SEC M5: 12.20.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on December 20th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. Tennessee stubbed its toe against North Carolina State at home on Wednesday, and it will now need a spectacular conference record to get into the NCAA Tournament this season. Rocky Top Talk‘s Will Shelton points out that the SEC will likely offer few opportunities for signature wins, putting the Volunteers in an all too familiar tough early spot for head coach Cuonzo Martin. The last two years it has taken frantic finishes from the Vols to generate NCAA consideration, but this hasn’t led to anything substantive for Tennessee’s postseason. Shelton writes, “those 8-1 runs were indeed special during every second of them, right up until the moment we didn’t hear our name called because we screwed it up just bad enough beforehand to miss out.” The Vols can pull themselves out of their 6-4 hole, of course, but there’s simply no room to drop another winnable game at home. There are wins to be had in the soft underbelly of the SEC but at this point it will take a lot of wins to avoid another disappointing Selection Sunday in Knoxville. The shame is that Tennessee’s schedule hasn’t been brutal. Xavier looks like a solid team, but is only #57 in Kenpom‘s ratings; outside of Wichita State, the Vols shouldn’t have run into the problems that they have.
  2. For what seems like the first time this season, Auburn is in the SEC M5 with some positive news. The Tigers picked up their biggest win of the season over Clemson, beating the (other) Tigers 66-64 last night. The picture isn’t yet clear on Clemson this season, but they stood at 8-2 before the game with reasonable losses against UMass and at Arkansas. Auburn was outclassed against Iowa State and Illinois, so getting a win against another power conference team should be a confidence booster for Tony Barbee’s squad. Chris Denson again led the Tigers in scoring and only committed one turnover despite playing 33 minutes and constantly handling the ball. Right now he’s in serious contention for an all-SEC spot and he might in fact be the most improved player in the conference. A lot of it has to do with the loss of Frankie Sullivan, but Denson’s scoring average is up nearly nine points per game along with his other averages as well.
  3. Mike Anderson’s pair of highly-touted freshmen forwards lived up to the hype last night, and that could be the key for better times away from Fayetteville this year for the Razorbacks. It was a night of highs for Moses Kingsley in a win against Tennessee-Martin, as he played the most minutes (20), scored the most points (12), and grabbed the most rebounds (12) of his young career. Bobby Portis also continued his steady improvement, scoring 15 points and grabbing nine rebounds of his own. The development of these big men is important not only because they’re talented, but also because Anderson’s teams have historically had rebounding issues. If these two can help reverse that trend, Arkansas could actually get enough wins away from Bud Walton Arena to truly be in the NCAA tournament discussion later this winter.
  4. Mississippi State conquered the remnants of Dunk City last night, beating Florida Gulf Coast 66-53 at home. The win runs the Bulldogs’ record to 8-2, which has reached a level that merits some attention. Mississippi State is still probably a lower-third SEC team when it’s all said and done, but through 10 games last year, Rick Ray’s team stood at 4-6 (albeit with a much tougher schedule). Even if the Bulldogs own no notable wins and barely hung on against a couple of low-major teams, that’s still a drastically different record. Ray needs to build momentum for this program and piling up wins no matter how it’s done or who it’s against is important. This is especially so because the major contributors will all be back next year and, in some cases, beyond: I.J. Ready is a freshman; Craig Sword, Fred Thomas and Gavin Ware are sophomores; Roquez Johnson is a junior.
  5. This was a disastrous week for South Carolina, and that might be sugarcoating it. The Gamecocks fell to Manhattan on Sunday then followed that up with a loss to 6-5 USC Upstate last night. Both of these losses happened at home. To be fair, USC Upstate has beaten Virginia Tech (so Carolina is not its first power conference victim), but you can only make so many excuses for a loss like this. The Gamecocks have a long ways to go, and maybe this isn’t surprising given the program Frank Martin inherited. Michael Carrera was suspended for the game because of an “altercation” following the Manhattan loss, and although it’s good to see passion in players, Carrera didn’t help his team by sitting at home last night. The Carolina guards outside of Sindarius Thornwell didn’t help much either. Brenton Williams, Bruce Ellington and Tyrone Johnson went a combined 8-of-28 from the field.
Share this story

SEC M5: 12.13.13 Edition

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

SEC_morning5

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

SEC M5: 11.29.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on November 29th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. Eastern Michigan trapped and swarmed Kentucky’s Julius Randle on Wednesday, holding the big man scoreless in the first half. “If they’re going to do that, they’re going to have to live with other guys stepping up and having big days,” he said. Aaron Harrison was the other player stepping up, scoring 22 points and going 9-of-11 at the free throw line. Part of Randle’s immense value is that he affects the game even when he isn’t scoring. Harrison took advantage of the attention focused elsewhere, and did a great job attacking the basket. His two big scoring nights (the other being a 28-point outing against Robert Morris) have been aided by 10-plus free throw attempts in each game. Kentucky has no shortage of athletes, so there should be plenty of slashing opportunities at the rim when defenders are out of the lane denying Randle the ball.
  2. The temperature will be in the low 50s this weekend in Fayetteville, Arkansas — that’s not unbearable, but the Razorbacks will likely miss the Maui sunshine. They also missed an opportunity in Maui, going 1-2 with losses against California and Gonzaga sandwiched around a win against Minnesota. The trip wasn’t a disaster because the Gophers are a team with solid metrics and a decent win over Richmond. But Gonzaga was Arkansas‘ last chance to make a non-conference splash, and 34 points from Kevin Pangos ended that dream quickly. Mike Anderson must avoid any non-conference setbacks and has some work to do in SEC play to make his first NCAA Tournament appearance with the Razorbacks. A bright spot was Bobby Portis, who began to assert himself offensively in the latter two games, scoring 12 and 18 points, respectively.
  3. A few thousand dollars can buy you a piece of Texas A&M basketball history. G. Rollie White Coliseum, the Aggies’ basketball home from 1954 to 1997, was demolished in August. Workers uncovered the original playing floor during the process, the existence of which was unknown prior to the demolition. Texas A&M began auctioning off portions of the floor yesterday, which include a NCAA logo, school name and logo, and a retro-Southwest Conference logo. The top bid on the baseline floor section is currently over $2,000. This is a neat story that probably won’t repeat itself very often. The vintage, yellowed Southwest Conference logo would be an especially great addition to a living room or office, if you’ve got a some money to burn.
  4. Mississippi State barely avoided disaster Wednesday, hanging on to beat KenPom #280 Jackson State by two points. It was an ugly, low-scoring affair marred by 19 Bulldog turnovers and plenty of missed shots. “We shouldn’t need evidence that this can happen,” head coach Rick Ray said. “We need to embrace who we really are, and until we do that, we’re going to struggle.” Mississippi State missed its freshman point guard, I.J. Ready, who had been playing well before “severely” injuring his hamstring. Without him, the Bulldogs had six assists against those 19 turnovers in escaping with the win. Gavin Ware has established himself as a credible low post threat and he’ll see plenty of double teams, but Mississippi State can’t capitalize on this if they keep fumbling the ball away. Their blowout loss at Utah State wasn’t a cause for alarm, but performing so poorly at home against a bad team does not bode well for the rest of the season.
  5. Tennessee suffered a setback in the Bahamas, losing to UTEP by eight late last night. The shooting backdrop in the Atlantis ballroom must be difficult, but it’s no excuse for the 38 percent shooting performance from the Volunteers. This included a putrid 3-of-21 from beyond the arc. Jordan McRae had a particularly rough shooting night, missing seven of his eight three point attempts. Not much is known about UTEP at this point: the Miners have two losses, but (oddly) both are to a decent New Mexico State team. Conference USA has already had Charlotte step up and surprise last weekend in Puerto Rico, but this was not a game Tennessee should have lost. They now find themselves with a rematch against a Xavier team that already beat them once to open the season. Semaj Christon got to the basket with ease in that game, so it’ll be interesting to see what adjustments Cuonzo Martin makes to prevent this from happening again.
Share this story

SEC M5: Opening Day Edition

Posted by Justin Bridgman on November 8th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. ESPN’s Paul Biancardi did a fantastic job breaking down the individual skill sets of Kentucky’s hyped freshman class. His breakdown reveals a group of ultra-talented basketball players who should play wonderfully together. Last year’s Kentucky team suffered because the freshman did not mesh together the entire season, and their games were not well suited for one another. Based on their scouting reports as well as preseason reports, it appears that will not be the case this season. Offensively it seems obvious that the Harrison twins have games that will compliment each other. James Young will thrive in two roles, either as a spot up three point shooter or as an extra rebounder. The easy layups and dunks that Julius Randle gets his two centers will give teams nightmares every night. At least headed into the season, it seems like the chemistry and fit questions that faced Kentucky last season will not face them this season.
  2. Going into this season, one that will likely decide the coaches’ future, Auburn’s top scorers are excited about their two point guardsMalcolm Canada and Tahj Shamsid-Deen are praised by Tony Barbee for their chemistry with one another and the way it will benefit the entire team. Barbee thinks that the combination of Shamsid-Deen shooting from the outside and Canada slashing towards the basket will give the Tigers an exciting offensive dimension. Obviously, the time right before the season is when everyone is a great player and everything is supposed to go well. Hopefully for the sake of Barbee’s employment, these two talented guards can turn into the dynamic duo he is projecting them to be. He will need them to be able to open up space for the two best scorers on the team, KT Harrell and Chris Denson. Harrell and Denson are both very good scorers that can carry a team for a night at times. Without help from their teammates though, opposing defenses will lock in on those two and try to take them out of the game.
  3. Brace yourselves SEC fans, there are new rules in the NCAA this season, and the amount of fouls called per game is going to go up. With an emphasis on cutting down on physical play, it is likely that free throw attempts will be high at the start of the season. This is an idea that excited Auburn coach Tony Barbee, who thinks the game has been too bogged down the last few years and needs to be more open for offenses to run. Meanwhile, Billy Donovan admits he has changed the way he calls fouls during his practice to help his team adjust to the new rules. Donovan in particular is going to have to adjust his team to the new rules, because he is missing almost half of his team right now. With SEC Men’s Basketball officiating coordinator Jake Bell estimating 45 to 60 fouls will be called a game at the start of the season, teams without much depth will be forced to adapt. Big men in particular will be challenged to stay out of foul trouble while the officials are adjusting to the new points of emphasis. Eventually, I would expect the foul calls to cut back down, especially if a controversial incident occurs towards the end of a big game. For now though, coaches need to be prepared to deal with foul issues earlier in the game than usual.
  4. LSU has still not gotten word if freshman power forward Brian Bridgewater can play this season or not. Bridgewater needs clearance from the NCAA, and in a shocking turn of events, that is taking longer than expected. Bridgewater is an undersized power forward who relied on brute strength in high school to impose his will. As he transitions to the collegiate level Bridgewater will need to increase his basketball skills, because his 6-6 frame will not allow him to overpower all of his opponents. Even if Bridgewater cannot make a big impact on the court this season, the NCAA delay keeps him out of practice, which is where he needs to be. Developing skills is the next step in his career, and for right now, that is all on hold.
  5. Buried in this piece about Mississippi State coach Rick Ray admitting his team needs to win more games is a very interesting nugget. Ray says that he felt his team struggled to rebound last season in part because of the way he ran practices. Now instead of stopping a play to correct every fundamental flaw, Ray is going to let the play run until completion and then make his corrections. It will be interesting to see if this small adjustment actually makes an impact on the team’s rebounding ability. As they say, repetition breeds success, so the practice can’t hurt. Still, it reads as the type of preseason optimism that is running rampant across SEC basketball blurbs right now. It will be great to finally get the season started tonight and let the results do the talking.
Share this story

SEC M5: 11.05.13 Edition

Posted by Justin Bridgman on November 5th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. This season the SEC is a bottom-feeding league during the non-conference season. According to the article, eight SEC teams had a RPI of #80 or worse last season. Weak non-conference scheduling is a big part of this, and the conference needs to come together and stop the practice. The problem is that a school like Georgia or Mississippi State wants to pad its win total instead of playing tougher competition; otherwise, coaches of those schools know they will lose their job. Every school in the conference should look at what John Calipari does with his non-conference schedule and make an effort to imitate it. Athletic directors should agree to give coaches some leeway in regards to job security when a coach puts together a more aggressive non-conference schedule. This will raise the overall reputation of the conference and lead to more quality wins that matter come NCAA selections. In the long run, coaches will find that tougher non-conference games will result in better outcomes for the entire SEC.
  2. Speaking of non-conference schedules, this list of the top non-conference games includes a number of Kentucky games as well as a few involving Florida. While the rest of the SEC is likely to be ignored nationally for most of the non-conference season, these two teams have plenty of big games before January. Kentucky plays Michigan State, Louisville, and North Carolina before Christmas. It will be fascinating to see how Kentucky’s freshman play against those teams, especially since Kentucky usually needs some time to gel defensively. Calipari will need to have his team ready to go from day one, and since the expectation in Big Blue Nation is a 40-0 season, the pressure won’t let up all year long. Florida’s schedule will be crucial in its bid to earn a top seed in the NCAA Tournament. The fact is, the SEC schedule does not give Florida many chances to bolster their RPI, so winning these tough non-conference games is incredibly important. When it comes down to getting a #2 or #3 seed, a win over Kansas or Wisconsin can make all the difference on the resume.
  3. The AP Preseason All-America Team was announced yesterday, and it surprisingly did not include Kentucky freshman Julius Randle. While fellow freshman phenom Andrew Wiggins did make the list, Randle was left off in favor of Michigan sophomore Mitch McGary. Of course the list means nothing since there has not even been a game played yet, but it makes little sense for Randle to have been omitted. By all accounts he is one of the five best players in college basketball this season and it would be stunning if he isn’t on this list at the end of the season. All due respect to McGary, who had a great NCAA Tournament, but Randle is already a more polished player. The bottom line is this, the best player on the best team should be on the All-American team. AP voters might be rethinking this exclusion after watching Randle tear apart the competition all season long.
  4. Mississippi State coach Rick Ray is expecting a number of his players to take a big jump in their second season of college basketball. Ray claims that players improve the most during the summer after their first season. He doesn’t provide statistics to actually back up that claim, but for Ray’s sake I hope he is correct. It looks like Mississippi State will struggle to score again this season, a year after having the second worst offense in the league. Representative of that struggle is the fact that freshman point guard IJ Ready is acknowledged as the top addition to the team. However, as the author points out, Ready is not much of a scorer. This is going to be another long season for the Bulldogs unless a number of their players start making more shots; otherwise, look for another season of low-scoring games and a pile of losses. Good defensive teams will feast on this lineup, in all likelihood packing the paint and daring the Bulldog guards to shoot three-pointers. On top of their offensive struggles, advanced metrics rate the Bulldogs as the worst defensive team in the SEC — marginal improvement by three sophomores is just not going to be enough.
  5. Grantland posted its SEC preview, and the entire article is worth a read. What stood out was the placement of Missouri’s Frank Haith on the hot seat. By all accounts the administration and fans like Haith, and he has been fairly successful in his two years at the school. However, as the author points out, Haith’s teams have shown a disturbing tendency to fall apart at the end of games. That happened to him at Miami too, and in two NCAA Tournament games at Missouri, Haith’s team has yet to give a good effort. Some fans could protect Haith by pointing out that Phil Pressey was always mentally volatile during his Missouri career, but nonetheless this will be a pivotal season for the head coach. If Missouri does not have a successful season and win an NCAA tournament game, Haith will start to lose some of the legion of defenders that he has right now.
Share this story

Tennessee Inches Closer to NCAA Bid, Win Over Alabama Could Seal Deal

Posted by David Changas on March 14th, 2013

David Changas (@dchangas) is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from Thursday afternoon’s SEC Tournament game between Tennessee and Mississippi State.

While the SEC has endured a significant amount of well-deserved criticism for its share of mediocre (well, bad) basketball this season (the fact that Mississippi State not only didn’t finish last in the league and was even able to win a game in the conference tournament – albeit against equally woeful South Carolina – is Exhibit A of the league’s futility), perhaps no conference presents more bubble scenarios as we roll towards Selection Sunday. Thus, while the usual Kentucky-related buzz is absent from this weekend’s festivities in Nashville except to the extent the Wildcats are on the bubble themselves,  there is a lot of intrigue about which teams will emerge and land a spot in the field of 68. As of now, it is assumed that only Florida and Missouri are locks for the field, with Kentucky, Ole Miss, and Alabama, and Tennessee seeking bids.

Tennessee Bowled Its Way One Step Closer to the NCAAs

Tennessee Bowled Its Way One Step Closer to the NCAAs

Clearly,  no team is more squarely on the bubble than the Volunteers, who dispatched of the significantly undermanned Bulldogs 69-53 behind 17 points from Jordan McRae Thursday afternoon at Bridgestone Arena. The win arguably will do nothing to help the Vols’ standing in the RPI and with the committee, but a loss would have crippled Tennessee’s chances to receive a bid. Now, they must face a much tougher test on Friday, as they take on co-bubble dweller Alabama. While some view the contest as a “play-in” game of sorts, Tennessee comes in with a better resume than the Crimson Tide, which has no wins over the RPI top 50. And Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin doesn’t think the bid is in question any longer. “I said after we beat Mizzou that we’re in the NCAA Tournament, so I’ve moved past that,” Martin said, unconvincingly, after the game. Still, for Tennessee, Friday’s game is an opportunity to win another game against a quality opponent and solidify its standing with the selection committee.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

SEC M5: 03.11.13 Edition

Posted by DPerry on March 11th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. In one of the best weekends of college basketball that we’ve seen this year, the SEC may be able to lay claim to the top highlight. Trevor Releford hit a half-court shot as time expired to give Alabama a 61-58 win over Georgia, keeping the Crimson Tide in consideration for an at-large NCAA Tournament berth. Bama appeared well on its way to an easy win when they took a 14-point lead into halftime, but the Bulldogs stormed back in the second. “I felt like in the second half they really picked their tempo up and really attacked us,” coach Anthony Grant said. “The zone caused us some problems.” Releford put the finishing touches on a strong regular season, adding an iconic moment to his case for SEC Player of the Year.
  2. Florida went into Lexington over the weekend looking for its first win at Rupp Arena in six years. A back and forth game had finally swung in the Gators’ favor after Kentucky center Willie Cauley-Stein was forced to bench with four fouls, but even with a seven-point lead with eight minutes to play, Florida went ice cold. The Gators did nothing with their last 14 possessions the rest of the way, committing five turnovers and missing all 11 of their field goal attempts. “In these situations, someone has to step up and make a play,” guard Scottie Wilbekin said. “Someone has to make a shot.” Florida couldn’t get that shot to fall, doing nothing to dispel the notion that they can’t deliver in close games.
  3. Kentucky’s win over Florida certainly had a do-or-die feel, but Gary Parrish believes that Kentucky shouldn’t rest easy just yet. The Wildcats’ Tournament resume remains marginal. A 21-10 overall record, a 7-9 record against the RPI top 100, and only two wins against the top 50 doesn’t exactly scream “lock.” “There’s a tendency in college basketball to react strongly to every single thing that happens,” writes Parrish, “and the byproduct is that analysts and fans are constantly punching everybody’s tickets for the Big Dance.” A win over Florida filled a big hole in Kentucky’s argument, but a loss to Arkansas or Vanderbilt in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament would cancel out a lot of that progress and put the Cats right back on the fringes of the bubble.
  4. The teams at the bottom of the SEC needed overtime to settle their season finale, with Mississippi State beating Auburn, 74-71, putting Bulldogs coach Rick Ray in a celebratory mood. “Just finding a way to gut out a win and to go in the locker room to see so many people happy,” he said after the game. “You read some things were they say we are the worst team in SEC history, so I guess we can’t be that if we finished 13th out of 14.” Touche, Rick. Mississippi State has been ridiculed all season as one of the worst power conference teams in college basketball, but thanks to a strong start and finish to the conference schedule (book-ending that 13-game losing streak), the Bulldogs finished outside of the SEC cellar.
  5. Tennessee overcame an eight-point second half deficit to beat Missouri, 64-62, on Saturday, maintaining its status as the conference’s hottest team. The Vols have won eight of nine to turn what appeared to be a lost season into a potential at-large NCAA Tournament berth. Tennessee is currently on the outside looking in according to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, meaning that the Vols are another SEC team in need of SEC Tournament success. “I feel like we’re an older group,” forward Jarnell Stokes said. “We know that we have to do damage in the SEC Tournament. I’m not going to let another one slip away like we did last year.” A year ago, Cuonzo Martin’s team was in an almost identical position. Tennessee had ended the year winning eight of nine, but were upset by Ole Miss in their first SEC Tournament game, relegating the Vols to the NIT.
Share this story

As Minority Head Coaches Decline Elsewhere, the SEC Sets the Standard

Posted by Brian Joyce on February 27th, 2013

Brian Joyce is a writer for the SEC microsite and regular contributor for Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about SEC basketball at bjoyce_hoops.

Twenty-five years ago, Tennessee broke the color barrier in the SEC when it hired Wade Houston as the first African-American head coach in the conference. Today, the SEC is a model for other conferences around college basketball. In an era where minority, and specifically African-American coaches, are not given the benefit of the doubt in hiring decisions and are given the hook far too quickly in times of trouble, doing the right thing isn’t always easy. Diversity is far too often a buzzword with no true culture of systemic change. The NFL institutionalized the “Rooney Rule” to encourage interviews of minority coaches, but the SEC demonstrated its commitment and value to diversity without the enforcement of a mandate.

Frank Martin is one of eight minority coaches in the SEC. (Bruce Thorson/US Presswire)

Frank Martin, a Cuban-American, is one of eight minority basketball coaches in the SEC. (Bruce Thorson/US Presswire)

The South isn’t exactly a region of the United States known for valuing its diversity, yet today the Southeastern Conference has eight minority head basketball coaches including seven African-Americans among 14 schools. “Sometimes you hear about the South — I grew up in the Midwest — and you have some negative connotations, especially when you start talking about places like Mississippi and Alabama and race relations,” Mississippi State coach Rick Ray said. “I think it speaks volumes about the hiring process in the SEC and the schools in the SEC that they would reach out and have this many African-American head coaches.” The seven African-American coaches currently in the SEC equals the most ever in a Power Six conference. The commitment to hiring the best candidates, regardless of skin color, is an accomplishment worth being applauded. “The thing the SEC should be most proud of is that us having this many African-American coaches is really not a big story. It means it’s accepted here in the South and that it’s really not a problem.” Frank Martin, a Cuban-American in his first year coaching at South Carolina and within the SEC, applauds the league’s commitment to diversity. “I think it’s awesome this league believes in everybody and not just in certain stereotypes,” Martin said. “I am grateful that Kansas State University and now South Carolina have believed in me to give me an opportunity to do what I dreamt of doing when I was a young kid.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

SEC M5: 02.21.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on February 21st, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. Have Mike Anderson’s Razorbacks worked their way onto the NCAA bubble? Arkansas’ resume is considerably better at home than it is on the road, but as ESPN.com points out, “Since Febuary 2, the Razorbacks are 4-1 with wins over Florida and, most recently, Missouri. They also — in typical fashion — lost 67-49 at Vanderbilt. On January 26, they lost 75-54 at South Carolina. So, yeah, there’s plenty of work to do here.” But unfortunately for the Hogs, NCAA Tournament games aren’t played at home, and they just haven’t been the same team away from Bud Walton Arena. 
  2. Missouri Athletic Director Mike Alden isn’t abandoning Tigers coach Frank Haith in the wake of potential NCAA violations. “You know, I’m looking forward to working with Frank for a long time. And he’s done great things here with us, and we look forward to continuing to do great things,” Alden said. At this point, however, the AD doesn’t know the extent to which Haith will be punished for the alleged violations. While a show of confidence is important at this stage in the game, it doesn’t really mean much if bad news is pending. If penalties are imposed on him at some point down the road, a statement of full confidence at that point will be far more telling.
  3. Florida blew a 13-point second half lead against Missouri on Tuesday night, and it’s time to start pointing the finger to locate the problems. The Florida Times Union points to an ill-advised three pointer by Kenny Boynton, costly turnovers by Mike Rosario, and key missed free throws by Patric Young as reasons for the demise. And as the author points out, this isn’t the first time the Gators have unraveled during a close game. Three turnovers and a missed free throw during the final minute cost UF a six-point lead at Arizona, and Florida was within one point against Kansas State but it just couldn’t close out with a win. Billy Donovan’s squad has reason for concern as it is 0-3 in games this season decided by single figures.
  4. Florida’s late-game struggles have a common theme — the head coach. While Donovan is the greatest head coach ever to stand on the sidelines at the University of Florida, his winning percentage in games decided by five points or fewer doesn’t stack up to that of his national championship-winning peers. The most recent three-point loss to Missouri gave the accomplished Donovan a mere 57-75 record in games with the outcome at five points or fewer, which is just a .469 winning percentage. In comparison, just to name a few, Donovan’s mentor Rick Pitino sits at .503, John Calipari is at .570, and Jim Boeheim is the leader among active national championship winners at .628. Donovan’s record is in fact the worst among active national championship-winning coaches, and he is the only coach with that criteria with a losing record in close games.
  5. Rick Ray just can’t catch a break. The Mississippi State coach suspended sophomore forward Roquez Johnson for an unspecified violation of team rules, leaving him with just five scholarship players. But Ray didn’t back off of his zero tolerance approach to discipline. “What they’re trying to figure out is… how much can they get away with without getting punished?” Ray said. “I think there’s a little bit with this situation with those older guys. ‘Hey, how much can I get away with without getting punished?’ And the answer is: nothing.” If this basketball coaching gig doesn’t work out for Ray, he joked that he has enough material from this first year on the job with the Bulldogs to write a book.
Share this story

Mississippi State’s Jalen Steele Lands in the Dog House

Posted by Brian Joyce on February 12th, 2013

Brian Joyce is a writer for the SEC microsite and regular contributor for Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about SEC basketball at bjoyce_hoops.

It’s no secret that Mississippi State coach Rick Ray needs all the help he can get. The Bulldogs are on an eight-game losing streak in the SEC, the longest such streak for MSU since 1987. Ray’s team was already down to seven scholarship players for the season before word came down over the weekend that guard Jalen Steele has been suspended indefinitely. That’s enough misfortune to make anybody lose their cool, which Ray eventually did. And that makes what Steele did, whatever it was, even more frustrating considering how badly his team needs him right now.

We don't know what he did to deserve it, but this Bulldog is in Rick Ray's dog house.

We don’t know what he did to deserve it, but this Bulldog is in Rick Ray’s dog house.

It was no surprise initially when Ray chose not to comment on Steele’s situation. Chastising your players publicly is not standard operating procedure. But just like when you were little and you knew you really messed up when your dad told you “I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed,” Steele has to know this was a colossal mistake. On Monday, Ray let his frustration over the situation boil over. “Now you’re taking away a chance for guys to go out and compete and win because you’ve shortened the rotation,” Ray said about his disappointment in Steele. “I think more than anything you’re screwing your team and you’re screwing your teammates when you get into trouble like that.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

SEC M5: 02.12.13 Edition

Posted by DPerry on February 12th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. Road wins have been hard to come by in the league this season, but after a win over South Carolina on Sunday, Tennessee is no longer in search of its first. “Finally got that road win, great feeling,” coach Cuonzo Martin said Monday. “Getting on the plane after a road win, that was always one of the things I took great pride in as a player.” Jarnell Stokes is presumably feeling pretty great as well. The sophomore posted his fifth straight double-double with 20 points and 10 rebounds, convincing the SEC to name him the conference’s Player of the Week. Stokes was a disappointment in non-conference play, appearing to be lost without his veteran frontcourt mate Jeronne Maymon; but maybe or maybe not coincidentally, Stokes has been a beast ever since a well-placed call from his coach.
  2. Nerlens Noel is unquestionably the best shot-blocker in the SEC, with Kansas’ Jeff Withey serving as his only real competition nationwide (my sincere apologies, Chris Obekpa). Who is better? ESPN Stats & Info took a look at that question. Noel is certainly flashier by taking advantage of his elite athleticism, but he’s “more of a ‘swatter’, liking to block the ball as hard as he can”, whereas Withey’s blocks more often find their way into a teammate’s hands. A weakness of Withey’s, however, is that he uses only his right hand to defend shots. Noel has blocked 61 with his right hand and 42 with his left, a benefit that can be utilized when caught out of position.
  3. Mississippi State head coach Rick Ray addressed the mystery surrounding Jalen Steele’s suspension, calling the junior’s transgression a “selfish act.” “Now you’re taking away a chance for guys to go out and compete and win because you’ve shortened the rotation,” he said Monday. “I think more than anything you’re screwing your team and you’re screwing your teammates when you get into trouble like that.” The loss of Steele for a few games won’t help the Bulldogs on the court, but the stance from his first-year coach is what’s really important. Let’s be honest, Mississippi State, with a roster short on talent as well as bodies, isn’t headed for a successful season. With a full team, they just might be able to sneak into 13th place in the SEC standings. For a program that had more than its fair share of off-the-court issues under previous coach Rick Stansbury, an emphasis on discipline from Ray is necessary for the culture change he desires.
  4. A road trip to Mississippi State doesn’t usually demand maximum attention from opposing coaches, but Frank Haith isn’t overlooking his upcoming trip to Starkville. His Missouri Tigers, who fell out of both the AP and ESPN polls this week, know that Wednesday is the perfect opportunity to finally grab that first true road win. “You look at the numbers, we haven’t defended well on the road, we haven’t shot the ball as well on the road,” Haith said at the SEC teleconference. “We’re still not defending like I would like us to do. That’s all a mental toughness type thing.” Mizzou’s defeat of Ole Miss was its most impressive win of the conference season and they’ll look to build on that momentum before hitting a tough three-game stretch: at Arkansas, vs. Florida in Columbia, and at Kentucky.
  5. Kentucky is looking like the league’s hottest team after winning five straight, but the Wildcats aren’t the only team on a roll. In case you missed it (and I’m guessing you did), the Georgia Bulldogs have a nice little five-game winning streak of their own. Three of those wins have come on the road, which is extra impressive in a season when home court is being defended so fiercely. Unsurprisingly, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has led the way. Since there is no real secondary scoring threat on the roster, defenses key completely on the sophomore guard every moment he’s on the court, but he’s still producing to the tune of 17.5 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. The Bulldogs will try to make it six in a row this week when Alabama comes to town.
Share this story

SEC M5: 02.11.13 Edition

Posted by DPerry on February 11th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. Missouri took advantage of some hot shooting in the first half to wrap up a much needed win over the weekend against Ole Miss. The Tigers’ starting backcourt combined for 57 points, but Alex Oriakhi was the headlining story. The low post force had his most productive game of the season with 22 point, 18 boards, and 1 melee instigation. Oriakhi was immediately hit with a flagrant, and Reginald Buckner was ejected in the aftermath after throwing a punch. A Twitter exchange between the two schools’ SB Nation sites proclaimed that a rivalry had just been created, which, unless I’m mistaken, is legally binding. Rebels and Tigers, let the hate commence.
  2. Missouri proved their home mettle again this weekend with their resounding win over Ole Miss, but every positive in Columbia just highlights the Tigers’ astounding road troubles. Why can’t a team with talent in spades beat up a weak SEC? “That is the $50-million question,” says Frank Haith. He’d be wise to find an answer soon, as Missouri finishes with five of eight on the road. The thought of a disappointed Tigers team on Selection Sunday hadn’t even crossed my mind through the first few months of the season, but several more road losses (in addition to a likely home defeat to Florida) would likely leave the Tigers on the outside looking in come March 17th.
  3. On the topic of winless road teams, Arkansas celebrated their massive win over Florida in the most Arkansas way possible: being dismantled by Vanderbilt. The Razorbacks, who had 37 points by the third TV timeout against the Gators, scored their 37th point at 11:44 of the second half. “You have to give credit to Vanderbilt, but when you go on the road you have to make shots,” said Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson.  “When you are on the road, you have to match your opponents’ intensity.” The Commodores, no stranger to offensive meltdowns, were pretty impressive on that end of the floor. Kevin Stallings‘ team shot 50% from the floor and spread shots around nicely, with five players tallying at least eight points.
  4. The Wildcat bench stole the spotlight in Saturday’s win over Auburn, but a tough outing for Archie Goodwin is raising some concerns in the Bluegrass State. Kentucky‘s leading scorer played a season-low 17 minutes, scoring only 3 points on 1-6 shooting. “I’m trying to get Archie to zone in on his team, what he’s got to do for his team and get out of how he’s playing because then you can’t make a shot, you’re afraid to make a play because you’re afraid you are going to screw up, versus I’m playing for the team, I know what the team needs me to do, they need me to drive,” stream of consciousness expert John Calipari told reporters. Goodwin has practically eliminated the 3-point shot from his offensive arsenal (a great decision), but he seems to oscillate on his commitment to attacking the basket.
  5. One of the league’s greenest teams will be without their most experienced players for a while, as Mississippi State’s Jalen Steele has been suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules. Coach Rick Ray has declined to give further details after announcing the decision before the Bulldogs’ trip to Florida over the weekend. After starting 2-0 in SEC play, Mississippi State has lost 8 straight by a margin of 21 points per game.
Share this story