SEC Tournament Takeaways: Second Round

Posted by David Changas on March 11th, 2016

Thursday was the first full day of action at the SEC Tournament, and even though the league’s top four teams have byes into Friday’s quarterfinal round, there were still plenty of important happenings that could impact which of the league’s teams are invited to the NCAA Tournament.

Tennessee pulled off a stunning upset of Vanderbilt Thursday (John Bazemore/AP)

Tennessee pulled off a stunning upset of Vanderbilt Thursday. (John Bazemore/AP)

Florida Stays Alive. In Thursday’s opener, the Gators took down Arkansas in a win that kept the Gators’ faintly flickering NCAA Tournament hopes alive. It wasn’t pretty — the two teams combined to commit 50 fouls (thanks, Pat Adams) — but Florida played just well enough to get the job done. Center John Egbunu, who was expected to miss the game with an injured right hand, gutted out an eight-point, nine-rebound performance in 24 minutes, while also helping hold Arkansas center Moses Kingsley to just 10 points. Florida moves on to play #1 seed Texas A&M on Friday, in what will be quite surely be another must-win for the Gators’ still-faint Tournament hopes.

Vanderbilt’s NCAA Hopes Damaged. Vanderbilt came into its game against Tennessee as a 12-point favorite and its regular season sweep of the Vols hinted that this was a touch matchup for Rick Barnes’ team. After all, big men Damian Jones and Luke Kornet had dominated Tennessee inside in both of the prior meetings. Things were different on Thursday, though, as Vanderbilt failed to consistently feed those mismatches in the post. The Commodores instead fired up 25 threes (making nine) and generally didn’t seem all that interested in battling as if its postseason life was on the line. A valiant second half comeback nearly saved Kevin Stallings’ team, but Wade Baldwin‘s game-tying layup at the buzzer was released fractions of a second after the horn sounded. Now the Commodores will have a few nervous days ahead, as a loss to a team that entered the SEC Tournament with six conference wins puts Vanderbilt squarely back on to the bubble.

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Handing Out the SEC Awards

Posted by David Changas on March 9th, 2016

Unlike the coaches, the SEC microsite writers stick to a rule of putting only five members on their all-conference team. Clearly, making our group should mean more to those selected than having the coaches pick them.

All-SEC Team

Tyler Ulis is playing at an MVP level (Getty)

Tyler Ulis is the hands-down choice for SEC Player of the Year. (Getty)

  • Tyler Ulis, Kentucky (SEC Player of the Year)
  • Jamal Murray, Kentucky
  • Ben Simmons, LSU
  • Jalen Jones, Texas A&M
  • Stefan Moody, Ole Miss

Credible cases could be made for Damian Jones, Kevin Punter, Retin Obasohan, and Michael Carrera, among others, but the five selected stood out as the five best.

SEC Player of the Year

Tyler Ulis, Kentucky. The diminutive Kentucky point guard successfully made the leap from role player on a 38-win team of all-stars to the leader of one of the nation’s best backcourts. Playing almost every important minute of every contest, Ulis averaged 16.6 points and a league-leading 7.4 assists per game. But it was the way in which he could dominate a game at only 5’9″ that separates him from the pack. If the Wildcats are going to make their usual run later this month, Ulis will be the catalyst that make it happen.

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Saturday SEC Storylines: Who’s Ready For a Four-Way Tie?

Posted by Greg Mitchell on March 5th, 2016

There is no shortage of intrigue in the SEC’s final regular season Saturday with the league title up for grabs and several teams fighting for their Tournament lives. Here are the storylines to watch before the attention shifts to Nashville.

There's still a tiny bit of life left in Ben Simmons and LSU (

There’s still a tiny bit of life left in Ben Simmons and LSU (

  • And then there were four. The schedule couldn’t have worked out any better for the final weekend. The league’s top four teams (now that South Carolina bowed out by losing to Georgia) face each other with the league title still in play. Texas A&M has the cleanest path — beat Vanderbilt at home and become SEC co-champion with a wink and nudge due to the head-to-head win over Kentucky. Even if it were a shared title, it would be significant for the Aggies, as it would be their first league championship since winning the Southwest Conference way back in 1986. Of course, Texas A&M and Kentucky could be sole champions if either were to win and the other lose. And then there’s the dream (or nightmare) four-way co-champion scenario if Vanderbilt and LSU were to both win. By our rough calculations, the Tigers, ironically and somewhat miraculously, would be the top seed in the SEC Tournament with a 3-1 record against the other three teams. This is better then Kentucky (1-3), Vanderbilt (2-2) and Texas A&M (2-2). Title scenarios aside, LSU desperately needs a win if it doesn’t want to pin its NCAA hopes on a three-game winning streak in Nashville. The last time the Tigers pulled this off was in late December against Gardner-Webb, Oral Roberts, and American. They’ll need to replicate much of their last performance against Kentucky, where they rebounded 43.2 percent of their missed shots and turned it over just nine times. The injured Keith Hornsby didn’t play much of a role offensively in that win (nine points) but his tough on-ball defense will be missed against Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray.

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SEC Burning Questions: Five Breakout Candidates

Posted by Greg Mitchell on November 11th, 2015

Before we dive into some candidates, let’s define what we mean by “breakout.” Preseason All-American Ben Simmons is a pretty safe bet to have a great season. The same goes for potential first overall pick in next year’s draft, Skal Labissiere. Predicting that the freshmen we’ve been hearing about for years will step in and excel doesn’t make for interesting reading. Instead, here are several returning SEC players who saw little action last year that could become major parts of their respective teams this season.

Devon Baulkman's shooting touch could make him a key part of Rick Barnes' first team at Tennessee (

Devon Baulkman’s shooting touch could make him a key part of Rick Barnes’ first team at Tennessee (

  • Devon Baulkman, Tennessee. The JuCo transfer only averaged 14.7 minutes per game last year under Donnie Tyndall, but could be poised to become a key cog in Rick Barnes‘ offense. Barnes has talked about playing up-tempo and letting his players shoot the three at will. This was borne out in the Vols exhibition win over Alabama-Huntsville where they launched 38 three pointers. Baulkman took eight of those shots, and showed promise from deep last season by making 38.2 percent of his 68 three-point attempts. While Robert HubbsKevin Punter and Armani Moore will be the focal points of the Tennessee offense this year, Baulkman could carve himself a valuable niche on the perimeter.
  • Moses KingsleyArkansas. Kingsley has been an advanced stat nerd’s dream, posting an elite block percentage (11.7%) and solid total rebounding percentage (13.9%) in limited minutes over his two years in Fayetteville. Mike Anderson‘s system by its nature precludes players, especially big men, from playing 25 plus minutes per game. But Anderson is playing with a light deck after an offseason of roster turnover and Kingsley is all of sudden one of his few frontcourt options. He should get plenty of minutes, and has demonstrated enough rim-protecting potential to predict that he’ll have a very productive year.

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SEC Season Preview: Alabama Crimson Tide

Posted by David Changas on November 4th, 2014

The SEC microsite will preview each of the league teams over the next few weeks, continuing today with Alabama.

Alabama Crimson Tide

Strengths. As with prior Anthony Grant teams, this year’s version should be able to defend at a high level. Alabama has always featured athletic teams that will guard its opponents and make it difficult to score, and as usual, the Crimson Tide will do so without an abundance of size inside. In his preseason ratings, Ken Pomeroy ranks Alabama at #32 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency. With big guards like Levi Randolph and Rodney Cooper patrolling the perimeter, Alabama has an ability to make things very difficult for its opponents to run offensive sets. And though they do not have any shot-blocking presence to speak of, there is no question that the Crimson Tide will make their opponents work to get good shots. In each of Grant’s five years at the school, his teams have been stellar at halfcourt defense, and this year should be no exception to that trend.

Levi Randolph is Alabama's top returning scorer. ( Hunt)

Levi Randolph is Alabama’s top returning scorer. ( Hunt)

Weaknesses. As well as Grant’s teams defend, they often have just as much trouble putting the ball in the basket — there is significant concern about what his team will produce from its halfcourt offense. The Tide lost their only double-figure scorer from last season, Trevor Releford — also the team’s only reliable outside shooter — but they do return four other starters. Alabama shot only 44.4 percent from the field and 33.4 percent from three-point range, though, and there is little reason to believe those numbers will improve significantly with virtually the same cast. In particular, perimeter scoring will be a problem, as no returning player shot better than 35 percent from beyond the arc. Grant will try to supplement his backcourt with the best freshman class he has had in his six seasons in Tuscaloosa. In addition to point guard Justin Coleman, Alabama added shooting guard Devin Mitchell and wing Riley Norris. Each will have to contribute early on the offensive end for the Crimson Tide to compete in the SEC. Read the rest of this entry »

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SEC M5: 12.18.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on December 18th, 2013


  1. Hello there, Casey Prather. A week after this brilliant clueless writer suggested his big scoring nights might be few and far between against good competition, the senior went out and led Florida to a win over Memphis with a game-high 22 points. This was a good match-up for Prather, as he was defended by smaller players most of the night because of Memphis’ frequent four-guard lineup. For the second straight Tuesday, Florida had to execute late in a close game against a good opponent, and that should serve as valuable experience down the road. The Gators coughed it up a fair amount (18 turnovers), but this was expected against Memphis. They were able to offset this by outrebounding the Tigers by 11. Essentially, the game played out like it was projected, with two excellent teams doing what they do best. The Gators can now claim two of the better non-conference wins in the country, with Chris Walker still on the way. Holiday cheer is spreading in Gainesville.
  2. You can’t fault Alabama for losing to Wichita State, even at home. The loss is still excruciatingly disappointing for the Tide because they had numerous chances to pull off the upset and resuscitate their season. Trevor Releford (22 points, six assists) didn’t get much help from his supporting cast, and Retin Obasohan had scored a combined 42 points in Alabama’s last two games but sank to only eight points on 2-of-10 shooting against the Shockers. The Belgian sophomore has emerged as one of the best slashers in the SEC, but he only got to the line four times (two of which were from a stop-the-clock foul late). Alabama played hard all night, but missed an opportunity when Ron Baker, Fred Van Vleet and Cleanthony Early were all on the bench in the first half with two fouls. Creating some separation from that golden opportunity would have gone a long way towards a win.
  3. LSU has had a mostly positive start to the 2013-14 season, but Johnny Jones is looking for improved ball-handling as the Tigers head to Lubbock to take on Texas Tech this evening. “In other areas we’re not being as fundamentally sound as we’d like to with the travel calls or taking a pass and throwing it over the top in our offensive set because we’re taking a chance,” he said. “We’re better, and they will continue to go down. We’re hopeful that our turnovers will go down. If we can get to 11 or 12 [per game], I think it’ll be a good trade-off from how we play.” LSU is currently averaging the highest number of turnovers per game in the SEC (16.1 TOPG).‘s Randy Rosetta points out that some of that is due to Jones’ fast style of play, but that Johnny O’Bryant and Jordan Mickey need to do a better job of not coughing it up when they face double teams. Big men struggling with double teams has been somewhat of a theme in the SEC recently. Jarnell Stokes was stifled against Wichita State, and Gavin Ware has been lost the last few weeks. Rosetta thinks O’Bryant has shown improvement in passing out of the paint, but Anthony Hickey (38% FG) and Andre Stringer (41% FG) need to knock down jump shots at a better clip to really make the offense hum.
  4. A bumpy road was inevitable for Frank Martin and South Carolina due to transfers and a general lack of talent within the program when he took the job. But the Gamecocks got a rather jarring bump last night with an 18-point loss at home to Manhattan. This was only South Carolina’s sixth game, and the Gamecocks have had three understandable losses in that span (Clemson, Baylor, and Oklahoma State). Last night’s loss may end up being understandable in principle because the Jaspers are 8-2, but even if Manhattan ends up as one 2013-14’s better mid-majors, an SEC program shouldn’t lose at home by 18 to a team from the MAAC (with all due respect to the Siena and Iona teams of recent vintage). The one bright spot was freshman Sindarius Thornwell, who looks like he can become a reliable scorer (17 points, 10-of-13 FTs). He also only turned it over once despite playing 36 minutes. Martin knew he was in for a challenge in Columbia, and he indeed has a big one ahead of him.
  5. Scottie Wilbekin (Player of the Week) and Jordan Mickey (Freshman of the Week) picked up last week’s SEC weekly awards for what was a period light on games because of final exams. In Wilbekin’s lone contest, a home win against Kansas, the senior controlled the game on both ends of the floor. He ended up with 18 points and six assists, and created havoc at the bottom of the Gators’ 1-3-1 zone with four steals. This production came a week after Wilbekin had suffered an ankle injury against Connecticut which looked far worse than it ended up being. Mickey wasn’t as hyped as fellow LSU freshman Jarrell Martin, but he has been one of the best freshmen in the SEC thus far. He scored 25 points and grabbed nine rebounds against Louisiana-Monroe, and also blocked five shots. He’s averaging nearly four blocks per game this season, which is good for the top 10 in the country. His shot-blocking presence will let Anthony Hickey and Andrew Stringer take more chances on the perimeter as the season goes on.
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SEC M5: 12.11.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on December 11th, 2013


  1. Kentucky burst out of its Baylor doldrums with a win over a good Boise State team at Rupp Arena last night. Willie Cauley-Stein had something to prove after a rough showing against the Bears, and he while he didn’t have gaudy rebounding numbers, he controlled the paint against the Broncos with nine blocks. Boise State continued to drive towards Cauley-Stein throughout the evening, and he continued to turn them away at the rim. Julius Randle also got back on the double-double track with a 17/11 night. Alex Poythress earned 17 minutes after being limited to just six against Baylor because of foul trouble. His progression and use will be interesting to watch the rest of the season. The big positives for Big Blue last night were that they regained their edge on the boards, and bottled up an effective offense.
  2. It wasn’t a good weekend for Alabama basketball. The Tide lost on the road to South Florida, and also lost the “yes, but all their losses are good” consolation.‘s Michael Casagrande suggests that part of the Tide’s struggles are due to lackluster three-point shooting and an inability to create for others as a team. The problem for Alabama is that the only player on their team who has proven that he can do both effectively over the long term is Trevor Releford. He’s shooting 38 percent from three this season, and playing him off the ball would create more space for the Retan Obasohan’s slashing and Nick Jacobs’ hook shots. But the Tide need Releford to handle the ball and run the offense. Levi Randolph is off to a torrid start from three (9-of-20), and they’ll need him to continue this so the offense has balance. Another option would be to give junior Algie Kay more time at point guard, as he currently has the highest assist percentage on the team. The Tide have officially entered the danger zone, and need to start stringing some wins together.
  3. It’s always interesting for the detached observer to see how fans think their team is doing. Arkansas is 6-2 and fresh off a sluggish win over a down Clemson team. The folks at Arkansas Fight slotted the Razorbacks fifth in their SEC power rankings, and that sounds about right. They write, “The Hogs joined the ‘we beat the pants off Southeastern Louisiana’ club last week. However, that doesn’t mean much in the power rankings. A lethargic performance at home against a team that is projected to finish close to last in the ACC doesn’t help either.” Arkansas hasn’t moved the needle in an upward direction this season, but “meh” losses to California and Gonzaga haven’t put them on a downward trajectory either. Frankly, outside of Florida’s win over Kentucky, Missouri’s win against UCLA, Tennessee’s redemption win over Xavier, and Ole Miss’ close call against Oregon, no one in the conference has done anything to really get their fans too excited.
  4. Julius Randle‘s double-double streak may have been broken last week, but he’s sitting in second place in the Wayman Tisdale Award Watch (Freshman of the Year) by CBSSports‘ Jeff Borzello. The Kentucky forward lags behind Jabari Parker, who had a tempered week himself, with 15 points and six rebounds in his only game. Borzello notes that zone defenses with length along the back have slowed Randle. Outside of LSU, Florida, and maybe Tennessee, there aren’t any other SEC teams with the personnel to pull that off, though. If Kentucky doesn’t hit more outside shots with consistency, they could be on upset alert January 28 in Baton Rouge.
  5. OK, we couldn’t get away from writing about Marshall Henderson. For the third morning in a row, let’s look back on Henderson’s prolific chucking display against Oregon. Jeff Eisenberg at Yahoo Sports breaks down the eight shots Henderson managed to get up in the final 1:52 of regulation, complete with visuals. It’s early, but I’d be surprised if Henderson tops 29 shots this season. His season-high last year was 21, and not many teams will be content with getting into a shootout with Ole Miss like the Ducks were.
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Early Returns: Alabama Crimson Tide

Posted by Greg Mitchell on November 21st, 2013

Alabama doesn’t play again until November 27 in New York against Jabari Parker and #6 Duke. In honor of this mini-break, let’s take a look at what the Tide have done in the early part of their season.

Wins (plus Kenpom rating): Georgia State (#114), Texas Tech (#144), Stillman (NR, Division II)

Loss: Oklahoma (#55)

Trevor Releford is perfect from the free throw line, but needs to cut down on turnovers.

Trevor Releford is perfect from the free throw line, but needs to cut down on turnovers.

The GoodRebounding and free throw shooting. Alabama has rebounded well considering Nick Jacobs is the only player taller than 6’8” who is playing more than 20 minutes per game. The Georgia State win is a good illustration of how the Tide will have to attack the boards the rest of the season given their guard-oriented lineup. Seemingly everyone chipped in: five players had more than four rebounds, and Trevor Releford and Levi Randolph had six each. Another key statistic is that of the six players with more than eight free throw attempts on the season, five are shooting above 75 percent. This includes a perfect season (11-of-11) from Releford thus far. Alabama can help itself immensely by keeping this up given the new hand-check rules.

The BadTaking care of the ball. The Tide have turned the ball over too much and are not creating opportunities off the bounce. The only positive assist/turnover ratio the team recorded was against Division II Stillman, and they had an ugly four to 14 ratio in their loss to Oklahoma. A team at the Tide’s level simply can’t cough it up 10 more times than they dish it out and hope to win many games against quality competition. Some of that can be attributed to early season rust and Releford sitting on the bench with foul trouble, but he is off to an especially tough start, averaging a turnover more and assist less than his career averages. Given that he’s the active SEC assist leader, though, there’s a good chance he’ll turn this around, and that would have a big impact considering he is Alabama’s primary ball-handler.

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