
  7. Florida (6-2): The Gators lost to Central Florida after eking out a close one against Florida State.  I know they went and pummeled American just after that and I know UCF is now 7-0, but I also know that a team with Florida’s talent shouldn’t be dropping games like that.  When starting forwards Alex Tyus and Chandler Parsons combine to go 1-14 against much smaller competition, there are problems.  Furthermore, I didn’t think it was possible, but Kenny Boynton is even worse from three this year than last year.  He is currently shooting 26.5 percent, compared to 29.4 percent in 2009-10.  Dreadful.  I wasn’t convinced this group of Gators was much better than last year’s, when the media was picking them to win the SEC and possibly make a Final Four run and they are proving me the wiser.  Step it up, Florida.  There’s a lot of work to be done before conference play starts.
  8. Mississippi (4-2): Luckily for the Rebels, Chris Warren can make those off-balance threes when they matter.  Well, at least against Southern Mississippi he can.  He’s only shooting 28 percent on the year from three, but he shot 4-9 from deep against Southern Miss in his best game this season.  That’s a good win for Mississippi against a quality opponent.  Look for Southern Mississippi to do good things in Conference USA this year.
  9. Mississippi State (4-1): The Bulldogs didn’t play this week, but Ravern Johnson still leads the SEC in scoring at 25.4 per game, and he’s got plenty of breathing room.  Kentucky’s Terrence Jones is second at 19.0 points per game.  Additionally, Kodi Augustus continues to lead the league in rebounding at 10.8 per game.
  10. LSU (5-2): Also didn’t play anyone this week.  The Tigers have been on the road exactly once so far, against South Alabama. They return to the Maravich to square off against the Central Michigan Chippewas in the second of seven straight home games. Show me something, Trent Johnson.
  11. Auburn (3-4) Well, this is the first week Auburn hasn’t been in last place.  I’m not totally sure they deserve the honor, if you want to call it that.  It’s never impressive to see a Division-II team on the schedule.  Auburn beat Georgia Southwestern and Arkansas-Pine Bluff this week, both at home.  I guess when you’re playing the tough ones, you want to give yourself that homecourt advantage.
  12. Alabama (4-4) The Tide beat South Alabama 72-50 and then got worked over by Purdue 66-47 in a game in which they went 0-9 from three.  I really thought Alabama was going to be better than this.  The three-point shooting is terrible and they turn the ball over too much.  And it’s not like they’ve played the toughest competition.  Purdue is the first team Alabama has played that should have had a shot at beating the Tide.  On the bright side, I’m sure they’ll jump back in front of in-state rival Auburn next week.

A Look Ahead

The SEC/Big East Invitational is this week and can I just say that this event has turned out to be a major disappointment on the part of the conference’s planners.  Here is the lineup this year:

  • 12/8: Arkansas vs. Seton Hall, Kentucky vs. Notre Dame
  • 12/11: Auburn vs. Rutgers, Tennessee vs. Pittsburgh

As my father used to say about my shoddy yardwork, “This ain’t cuttin’ it.”  Can we please get some kind of a legitimate invitational here?  The matchups in this series are continually disappointing.  We’re lucky that Notre Dame has been surprisingly good this year, or the Tennessee/Pitt game would be the only one worth watching.  There are 28 teams between these two conferences and these are the eight teams they schedule?  Where are Florida, Georgia, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt?  Where are Syracuse, Connecticut, Louisville, Georgetown, and Villanova?  Instead of providing us with some marquee publicity-generating matchups, we are given perennial cellar dwellers Auburn, Rutgers and Seton Hall.  Really?  As I said, it ain’t cuttin’ it.

Other Important Games this Week

  • 12/8 – Vanderbilt at Missouri: If Vanderbilt picks up a win here and wins the games they are supposed to through the rest of the preseason, they’ve probably all but assured themselves an NCAA Tournament bid.  All that’s left is the seeding.
  • 12/11 – Kentucky vs. Indiana: Twelve championships between them and a long-standing history of hoops tradition. What’s not to like?
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Checking in on.. the SEC

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 1st, 2010


Jared Quillen is the RTC correspondent for the SEC.

A Look Back

  • So Bruce Pearl gets slapped with an eight game suspension and what does Tennessee do but turn around and win the NIT Tip-Off championship.  Last year, Bruce Pearl dismissed Tyler Smith from the team after he was arrested on misdemeanor gun and drug charges and suspended Cameron Tatum, Melvin Goins and Brian Williams, who were all arrested with Smith.  How did Tennessee respond then?  They held #1 Kansas to 38 percent shooting and beat the Jayhawks 76-68.  Tatum, Goins and Williams were reinstated and Tennessee went on to the NCAA Elite Eight, the Volunteers’ best finish in the NCAA Tournament in the history of the program.  Talk about responding to adversity.  Hey, maybe if Tennessee fields an all walk-on team with Richard Simmons as head coach they’ll make a Final Four appearance.
  • NBA scouts are abuzz about Kentucky’s Terrence Jones who has probably played his way into top five pick status.  He handles the ball as well as any big man in America and in three games against Oklahoma, Washington, and Connecticut he averaged 23 points, 11.3 rebounds and 3.3 blocks, good enough for SEC freshman of the week honors.
  • As I have said before, the East is much stronger than the West and I’m going to continue to harp on it.  The East has three teams in the RTC top 25 (Kentucky #14, Tennessee #15, Florida #19).  The West has none.  While I do expect Mississippi State to enter the top 25 at some point, I’m not sure if any other team from the West will get a sniff at it.
  • As of now the SEC East is 29-6 (.829) with no bad losses.  By way of contrast, the SEC West is 19-12 (.613).  Ok so they’re not the NFC West, but they definitely need to step it up.  The West already has the following losses:


  • LSU 53 Nicholls State 62
  • Arkansas 65 UAB 70
  • Alabama 78 Seton Hall 83
  • Alabama 47 Iowa 55


  • LSU 53 Nicholls State 62
  • Alabama 49 St. Peters 50 (St Who?)
  • Auburn 69 UNC Asheville 70
  • Auburn 68 Samford (and son?) 79
  • Auburn 54 Campbell 61
  • Auburn 55 Jacksonville 55
  • Mississippi State 59 Florida Atlantic 61

I’m not giving Mississippi State a bye on their loss to Florida Atlantic even if they’re playing shorthanded.  There should still be plenty of talent here to beat a team that lost to American University.

  • Time will tell if Mississippi’s loss to Dayton will look bad as the season progresses.  It’s not looking good right now though.  A week after beating Mississippi, the Flyers were doubled up by Cincinnati 68-34 in a mercy killing.  Losing to a very average Miami (FL) team doesn’t help the Rebels either.  Mississippi’s 78-71 win over Murray State is the West’s best win so far.  Murray State is now 3-3 and will have to win a lot of games the rest of the way to help Mississippi’s reputation.

Power Rankings

So let’s get down to business here.

  1. Tennessee (5-0): Can there be any question here?  Scotty Hopson was named the SEC’s Player of the Week as he averaged 18.0 points, 6.0 rebounds and 2.5 assists while leading the Volunteers to the NIT Tip-Off championship.  He was also named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, leading his team to victories over VCU and then seventh ranked Villanova, whom they held to 34.5 percent.  If history holds, Tennessee will probably be holding teams to 25 percent once Brucey’s suspension begins.
  2. Florida (5-1): took care of business this week getting wins against in-state foes Florida Atlantic at home and Florida State away.  The 55-51 win over the Seminoles wasn’t pretty, though.  The Gators shot only 38.1 percent from the field and had 17 turnovers to only 8 assists.  You’re usually lucky to come away with the win in a game like that, especially on the road.  But a good road win it is for the Gators.
  3. Vanderbilt (5-1): Unfortunately, the shine on that win over North Carolina is already coming off.  UNC played a close one against College of Charleston this week and then lost in a game that they never even showed up for at Illinois.  All Vanderbilt did this week was trample one of the worst teams in the country, Grambling State, 92-59 in a game in which they outrebounded the Tigers 60-21.  They followed that up with an 86-73 win over Appalachian State.  Not bad for a week’s work.
  4. Kentucky (4-1): Well, the Wildcats got a great win over Washington 74-67, but they laid an egg the next night against a surprising Connecticut team that had beaten then-#2 Michigan State the previous night.  Kentucky allowed Connecticut to shoot 57.7 percent while only shooting 36.7 percent themselves.  After the Wildcats’ first game, Doron Lamb stated that the Cats hoped to be the best shooting team in the nation.  I guess he wasn’t talking about free throw shooting.  Prior to Kentucky’s game against Boston the Cats were shooting an embarrassing 59.7 percent from the line.  Insert Calipari teams’ free throw shooting comment here.  Against Boston, the Wildcats shot 59.3 percent from the field, 62.5 percent from three and 70.8 percent from the line.
  5. LSU (5-2): Three wins this week, albeit against Centenary, South Alabama and Houston, is good enough to be the highest ranked team out of the West.  LSU doubled up Centenary 78-36.  Now I don’t care if Centenary’s 0-6, anytime you double up a team and hold them to 28.3 percent shooting, you’ve played well.   LSU beat the teams they were supposed to beat, soundly.
  6. South Carolina (4-1): The Gamecocks picked up a couple of wins this week by beating South Carolina Upstate 57-41 and Western Kentucky 87-85.  I’ve said it before.  I like these Cocks.  They are leading the nation in rebounding at 49.2 per game.  Rebounding comes down to hustle and this team has it.  Who knows, keep winning in the preseason and maybe there is a tournament bid for this team, but it’s an uphill battle in the stacked East.
  7. Mississippi State (4-1): An overtime win over lowly Troy (1-4) this week isn’t anything to write home about, especially since the Bulldogs took their first lead in the game against the Trojans with only 4:54 to play.  The Trojans also had a 51-38 rebounding advantage over State and that’s just unacceptable, I don’t care who is missing from your starting lineup.  And apparently there aren’t enough guns on this team to get past the likes of Florida Atlantic. After losing to FAU, it looks like the Bulldogs need Dee Bost and Renardo Sidney more than we thought.  In the mean time, Ravern Johnson is playing like a star and never getting a breather.  Prior to the loss to Florida Atlantic, Johnson was averaging 27.3 points per game, good enough for first in the SEC and fifth in the nation.  Johnson is also averaging 38.3 minutes, 4.5 rebounds and shooting 56.3 percent from three.
  8. Alabama (3-3): Well, at least they didn’t have to face St. Peter’s again this week.  Alabama beat Alabama A&M 76-50.  Here’s a tidbit. Tony Mitchell is the model of consistency.  He’s had between 12 and 15 points in all five games this season and had a 12/15 night against A&M.  Despite losing three games early this is still a team that I think will pull themselves together and finish strong.  A dominating win over the Bulldogs was a step in the right direction.
  9. Arkansas (4-1): Not much exciting going on here.  They beat Southeast Missouri State, a team that is now 0-6, and then lost to UAB.  What I do find interesting is that coach John Pelphrey is playing eleven guys at least eleven minutes a game.  Now that’s going deep.
  10. Mississippi (5-2): I’ve already picked on Mississippi, so there’s no need to get into that further except for to say that when you play a weak preseason schedule, coach Andy Kennedy, you really pay the price when you lose to those same weak teams.  Especially when there are no opportunities to make up for those losses with a quality win or two.
  11. Georgia (4-2): came out and got what looked like a good win against Colorado without Trey Thompkins and then it turned out that Colorado’s not any good.  So all they have to hang their hat on now is a hard fought loss to Old Spice Classic champion Notre Dame. They followed that loss with a loss to Temple.  At least they beat Manhattan (2-4) by three.  Thompkins just hasn’t been himself since returning from injury.  He’s shooting only 40 percent from the field and scoring 14.7 per game.  That’s 3 points less than his average last year.  Prior to his return, the Bulldogs were 3-0, since returning, 2-1.  I don’t get it.  This guy was the media’s pick for preseason conference player of the year.
  12. Auburn (2-4): I feel for Auburn.  I really do.  They lost their entire team from last year, and they weren’t any good last year.  And then this year, they lost their top two recruits, Shawn Kemp Jr. and Luke Cothron, to ineligibility.  That said, there is a time and a place to play Division II teams and it’s called practice.  There is nothing to be gained by beating Georgia Southwestern.  It doesn’t help your team gain confidence to beat a D-II team and it does nothing for the selection committee at the end of the year as they don’t factor in wins against lower division schools.  Furthermore, if you do lose to a lower division team, you look awful.  Don’t do it again, Coach Barbee.

A Look Ahead

  • Kentucky takes on North Carolina on Saturday, and even though UNC is looking pretty weak as of late, this is one of those games that both teams really want and when you’ve got two of the all-time winningest programs on the same court, you watch, period.
  • Alabama plays Purdue on Saturday.  If the Tide want to salvage their preseason, this is the game to do it.  Beat Purdue, and there’s still an outside chance at an NCAA berth, lose and they may have to get 12 wins in conference play.
  • Like Georgia against Colorado, Arkansas vs. Oklahoma Wednesday night is a game that has less value today than it did when it was announced, with Oklahoma going through a nightmare in Maui. Creampuffs dilute the rest of the action this week, but next week will see some fantastic SEC basketball.
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Checking in on… the SEC

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 23rd, 2010

Jared Quillen is the RTC correspondent for the SEC.

A Look Back

The biggest story out of the SEC this week is the Southeastern Conference’s suspension of Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl for the first eight games of conference play.  Pearl hosted recruit Aaron Craft at his home contrary to NCAA rules and misled investigators about a picture that was taken with Craft during the visit.  Pearl also admitted to making excessive recruiting phone calls.  For his sins, the Tennessee will reduce Pearl’s pay by a total of $1.5 million over the next five years and he is not allowed to recruit off campus for one year.  Pearl got a pretty stiff punishment here, but this should come as no surprise.  The NCAA is still considering the matter and may impose additional penalties in December when it releases its findings.

Tennessee has no desire to let Pearl go despite his misdeeds.  He has won a lot of games in Knoxville and he is a great recruiter.  The problem now is that there is a question mark as to how good he is at recruiting if he plays by the rules.  Pearl is on a short leash and the university has made it clear – any more violations, and he’s out.

Pearl should have known better from previous incidents and it is likely the NCAA will impose additional punishments.  There are two universal truths in this life: one, the NCAA hates being left out of the punishment game when a violation has occurred, particularly for repeat offenders, and two, the NCAA hates recruiting violations.  If you want to get your team in a heap of trouble, the fastest way to do it is through recruiting violations.  Indiana is still suffering from the Kelvin Sampson disaster, a fellow repeat offender.  Indiana is likely to miss the NCAA Tournament for a third straight year due to Sampson’s cheating.  Time will tell if the NCAA’s sanctions will have such an effect on Tennessee.  The moral of the story, keep it clean out there, coaches.

In other news, Georgia is playing well despite the loss of star Trey Thompkins who is out with a high ankle sprain.  The Bulldogs got a good win against a talented Colorado team that should make the NCAA Tournament this year.  The Bulldogs are currently 4-0, but Thompkins was recently cleared to practice.

In the preseason primer, I predicted Enes Kanter would be eligible for Kentucky.  Seeking to make me look the fool, the NCAA saw otherwise.  While the NCAA and Kentucky do agree on the facts of the case, that Enes Kanter received payment for play while in his native Turkey, they disagree on the interpretation of NCAA rules, Kentucky obviously believing Kanter deserves to play.  The NCAA ruled that he received benefits over and above necessary expenses and declared him “permanently ineligible,” a big blow to the Wildcats’ plans to win a second straight SEC crown and an eighth National championship.  John Calipari stated that he was not happy with the NCAA’s decision but that he respected it.  Following Kentucky’s 88-65 win over East Tennessee State, Alan Cutler, a Lexington sports reporter, opened the press conference by asking Calipari’s opinion on the matter.  Calipari was noticeably frustrated and responded, “Didn’t we just play a game?”  The school will appeal the decision.

Power Rankings

    1. Kentucky (3-0) opened the season with a pasting of East Tennessee State 88-65 in which freshman Terrence Jones recorded a double-double scoring 25 points and collecting 12 rebounds.  On Monday night against Oklahoma, Jones recorded his second double-double by scoring 29 points and pulling down 13 rebounds to go along with 3 assists, two steals, and four blocks.  Apparently, Jones doesn’t like to see anyone else’s name on the stat sheet.  In between those two games, Kentucky trounced Portland 79-48 in a game in which the Wildcats scored the first 15 points of the game and were never challenged.  After three games, Kentucky leads the SEC in three-point field goal percentage and assist/turnover ratio, both weak points on last year’s squad.
    2. Arkansas (2-0) While I don’t expect the Razorbacks to remain at number two for very long, it’s hard to drop them lower than number two when they won their first two games against Grambling State and Florida Gulf Coast by an average margin of 33 points per game.  That’s the highest scoring margin in the SEC, and it’s not even close.  Guard Rotnei Clarke picked up right where he left off last year making five three pointers in his first game this season.  Through two games, Clarke is 10-23 from three point range and leads Arkansas in scoring at 17 points per game.
    3. Georgia is 3-0 record despite playing without preseason SEC POY pick Trey Thompkins.  Mark Fox can flat-out coach.  Underestimate him at your own peril.  He will have the Bulldogs competing all year long and no game against the ‘Dogs will be an easy one, with or without Thompkins.  In Thompkins’ absence, guard Travis Leslie has taken it upon himself to pick up the slack by leading Georgia in both points and rebounds at 18 and 8.3 per game, respectively.  Georgia will need Thompkins back soon, however, as the road gets tougher from here.  They next face Notre Dame in the Old Spice Classic which also features Temple, Wisconsin, California and Texas A&M.
    4. Mississippi State’s (3-0) Kodi Augustus is leading the SEC in rebounds at 11.0 RPG and is second in scoring at 20.0 PPG behind fellow Bulldog Ravern Johnson’s 25.5 PPG.  While they didn’t win big against Tennessee State, Appalachian State or Detroit, whom they defeated 75-65, 76-74 and 82-76, respectively, the Bulldogs are playing without guard Dee Bost and power forward Renardo Sydney.  Mississippi State will be very, very good once Sydney and Bost return and should be an exciting team to watch.
    5. Vanderbilt (3-1) whipped Presbyterian 88-47 in the Commodores season opener then beat Nebraska 59-49 and followed that up with a hard fought loss to West Virginia, 74-71.  The ‘Dores got what might have been a nice win against North Carolina if it had not been tainted by the fact that UNC had previously lost to Minnesota two days before.  Vanderbilt fans frequently chanted “overrated” as they taunted the Tar Heels in a game that Vandy led for all but a few moments.  The pollsters seemed to agree, dropping UNC to the 25 spot. Regardless, Vanderbilt made touted UNC freshman forward Harrison Barnes look bad as they held him to just 4-12 shooting.
    6. Tennessee (3-0)  Well, the Volunteers are undefeated but have yet to leave Knoxville.  They got a 20 point win over Chattanooga.  Beating Belmont by nine at home could be a little better, but it will do.  A lot of folks sounded alarm bells when the Vols lost their exhibition game against Indianapolis.  You can stop ringing the bells.  Exhibition wins and losses are meaningless.  These are tune-ups and coaches use them as such.  Tennessee’s real problems are off the court where Bruce Pearl’s indiscretions may prove costly down the road.  For now, Tennessee is playing well enough and should reach the finals of the NIT Preaseason Tip-Off following a win against VCU which I think they will get.  Oh, and that Tobias Harris kid is everything he was hyped up to be.  He currently leads Tennessee in scoring at 16.3 points per game, though he also leads in turnovers with 3.7 TPG.
    7. Florida (3-1).  How does the preseason SEC favorite end up number seven?  I think Doug Gottlieb summed it up well on Sunday when he said, “And then I saw them get pounded by Ohio State and I realized why all five starters returned.”  Florida easily handled UNC Wilmington, 77-60, in the Gators’ season opener but they followed it with an ugly loss to Ohio State in which they played the same uninspired defense that they played last year.  The Buckeyes easily beat Florida’s press and shot 62.9% in the game.  The Gators had no answer for Jared Sullinger inside who went 13-17 from the floor, nor for David Lighty who went 9-11.  You will recall that I expressed skepticism over Florida being tabbed as the SEC preseason favorite.  They appear to be the same team as last year in many respects, which makes sense as they have all the same players.  They still lack defensive intensity particularly inside.  Yes, they did pummel North Carolina A&T 105-55 following their loss to Ohio State and they got a quality win against NBA-bound Kenneth Faried’s Morehead State team, but I remain skeptical.  Florida shot only 26.3% from three point range and 38.9% overall in that game and Faried had his wicked way with Florida’s bigs scoring 20 points and pulling down 18 rebounds.  Patric Young was supposed to provide the inside game Florida was lacking but in four games for the Gators, he has yet to prove he is up to the job.  Get it together, Gators, or you’re going to make a lot of media folks feel very silly for picking you number one, not to mention those that picked the Gators as National Championship contenders.
    8. Mississippi (2-1) Ole Miss opened the year with a meaningless win over Arkansas State, which is currently 0-4 but then got a quality win over Ohio Valley Conference favorite Murray State behind guards Zach Graham‘s career high 22 points and Nick Williams’ 21 points.  The Rebels then lost a tough one against a quality Dayton team that came back from a 15 point second half deficit to win 78-71 by taking advantage of a 33 to 16 free throw opportunity disparity.  In the end I don’t expect this loss to cost Mississippi as a bad loss.  The problem, however, was this was Mississippi’s last chance to get a quality win against a non-conference opponent.  The rest of Ole Miss’s preseason schedule is cupcake city and since I expect the Rebels to be a bubble team this year, picking up another quality non-conference win was crucial.  It may take ten conference wins to make the Tournament now.  It sounds silly to say that so early, but that’s the situation that Mississippi puts itself in every year by continually playing one of weakest preseason schedules of any team in a major conference.
    9. South Carolina (2-1) After watching the Gamecocks lose to Michigan State 82-73 in a game they were never supposed to have a chance of winning anyway, I realized I really liked this team.  They played hard throughout and were never intimidated by the number two-ranked Spartans.  Michigan State forced them into 20 turnovers and the ‘Cocks shot poorly making only 35.7% from the field, but were able to get off 70 shots to State’s 53.  They battled and impressed me with their hunger.  The reality is that they just didn’t have the talent to keep up. Spartan’s loaded team.  This loss was sandwiched by dominating wins over Elon 95-79 and Radford 85-56.  If South Carolina continues to play this way, I may have to rethink the four SEC wins I predicted, even in the loaded SEC East.  Hard play always pays dividends.  Hey did anyone else notice that South Carolina replaced 5’9 leading scorer Devan Downey who shot 40% last year with 5’9 leading scorer Bruce Ellington, who is shoots 35.1% this year.  Ellington also averages three rebounds, 2.3 assists and four turnovers, nearly identical to Downey’s marks in the same categories.
    10. LSU (2-2) Well, it’s getting ugly down here towards the bottom.  What is there to say about LSU?  They opened with an 87-78 win over Northwestern State, and then lost to lowly Nicholls State 62-53.  LSU held Nicholls State to only 35.8% from the field and only seven assists, outrebounded the Colonels and blocked more shots, yet they still lost.  Perhaps that has something to do with the fact that NSU stole the ball from them 12 times.  When you can hold a team to only 35.8% and outrebound them by nine and still lose to that bad team, it’s going to be a long year.  There is some great young talent on this team in freshmen Andre Stringer and Ralston Turner who are leading the team in scoring at 15.8 and 12 points, respectively, but their shooting is horrendous at only 34 and 37%.  LSU managed to get a win over Tennessee-Martin 79-56 — no reason for excitement there — and a loss against Memphis.  It’s early, but I think the Tigers are still a year away.
    11. Alabama (2-3) While LSU is disappointing, Alabama is inexcusable.  Between talented players like JaMychal Green, Tony Mitchell, and Senario Hillman there is no reason Alabama should be on a three game losing streak to the likes of Seton Hall, Iowa and St. Peters.  Seton Hall was picked to finish seventh in the Big East and Iowa was picked last in the Big Ten in the Rush The Court conference primers.  Folks, I like Anthony Grant, but it’s getting ugly out there.  Alabama shot only 32.5% from the field in that loss to St. Peter’s, a game that was supposed to be a walk through.  Well, at least Alabama has wins against Florida A&M and Troy.  That’s got to count for something right?
    12. Auburn (1-3) When you open up with three straight losses to basketball giants like North Carolina-Asheville, Samford and Campbell, and your only win is a two point victory over a bad Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders team, it’s hard to find something to be positive about.  Because I like to find things to build on, I found something good. Sophomore guard Andre Malone is shooting lights-out from three point range, making 14-25 shots thus far.  Last year he shot a mere 20.7% from three.  After him, the Tigers are nothing to write home about.  Auburn is currently last in the SEC in scoring offense, scoring margin, field goal percentage and turnover margin, and are eleventh of twelve teams in field goal percentage defense, three point percentage defense, assists, steals, and turnover margin.  All of that amounts to Pomeroy’s lowest-ranked team in the Big Six conferences. Those numbers aren’t exactly against stellar teams.  Good luck to you Auburn, those predicted three SEC wins are all of a sudden looking pretty hard to come by.

      A Look Ahead

      Here are the key matchups for Southeastern Conference teams this week:

      • Georgia has a game they should win against Notre Dame in the Old Spice Classic on Thursday.  Assuming they do, they will face the winner of Temple and California on Friday, a quality opponent either way.  If they lose they face the loser of that same game.  A good early test no matter the outcome, but the win is necessary as the Old Spice Classic is Georgia’s last chance for some good non-conference wins.
      • Tennessee next plays a tough VCU team on Wednesday at 7:00 Eastern.  Win that and they take on the winner of Villanova/UCLA, (likely ‘Nova) in the championship of the NIT Season Tip-Off on Friday.  These two wins are important for Tennessee to keep their momentum going and stay positive in the face of the punishments handed down against their coach.
      • Kentucky’s foe tonight is Washington, a team that surely will want vengeance against the Wildcats for stealing away Terrence Jones and the now ineligible Enes Kanter, both of whom had previously committed to Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar before backing out and pledging allegiance to Calipari.  It’s must-see hoops TV tonight at 9:30 Eastern.

      Other Points of Interest

      • The SEC named Vanderbilt’s John Jenkins SEC Player of the Week after he averaged 21.7 points and 3 rebounds per game in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off in San Juan in games against Nebraska, West Virginia, and North Carolina.
      • Tennessee’s Tobias Harris, was named SEC Freshman of the Week after leading the Volunteers in scoring and rebounding at 16 and 7 in wins against Belmont and Missouri State.
      • Vanderbilt’s Brad Tinsley just barely got the triple double against Presbyterian in Vandy’s season opener with 11 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists, but it was good for Vanderbilt’s first one ever in its 110-year history.
      • There is a little disparity between the SEC East and the SEC West.  Maybe you’ve noticed.  Currently the SEC is 29-12 overall, but 17 of those wins and only three losses come from the SEC East against slightly superior competition than the West is playing.  The West is now 12-9. It’s time that the SEC adopt a conference tournament that seeds the best team against the worst rather than pitting the number one team in the East against the number six in the West.  This hurts the conference’s chances at getting five to six bids.  It also severely hurts the West’s chances of getting multiple bids as the top West teams must play the bottom East teams which while still at the bottom of the East are considerably better than the bottom of the West.  I am sure that come conference tournament time Mississippi State would much rather be facing off against the likes of Auburn or LSU than Vanderbilt or South Carolina, either of which could very well win a game or two in the conference tournament.
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      RTC Conference Primers: #5 – Southeastern Conference

      Posted by Brian Goodman on November 2nd, 2010

      Jared Quillen of is the RTC correspondent for the Southeastern Conference.

      Predicted Order of Finish

      SEC East

      • T1. Florida (11-5)
      • T1. Kentucky (11-5)
      • T1. Georgia (11-5)
      • 2. Tennessee (10-6)
      • 3. Vanderbilt (7-9)
      • 4. South Carolina (4-12)

      SEC West

      • 1. Mississippi State (12-4)
      • 2. Mississippi (9-7)
      • T3. Alabama (7-9)
      • T3. Arkansas (7-9)
      • 4. LSU (4-12)
      • 5. Auburn (3-13)

      All-Conference Team

      • G Brandon Knight – Kentucky
      • G Chris Warren – Mississippi
      • G Kenny Boynton – Florida
      • F Enes Kanter* – Kentucky (if eligible)
      • F Trey Thompkins – Georgia

      6th Man

      Travis Leslie – Georgia

      Impact Newcomers

      • G Brandon Knight – Kentucky
      • G Gerald Robinson – Georgia
      • F Patric Young – Florida
      • F Tobias Harris – Tennessee
      • C Renardo Sidney – Mississippi State

      Kentucky's Brandon Knight was a hot commodity as a late signee.

      What You Need To Know

      • There are a few things that the casual observer of the SEC may not be aware of but should consider:  Mississippi State in November is not the same Mississippi State that you will see in December, nor the one that you will see in January.  The Bulldogs will play their first nine games without Renardo Sidney, who will have waited out a lengthy suspension by the time he plays his first game.  Then, after five more games, Dee Bost will return to the lineup. You recall that he declared for the NBA Draft, failed to pull out by the NCAA’s deadline, lost his eligibility, went undrafted, and subsequently was reinstated with a 14-game suspension.  Don’t be surprised if the Bulldogs drop a game or two early in the season to a team they should beat.  It means nothing.  This will be a very good team that will be fun to watch as the season progresses.
      • Florida brings back a lot of experience.  That would be all five of Florida’s starters, to be exact, plus they add the very talented McDonalds All-American Patric Young.  Young will provide the size inside that Florida lacked last year.  That said, count me as one who is still a little skeptical of Florida’s chances at winning the league.  Lest we forget, Florida was not one but two Chandler Parsons prayers from missing the NCAA Tournament for a third straight year.  Furthermore, Florida lost in the first round to a good but not great BYU team that played a good but not great game.  Will Florida be good?  Definitely.  Great?  Well, that remains to be seen.
      • For those expecting Kentucky to repeat what they did last year because they replaced four freshmen stars with four new freshmen stars — think again.  This team is even younger than last year’s and noticeably smaller.  Look for the Wildcats to play much faster than last year and shoot better.  But DeMarcus Cousins, Patrick Patterson, Eric Bledsoe, and John Wall are hard to replace.  If Enes Kanter becomes eligible (as most believe he will) by conference play, then they will challenge for the league title; if not, they fight for second or third in the SEC East.  It all comes down to Kanter.
      • The SEC East is going to be very good this year.  Mississippi State gets the nod as champion simply because the East teams are going to beat up on each other like no other group of six teams in America.  I could see any one of Florida, Kentucky, Georgia or Tennessee winning the East.  I hate predicting only seven conference wins for a talented Vanderbilt squad, but I just don’t know where to place them when they have to play eaach of Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and Kentucky twice, plus Mississippi State.

      Predicted Champion

      Mississippi State (NCAA #2-Seed) – Mississippi State is the favorite by default as the East is going to be a bloodbath and the Bulldogs only play each Eastern division team once.  Playing in the weaker West division is certainly going to benefit Mississippi State as they won’t have to play Georgia, Tennessee, Florida, Kentucky and even Vanderbilt but once.  Renardo Sidney is going to be a force, especially in a conference light on dominant big men this year.  Add Dee Bost and Ravern Johnson in the back court to an improving Kodi Augustus and that’s a team that easily wins the West.  If the Bulldogs manage to win half of their games against the East, they probably win the overall league crown.

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      RTC 2010-11 Impact Players – Deep South Region

      Posted by rtmsf on October 14th, 2010

      It’s October.  The leaves are starting to turn colors.  Halloween candy is already in the stores.  There have been a few nights where you may have even turned on the heat.  Midnight Madness is imminent and RTC is full bore into the 2010-11 Season Preview materials headfirst.  For the second October in a row, we’re bringing you our RTC Impact Players series.  The braintrust has gone back and forth on this and we’ve finally settled on a group of sixty players throughout ten geographic regions of the country (five starters plus a sixth man) to represent the who and where of players you should be watching this season.  Seriously, if you haven’t seen every one of these players ball at least once by the end of February, then you need to figure out a way to get a better television package.  As always in a subjective analysis such as this, some of our decisions were difficult; many others were quite easy.  What we can say without reservation is that there is great talent in every corner of this nation of ours, and we’ll do our best to excavate it over the next five weeks in this series that will publish on Mondays and Thursdays.  Each time, we’ll also provide a list of some of the near-misses as well as the players we considered in each region, but as always, we welcome you guys, our faithful and very knowledgeable readers, to critique us in the comments.

      You can find all previous RTC 2010-11 Impact Players posts here.

      Deep South Region (GA, FL, AL, MS, LA)

      • Chris Warren – Sr, G – Ole Miss. Returning from a torn ACL he suffered just 12 games into his sophomore season in 2008-09, Ole Miss’ Chris Warren had some folks concerned after his first game back last season when he played only 27 minutes, scored just nine points, and struggled with a 3-11 shooting night against Arkansas-Little Rock. Six days later, though, he and his fellow Rebels cruised down to the Puerto Rico Tip-Off in San Juan, where Warren scored 16, 27 and 24 points, respectively, in wins against Indiana and Kansas State and a loss in the final to Villanova. He averaged just under 32 minutes over those three contests and shot a combined 23-45, and, perhaps more importantly, put to bed any remaining fears about the status of that knee. Warren would go on to start all 35 games last year, average 32.9 MPG (tops on his team) and put up only two other single-digit scoring efforts for the whole season. His 17.2 PPG from last season means he’s the second-leading returning scorer in the SEC, trailing only Georgia’s Trey Thompkins by half of a point. When you hear numbers like this, it’s easy to forget that the guy’s doing all this as a 5’10 point guard, another testament to his toughness. Despite his role at the point, ignoring his outside shot isn’t recommended, either; he finished 14th in the nation with 3.4 threes per game, and led the SEC in three-point shooting in league games at 43.8%. Warren’s achievements earned him an all-SEC second team slot last year and we’re certain to see him on the Bob Cousy Award nominee list (again), and wouldn’t be surprised to see him as a finalist. If Mississippi is to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in nine years, head coach Andy Kennedy will need that kind of final season from his floor leader.

      You May Not Yet Know Thompkins, But You Will

      • Trey Thompkins – Jr, F – Georgia. After toiling behind Florida and Kentucky for years in the SEC, Mark Fox has the Bulldogs poised for a resurgence. While many Georgia fans are focused on the recruitment of Kentavious Caldwell and Julian Royal this year, Thompkins along with Travis Leslie (below) could lead the Bulldogs back to the NCAA Tournament. After an exceptional sophomore season where he averaged 17.7 PPG and 8.3 RPG and briefly considered leaving Athens to enter the NBA Draft, Thompkins has a legitimate chance at being a 20/10 player this year, which is something that only Artsiom Parakhouski and Omar Samhan did last year and neither Radford nor St. Mary’s play in the SEC. Most NBA Draft experts already had Thompkins pegged as a borderline first round pick after last season and he should only improve on that as he continues to refine his game. With his combination of a solid outside game to match a developing inside game Thompkins has more than made up for his primary weakness—his relative lack of explosiveness—to become one of the top power forwards in the country. Unfortunately that was hidden from most of the country as the Bulldogs were buried on regional coverage as they managed a meager five SEC wins last season. If Leslie learns to translate some of that athleticism into a more complete overall game and Fox is able to get production out of freshman Marcus Thornton and transfer Gerald Robinson, the Bulldogs could be in the second tier of SEC teams this year just being UF and UK, but still in the spotlight enough that we get to see much more of Thompkins. Although you will probably see more of Leslie on ESPN’s highlight reel-laden recaps on television, if you look at the box score you will end up seeing that it is more likely that Thompkins did the majority of the hard work. Now that Patrick Patterson and DeMarcus Cousins have left Kentucky, Thompkins should be the top inside player in the SEC (at least until the NCAA figures out what to do with Enes Kanter) and has a chance to contend for SEC Player of the Year.

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      Let’s Kick It Off: Observing a College Football Weekend Through A Hoops Lens

      Posted by rtmsf on September 2nd, 2010

      Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-10 Conferences and an occasional contributor.

      Hooray! Today is the official end of the Great Sports Desert – you know, that period of time between the first Monday in April and the first weekend of the college football season. Beginning tonight, there are actual meaningful sporting events that I am interested in. Let’s be clear, I love college football. Easily my second favorite sport. But, I’m a college hoops junkie first and foremost, and part of the reason I love the start of college football season is because that means that the start of college basketball is within shouting distance from here. And, while looking over the slate of college football games this weekend, I couldn’t help but imagine some of these matchups as college basketball games. So, here I have, in reverse order, the ten most intriguing matchups of the college football weekend, provided they are re-imagined as season openers in basketball season.  (ed. note: yes, he is sick, but we love him for it)

      College Sports is Back on the Calendar!

      First, a nod to a handful of games which, being a junkie and all, definitely appeal to me, but were just a bit off of my top-10 list:

      • Pittsburgh @ Utah – on Thursday night, with only six other games on. If this was basketball season, and there were only six other games on, you could bet I’d watch some of this. Sure, Utah isn’t going to be very good, but it would be interesting to see Pitt go on the road early into a hostile environment.
      • Murray State @ Kent State – a very good mid-major matchup between one of last season’s Cinderellas and one of the MAC’s always competitive teams.
      • Connecticut @ Michigan – this game just sounds really good, but in reality, UConn is down and Michigan is, well, I would say Michigan is down, but its been awhile since they’ve been up.
      • Richmond @ Virginia – a big intrastate matchup between the A-10 and the ACC. If Virginia was just a little bit better, this may have made the cut, because UR will be very good again, but a road trip into the John Paul Jones Arena would be a good early test for Kevin Anderson and company.
      • Northwestern @ Vanderbilt – as enticing as this Wildcat/Commodore matchup would be between two talented teams with NCAA Tournament hopes, this just misses the cut.

      And on to the top 10:

      • #10 – Washington State @ Oklahoma StateKlay Thompson, Reggie Moore and DeAngelo Casto invade the Gallagher-Iba Arena to provide a good early season test for a young Cowboy squad minus last season’s two leading scorers. While the young Cowboy guards Ray Penn and Keiton Page keep this close throughout, too much Thompson eventually does them in.

      Predicted Football Score: Oklahoma State 31 Washington State 10

      Predicted Basketball Score: Washington State 72 Oklahoma State 66

      • #9 – UCLA @ Kansas State – Kansas State is one of the teams on the short list of national title contenders. UCLA is, well, honestly, not very good at least judging by last season’s performance. But, they’re still UCLA. And their frontline of Reeves Nelson, Josh Smith and Tyler Honeycutt will test Curtis Kelly, Wally Judge and company, perhaps even to a draw. We’ll also get a first chance to see if the Bruins have even remotely solved their problems at the point, an area of concern that will eventually be the deciding factor in this matchup as Jacob Pullen eventually gets over on Malcolm Lee and the Wildcats pull away in the second half.

      Pullen is Back With Another Strong Team

      Predicted Football Score: UCLA 23 Kansas State 17

      Predicted Basketball Score: Kansas State 70 UCLA 60

      • #8 – Syracuse @ AkronJim Boeheim taking his Orange on the road early against a Midwest mid-major? Sure, that’ll happen. But, if it did, I’d be thrilled to see my first glimpse of Syracuse freshman center Fab Melo battling the Zips own young center, sophomore seven-footer Zeke Marshall. Sure, the Orange’s talent would probably win out in the end with Akron not having an answer for Kris Joseph, but I’m pretty sure that we’d get at least 30 minutes of pretty compelling basketball here.

      Predicted Football Score: Syracuse 24, Akron 20

      Predicted Basketball Score: Syracuse 67 Akron 55

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      20 At The Top: SEC Player Rankings

      Posted by zhayes9 on August 13th, 2010

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

      For the entire 20 At The Top series, click here.

      As long as the coaching spectrum around the SEC remains stable, there’s little reason to believe that the conference should ever experience a disastrous season similar to what occurred three years ago when a 4-12 Georgia team won four games in four days to take the tournament crown. The main reasons: coaching and recruiting. Since that time, John Calipari replaced Billy Gillispie as the head honcho at Kentucky and has immediately pulled off previously unforeseen recruiting escapades. Mark Gottfried has been let go and young Anthony Grant with his string of success at VCU has a bright future. Jeff Lebo is gone for Tony Barbee, a Calipari disciple. Exit: Dennis Felton. Enter: Mark Fox, who has already lured a top-15 player for 2011 to Athens. Veterans Bruce Pearl and Billy Donovan can recruit and coach toe-to-toe with the best in the business. Kevin Stallings at Vanderbilt is one of the best X’s and O’s coaches around and just two summers ago talked John Jenkins into a commitment. Trent Johnson, Billy Kennedy, Rick Stansbury, Darrin Horn and John Pelphrey (right now his inclusion might be a stretch) are not exactly slouches either. This collection of intelligent, charismatic and successful coaches should keep SEC basketball respected somewhere in the vicinity of its football brethren for the near future.

      Warren enters 2010-11 as the best player in the SEC

      1. Chris Warren, Mississippi– Warren has been the focal point of an Ole Miss attack from the moment he stepped on the hardwood in Oxford and averaged 4.5 APG as a freshman. Warren now enters a crucial senior season on a Rebel team devoid of a reliable second option (unless freshman Demarco Cox is the real deal or Reginald Buckner makes the leap) with Terrico White leaving for the NBA and Eniel Polynice transferring. While these defections could lead to a season at the bottom of the SEC, Warren will have ample opportunity to show off his skill set scoring the basketball during a season where he could average 20+ PPG. Warren is a 40% three-point shooter and has sunk a trey in a school record 45 consecutive games, a mark good for third in SEC history. The 5’10 point guard excels in spot-up opportunities and can also explode to the tin in transition. While evaluators shouldn’t be too harsh to judge based on his lackluster supporting cast, Warren shows pro-ready court vision and he does  a tremendous job finding passing angles and setting up teammates for open opportunities. Although a bit undersized, Warren is a complete, refined point guard with leadership qualities and is my preseason pick to take home SEC Player of the Year honors.

      2. Trey Thompkins, Georgia– I don’t believe it’s a stretch to say that Trey Thompkins is one of the most complete players in the nation. Asked to carry an extraordinarily heavy load in Mark Fox’s first year at the helm, the Georgia native responded with an 18/8 average, 48% FG, 76% FT and 38% 3pt. How many players average over eight rebounds per game and shoot 38% from behind the arc? Thompkins also saved his magic for the Bulldogs marquee games, scoring 20 vs. Georgia Tech, 21 vs. Illinois, 17/12 in the tight loss at Kentucky and 21 on 9-13 FG in the win over Tennessee. Thompkins has the ability to stretch the defense with a solid mid-range game that extends to the perimeter. He’s a gifted ballhandler, a 6’9 forward with guard skills, that can also utilize his frame to corral defensive rebounds at a superb rate. Thompkins now enters his junior season with expectations, albeit moderate, surrounding the Georgia program with sidekick Travis Leslie, Georgia Mr. Basketball Marcus Thornton and an under-appreciated secondary cast. The opportunity is there to become a national name.

      3. Enes Kanter, Kentucky– Ever since I saw Kanter single-handedly take over the third quarter of a World Select Team game last April, I’ve been anticipating the day he’ll step on the Rupp Arena floor and star for coach Cal and the Wildcats. While he may not be as powerful, efficient or productive as DeMarcus Cousins, Kanter’s emergence shouldn’t result in much of a drop-off at the center position for Big Blue. Kanter is savvy and intelligent on the low block beyond his years. Watching his vast array of post moves and that indescribable feel for the game he possesses actually reminded me of the clips I’ve seen of a young Bill Walton at UCLA (slow down, I’m not saying he’s the next Bill Walton). Sprinkle in a growing mid-range jumper that Cousins didn’t have and you could have an even more complete player from the outset. One area where Kanter is the polar opposite of Cousins is demeanor, displaying a calm, steady head during his time on the floor. His eligibility remains slightly in limbo, but once Calipari gets this uber-talented Swiss/Turkish big man on the floor, college basketball fans will be amazed by his pure skill level.

      4. Brandon Knight, Kentucky– Knight is the next in line of famous Calipari one-and-done point guards, from Derrick Rose to Tyreke Evans to John Wall and now Knight. While they were all thrust into the same position, their repertoires are actually quite varied. One could see Rose’s gift of court vision and passing ability beyond his years. Evans was lanky and needed the ball to be effective. Wall relied on penetration. What Knight has that these other top picks didn’t as college freshmen is the ability to explode for 35 points on any given night. Knight is a truly gifted scorer, whether it’s spotting up from deep, pulling up in the mid-range or relying on his quickness to explode to the rim. Much like Evans, there are questions surrounding whether Knight can run an effective point for Calipari as a freshman. Knight is more of scoring combo guard that needs a high volume of shots rather than a comfortable creator for teammates. Whether or not Knight is able to mature and grow in this area — and it would be stupid not to believe he’ll only improve from November to March — Calipari has another gem on his hands.

      5. Jeffery Taylor, Vanderbilt– While the Swedish import didn’t improve much from his freshman to sophomore campaigns, most feel Taylor has the untapped potential to really take off this season and mold into a potential first round selection in the 2011 Draft. What jumps out most about Taylor are his length, perimeter defense and ability to get to the charity stripe (78th in fouls drawn per 40 minutes in the nation). He can lock up two or three positions on the floor and is a solid rebounder for a 6’7 wing. Taylor’s shooting must improve mightily as defenders really don’t have to pay attention to him beyond the three-point line. 1-11 from downtown on the season is quite poor for a small forward and Taylor can disappear for chunks of time in games. With Jermaine Beal and A.J. Ogilvy gone, the onus is on Taylor to become more of a consistent weapon and send Vanderbilt back to the NCAA Tournament to avenge last season’s disappointing finish.

      Will Hopson make the leap to stardom?

      6. Scotty Hopson, Tennessee– Hopson is a rare talent, someone that just needs to play at 100% for more than half of his teams’ possessions, the Matt Kemp of the SEC, if you will. Bruce Pearl is certainly hoping that it’s Hopson’s junior campaign where the light bulb clicks on and he molds into the can’t-miss talent only expected to spend one year in college coming out of high school. Hopson is an elite athlete with a versatile offensive game and great length. Hopson clearly has the athletic gifts to be more aggressive offensively, but he can become way too in love with hanging out around the perimeter and chucking up jumpers. The mid-range shot needs some fine tuning, but Hopson did post a respectable 45% FG as a sophomore. Still, there’s that feeling he can do more. Pearl hopes inconsistency and spotty effort is a thing of the past when November rolls around. He needs Hopson to step up since Wayne Chism and J.P. Prince are no longer singing Rocky Top. It’s entirely possible Hopson is just a late bloomer and the best is yet to come.

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      Morning Five: 05.10.10 Edition

      Posted by rtmsf on May 10th, 2010

      1. We hope to have a post up later today evaluating the winners and losers from the NBA Draft early entry withdrawal deadline on Saturday, but for now, here’s what you need to know.  Leaving: Dee Bost (Mississippi State), Eric Bledsoe (Kentucky), Daniel Orton (Kentucky), Dominique Jones (South Florida), Darington Hobson (New Mexico), Willie Warren (Oklahoma), Jordan Crawford (Xavier).  Staying: Malcolm Delaney (Virginia Tech), Ravern Johnson (Mississippi State), Talor Battle (Penn State), Lavoy Allen (Temple), Jimmer Fredette (BYU), Alex Tyus (Florida), E’Twaun Moore (Purdue), JaJuan Johnson (Purdue), Demetri McCamey (Illinois), Mike Davis (Illinois), Kevin Anderson (Richmond).
      2. The fact that former Baylor coach Dave Bliss — you remember, the guy who tried to posthumously frame his murdered player as a drug dealer to save his own arsecan get a job teaching young men about the value of hard work, ethics and morality at Allen Academy in Texas proves that we are a very forgiving society.  Wow.  Just, wow.
      3. Tony Barbee has hit the ground running at Auburn, and has very high hopes for his program there.  With a new arena and a fertile recruiting base, AU could be poised as a sleeping giant for the right coach, but the uniform lack of interest in roundball at the school makes things very difficult.  Here are a couple of recent interviews with him about how he plans to handle life in the SEC West.
      4. Arizona’s new law dealing with immigration (SB 1070) may impact the recruiting of international student-athletes to the major D1 schools in the state, according to this article.  It makes sense, given that opposing schools will use anything to make a competitor look bad in comparison, and especially if out-of-state students are passing on Arizona schools based on the law.
      5. Bob Knight gave the commencement address Saturday to the graduating students at Trine University, a small private school in northeastern Indiana.  How a school nobody has ever heard of got a hold of him we’ll never know, but we assume it involves some hunting buddy with a connection to Trine.  If you’re into this kind of thing, his entire speech is embedded below (in five parts).

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      Impact Of Undecided Early Entries On The College Hoops Landscape

      Posted by zhayes9 on April 30th, 2010

      With the NBA Draft deadline moved up to May 8 this year, we’ll be able to formulate next year’s college basketball landscape sooner than ever before. The decision of many on the fence could dramatically alter the style, roster and makeup of everyone from Kentucky to Richmond. For many of these super-talents such as North Carolina’s Ed Davis, the decision was probably made a long time ago. But for those like fellow ACC foe Malcolm Delaney of Virginia Tech, their status is very much up in the air for 2010-11. He’s just one of many upcoming decisions that could change the outlook of an entire conference.

      Many columns dealing with early entries dissect whether the decision was smart or short-sighted, whether the choice to enter their name was the proper call for their careers. Personally, I don’t care so much about their personal career paths, but about how their decision affects college basketball. Instead, the focus of this column will be on how each early entry to put their name in the draft changes their respective schools’ chances when winter approaches.

      Daniel Orton and Eric Bledsoe (Kentucky)- Many around the Kentucky program believe Orton and Bledsoe are history, but refraining from signing with an agent leaves the door slightly ajar. If one or both return to Lexington, the Wildcats vault ahead of Tennessee as the SEC favorites. Returning to school would be even more beneficial to Orton, a player that didn’t establish himself playing behind Cousins and Patterson, but only showed glimpses of his superb athleticism, defensive prowess and developing low-post moves. Pair Orton in the post with Swiss import Enes Kanter and John Calipari is in business. Put Bledsoe with Brandon Knight, Doron Lamb or Darius Miller and the same holds true. Calipari’s loaded class certainly screams reload rather than rebuild, but the returns of Bledsoe and/or Orton would vault expectations even higher.

      Gordon Hayward (Butler)- The “babyfaced assassin” (h/t Gus Johnson) might have the toughest call of any early entry this spring. A relative unknown to casual fans just one year ago, Hayward burst onto the scene with a stellar NCAA Tournament, leading the charge behind Butler’s miraculous run to the national title game. Thanks to a late growth spurt, Hayward possesses guard skills in a 6’9 frame and may even go in the latter half of the lottery should he keep his name in the field. Butler would also drop to a ranking similar to the one they enjoyed in October last year. If Hayward returns, it would be a crying shame if Butler isn’t the #2 team ranked preseason behind Duke. The only starter departing is glue guy Willie Veasley. That’s right: Hayward, Shelvin Mack, Ronald Nored and Matt Howard would all return to school for another March push.

      Avery Bradley (Texas)- Sources told Fox Sports’ Jeff Goodman that Bradley was likely to stay in the Draft, and quite honestly I can see why. Teams that are looking for a backup point guard with the ability to defend and attack the basket will be flocking towards Bradley near the mid-first round. Findlay Prep point guard Cory Joseph committing to Texas last week takes some pressure off of Rick Barnes if Bradley should opt to stay in the draft. The Longhorns grossly underachieved with Bradley, Dexter Pittman and Damion James; with all three departing, expectations can’t possibly be sky high for Texas, although Kansas, Texas A&M and Baylor should all take steps back this season. Texas is a top-15 team regardless of last season should Bradley, Joseph, Dogus Balbay, J’Covan Brown and Jai Lucas round out a loaded backcourt. I suspect Bradley has played his last game in burnt orange, though.

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