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.”

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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.
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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.
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Unlikely Practices Yield Positive Results for Mississippi State

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 17th, 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.

When Mississippi State assistant coach Wes Flanigan was hired on Rick Ray’s staff in Starkville, he likely had no idea what he was getting himself into. Flanigan was an all-SEC guard who played for Auburn in the mid-90s, but he didn’t imagine that he would have to take the court for the Bulldogs just to field a full 10-man roster in practice. That’s what happens when injuries and departures have depleted the MSU roster down to just seven scholarship players.

Rick Ray is just looking for healthy bodies to take the court for MSU, even if that means coaches, managers, or trainers.

Rick Ray is just looking for healthy bodies to take the court for MSU, even if that means coaches, managers, or trainers.

“I promised Coach Ray when he gave me the job and this opportunity that I would do anything I could to help the program,” said Flanigan. “I had no idea I’d be out here at practice, 12 to 15 years later, and here it is. I’m 30 pounds overweight but I’m doing what I can to help the team a little bit.” Evidently, Flanigan and the other trainers, coaches, and managers forced into action are making a huge impact on the culture in Starkville. ”We go hard at practice. The coaches go at us,” said freshman guard Craig Sword. “They’re moving like they’re still young.” And perhaps that friendly competition is part of the reason Mississippi State surprised a lot of people with two victories to start out SEC play after struggling to win games during the non-conference schedule.

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SEC M5: 01.11.13 Edition

Posted by DPerry on January 11th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. Kentucky escaped with a 60-58 win over Vanderbilt Thursday night, the Wildcats’ first true road win of the season. The victory wasn’t without controversy however, as Nerlens Noel’s short jumper with 17.3 seconds clearly should have been called a shot-clock violation, leaving Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings incensed and ESPN’s Bobby Knight perplexed. Despite their continued troubles shooting from long range, Kentucky looked to be in top form in the first half, coasting to a double-figure lead at the break. A different team came out of the locker room after halftime, though, appearing passive on the offensive end as Vanderbilt switched to a zone. “They outworked us,” John Calipari said. “They beat us to 50-50 balls, they beat us to rebounds. We were lucky to win the game.”
  2. As it was the only SEC game of the night, I’ll keep rolling on Kentucky-Vanderbilt. The Wildcat offense had an abysmal second half, but the defense wasn’t far behind. The Commodores put up 34 points after the break, or one more than they managed in 40 minutes against Marist. The culprit on the UK side isn’t tough to identify. “You can sit here and sugarcoat it, but you all watched it,” Calipari said. “They went at Kyle [Wiltjer] every single possession I had him in the game. Every single possession.” The shockingly slow stretch forward only provides value on the offensive end, but making only a single field goal in 14 minutes isn’t the type of production that will keep him on the floor. His minutes have been steadily declining throughout the season, and Wiltjer may find himself struggling to stay in the rotation sooner rather than later.
  3. The Los Angeles Athletic Club released its 25 finalists for the Wooden Award, and, as you might have guessed, the SEC’s representation isn’t overly impressive. The conference earned only two nominations, trailing each of the other power conference except for the Pac-12 (completely snubbed). The nominations both come from the same team: Laurence Bowers and Phil Pressey. The Missouri power forward and point guard are deservedly included, and there shouldn’t be much of an argument from the rest of the league that anyone else should have been there. Florida is a well-rounded team without a true standout star, and none of the talented Kentucky freshman have shown the required consistency to be on the short list.
  4. In its first game since receiving confirmation that Jeronne Maymon will miss the entire season with injury, Tennessee had a chance to make an impression as the Vols opened conference play against Ole Miss. The Rebels pack some punch on both ends of the court, but if the Volunteers still consider themselves to be contenders for an NCAA at-large bid, this was the type of home game they needed to win. Of course, Mississippi dominated the game from start to finish, out-rebounding the Vols by 10 boards and leaving Cuonzo Martin’s squad with more questions than answers. Junior guard Jordan McRae and his 26 points were the lone bright spot for the home team, but he realizes how much his team will miss their most experienced big man. ”I told Jeronne after the game that if we could just find one guy to get the rebounds he always got,” McRae told Mark Wiedmer of the Times Free Press. “Because he seemed to get every rebound last year.” How can they fix it? Said McRae, “”Well, there isn’t anybody like Jeronne.”
  5. A home win over South Carolina is rarely cause for celebration, but for Mississippi State, dubbed a “public embarrassment” by coach Rick Ray earlier in the week following a loss to Alabama A&M, opening up conference play on a positive note is quite a surprise. “Great to get the first win in SEC. For most of our guys, it’s the first time they’ve experienced SEC basketball,” Ray told reporters after Wednesday’s victory. Mississippi State took advantage of 24 South Carolina turnovers (they rank in the bottom 10 nationally in turnover percentage), as the Gamecocks couldn’t find an answer for the Bulldogs’ 1-3-1 zone. Fred Thomas and Tyson Cunningham were especially impressive on the defensive end, combining for eight steals while forcing USC’s Bruce Ellington into nine turnovers.
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SEC M5: 01.09.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 9th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. SEC play started Tuesday night, and for one team the message was simple: Just win. Tennessee enters conference play without forward Jeronne Maymon, with injuries to freshman Derek Reese and point guard Trae Golden, and with anything but an assurance of an NCAA berth carrying a mediocre 8-4 record. “I wouldn’t say [there's] pressure,” Vols coach Cuonzo Martin said. “We just need to win ball games.” The Volunteers open up with Ole Miss this evening and will need Golden to play much better. Over the last three games, Golden is 1-of-16 from the field and is averaging just 6.3 points per game.
  2. Fans in Lexington may want revenge against Vanderbilt on Thursday given the Commodores’ narrow victory over the Wildcats in the SEC Tournament final, but Kentucky coach John Calipari doesn’t expect his players to have a chip on their shoulder. “The guys I’m coaching may not even know that game happened to be honest with you. I’ve watched all three games that we played with Vandy last year just to touch up on how we played them, how they played us. All three games were wars. We happened to win two; we could’ve lost all three – or we could’ve won all three. But they were wars, and so I expect nothing less than that going up [to Nashville].” As Kentucky continues to rely upon freshmen in this one-and-done landscape, it becomes increasingly likely that current players will be unfamiliar with long-term institutional history. Rivalries may change year to year just as the teams do in Lexington.
  3. Saddled with injuries and a youthful team, Auburn has turned to junior swingman Allen Payne at the power forward position. Payne, a 6’5″ junior with lingering knee issues after a suffering ACL and meniscus tears last season, is undersized for the post but his solid play against Illinois and Florida State has earned him the praise of coaches and teammates. ”He’s always been tough,” center Rob Chubb said. “But now he’s starting to get more touches, he’s starting to get a feel for himself and realize he’s a skilled bigger player.” Payne stepped up in a big way last week in a win over Florida State with 17 points, seven rebounds, and three assists.
  4. Could Ole Miss give the SEC a chance at four bids in the NCAA Tournament? Well, it’s never too early to start projecting the bracket, and at this point the Rebels seem to be squarely on the bubble. Ole Miss has neither quality wins nor bad losses, with a win over Rutgers as its “best” victory thus far. A win over the Scarlet Knights is hardly a resume builder. Three bids remains the most likely scenario for the SEC this year, but a rise from the Rebels in conference play gives the conference its best chance at securing another bid in the Big Dance.
  5. Mississippi State coach Rick Ray says Mississippi State is “getting ready to turn the corner.” Despite some embarrassing losses, the first-year coach likes the direction his Bulldogs are taking considering the circumstances. “But the semester break has been key for us as far as our individual player development and our team getting better,” Ray said. “I felt that all came to fruition in our game against New Orleans when we went out and played better than we did that first 15 minutes against Alabama A&M. We’re headed in the right direction as far as improvement as a ball club and improvement individually as we start SEC play.” Mississippi State is “all the way up to a booming seven scholarship players,” forced to use trainers and managers to field a full 10-man scrimmage in practice. Considering the circumstances, patience is in order in Starkville.
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Q&A Around the SEC: Mississippi State Bulldogs

Posted by Brian Joyce on December 14th, 2012

Christian D’Andrea is a columnist for the Vanderbilt site Anchor of Gold and a weekly columnist for the SEC microsite.

It’s been a rough season in Starksville. Of course, losing your team’s top four players and the head coach who ran the team for more than a decade will lower expectations a bit. That’s what Mississippi State is going through right now. Former coach Rick Stansbury was dismissed this spring after failing to reach the NCAA Tournament in his last three years. That might have been excusable if Stansbury hadn’t been in charge of one of the NCAA’s most talented – but dysfunctional – rosters. The Bulldogs had high-level recruits like Renardo Sidney, Dee Bost, Rodney Hood, and Arnett Moultrie on their teams, but the only thing State had to show for it was a pair of NIT appearances and some embarrassing footage of Sidney fighting teammate Elgin Bailey in the stands at a preseason tournament.

Rick Ray stepped into a tough situation in Starkville.

Rick Ray stepped into a tough situation in Starkville.

Now, Mississippi State is smack-dab in the middle of a rebuilding phase that might carry into 2013-14 and beyond. The Bulldogs have plenty of work to do if they want to emerge as an upper-tier program in the SEC once again. In order to figure out just where new coach Rick Ray and his staff need to start, we turned to the experts. Braden Bishop is a contributor at the Mississippi State blog For Whom the Cowbell Tolls. He took some time to focus away from the Bulldogs’ upcoming Gator Bowl match-up to answer some questions about MSU’s outlook for the season. His answers are below:

Rush the Court: Mississippi State is going through a top-to-bottom rebuilding process in 2012-13. Not only are the Bulldogs replacing their four top scorers from last year, but they’ll do it without longtime coach Rick Stansbury. What can SEC fans expect out of State and new head coach Rick Ray this season?

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SEC Power Rankings: Week Four

Posted by DPerry on December 14th, 2012

Every week, the SEC microsite will post a composite power ranking list for the league’s performances coupled with a short commentary justifying each team’s specific ranking. Here are Week Four’s SEC Power Rankings (all statistics via TeamRankings).

The Gators Are the Class of the SEC (Photo via John Raoux / AP)

The Gators Are the Class of the SEC (Photo via John Raoux / AP)

  1. Florida- There’s not a lot missing from the Gators’ resume. They’ve beaten every opponent by double figures, while playing the nation’s 13th toughest schedule. As of the release of last week’s rankings, however, they hadn’t had the chance to prove their mettle in a true road game, a situation in which they struggled last season (losing their first four). After their trip to Tallahassee last week, consider that mettle proven. The Gators embarrassed rival Florida State in a 72-47 win, holding the Seminoles to only 15 first-half points. Florida’s ability to win away from the O-Dome will be crucial over the rest of the season. In addition to this Saturday’s trip to Arizona, the Gators will have road games at Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee, and Kentucky, all among the more hostile environments in the SEC.
  2. Missouri- Do I have to put a team here? There’s a massive gap between Florida and the rest of the conference, but the Tigers are the choice at #2. Missouri hasn’t been tested against quality competition since they left the Bahamas, but their performances against smaller conference foes have been far from convincing. A nasty little habit of starting slow has been their biggest problem. The Tigers trailed Southeast Missouri State by 10 at the half, and only held a three-point advantage over Tennessee State after 20 minutes. In fact, Mizzou ranks 101st nationally in first half scoring margin, at only +3.1 points. Big second half scoring outputs have saved Frank Haith’s team, but with Brandon Paul and the Fighting Illini looming next week, another slow start may be too much to overcome.
  3. Kentucky- After consecutive losses to Notre Dame and Baylor, the Wildcats made history when they dropped out of the rankings from the #8 spot, receiving only 186 votes, the largest single-week drop in AP poll history. Kentucky proceeded to easily handle its next two opponents in Samford and Portland, but somehow fell even further in the next AP poll, garnering only 44 votes. I’m not claiming that the Wildcats deserve to be ranked, but why would they lose ground after two convincing victories? It appears that quite a few voters realized a week too late that they were allowed to leave Kentucky off their ballots. Read the rest of this entry »
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SEC Power Rankings: Week Three

Posted by KAlmekinder on December 5th, 2012

Every week, the SEC microsite will post a composite power ranking list for the league’s performances coupled with a short commentary justifying each team’s specific ranking. Week Three’s SEC Power Rankings:

Is there a clear explanation for Kentucky’s back-to-back losses?

  1. Florida - The Gators just keep winning with one key reason: an evenly spread, highly efficient offense. Of the two marquee match-ups Florida has had so far this season, they have won against then-#22 Wisconsin by 18 points, and most recently, against a regularly tough Marquette squad, 82-49. The Gators are averaging nearly 74 points a game on 47% shooting (36% from beyond the arc). In the win over the Golden Eagles last week, six Gators, including three off the bench, posted double figure points while shooting over 50% from the field. Florida’s chemistry and rhythm has led them to the top of the SEC Power Rankings and a top six ranking in the national polls.
  2. Missouri - With most of the attention involving Missouri is focused on Michael Dixon leaving the team, the Tigers have been able to focus on winning with their other personnel. The key to Missouri’s quick turnaround has been forward Laurence Bowers, making his presence known this year after missing last season due to injury. Bowers posted a season high 23 points on 9-of-11 shooting in the Tigers’ win over Appalachian State last Saturday, including 3-for-3 from long distance. With no other difficult match-up until the annual “Braggin’ Rights” showdown versus Illinois later this month, Missouri should remain near the top of the Power Rankings.
  3. Alabama - A narrow 58-56 loss to #17 Cincinnati showed Alabama’s true colors earlier this week. The Tide rallied from 13 down to only lose on a Cashmere Wright fadeaway at the buzzer. Alabama could have used another efficient night from guard Trevor Releford (5-15 shooting, only 12 points), but a loss to a ranked Cincinnati team tested Anthony Grant’s club the entire night and proved that they have the ability to rally when needed. Both Dayton (5-2) and VCU (5-3) come to Tuscaloosa in the next few weeks for another couple of solid tests for the Tide.
  4. Ole Miss - Ole Miss has quietly risen through the rankings because of its own success and the failures of others. Kentucky’s losses (discussed below) have paved the way for an undefeated Rebels squad to a top four position in the SEC Power Rankings. While Ole Miss’ schedule can be considered weak, they have still yet to lose a game. Ole Miss ranks second in the nation in points per game and sixth in rebounds per game. The next test, the Rebs’ first true road game at Middle Tennessee State, will show the rest of the league if they are better than people think. Read the rest of this entry »
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SEC M5: 11.28.12 Edition

Posted by KAlmekinder on November 28th, 2012

  1. There has been a lot of speculation and curiosity as to why Missouri‘s Michael Dixon was suspended indefinitely without reason a few months ago. On Tuesday, the Kansas City Star reported that the star Tigers guard had been accused of forcible rape on August 20 but not charged by the district attorney due to insufficient evidence. The police report, disclosed earlier this month, states that the case was “a thorough investigation” and that it “was determined that the evidence was not sufficient to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury,” according to Tracy Gonzalez of the Boone County (MO) Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. Dixon, who is still serving his team suspension, will not be punished criminally, but he could face additional consequences from the school after decisions are made by the Student Conduct Committee and the Chancellor (see: Dez Wells).
  2. After putting a terrible Maui Invitational performance behind them and accepting the changes needed to make from the trip, Rick Ray and the Mississippi State Bulldogs are looking forward. The first step is to get players (and coaches) back healthy. Ray returned to the sidelines Tuesday night versus Alcorn State after battling a stomach virus that kept him ill during the trip to Maui. Also, the Bulldogs got forward Colin Borchert back from a three-game suspension for a violation of team rules. Borchert contributed six points on 2-of-5 shooting in the Bulldogs’ 60-44 win. While only scoring 60 points, the Dogs held ASU to only 28.3% shooting and 18 rebounds, a subtle move in the right direction.
  3. Veteran head coach Billy Donovan knows when to turn a negative situation into a teaching lesson. It has been two weeks since Florida guard Scottie Wilbekin was reinstated by the university but the savvy coach will still not yet start Wilbekin in his normal place in the lineup. Wilbekin was replaced by veteran Mike Rosario due to Wilbekin’s suspension and will continue to come off the bench until otherwise determined. Rosario has averaged 11 points a game in his place, compared to only nine points a game for Wilbekin off the bench. Donovan is using this situation as a teaching moment for Wilbekin until he can earn his spot back in the starting rotation.
  4. There isn’t much hype about Arkansas shooters in the SEC when they have to contend with the likes of Kentucky, Florida, and Tennessee, but Sports Illustrated‘s Luke Winn is determined to make sure one of the Razorbacks’ top scorers receives some publicity this season. Junior Mardracus Wade was recently named one of the 16 best shooters in the country by Winn in an SI.com slideshow. Wade leads the Hogs in minutes played this season and he is shooting 40% from beyond the arc. The recent high praise for Wade and his team hopefully proves true soon, especially with a brutal non-conference slate still ahead on the menu. If things work out, Wade could join stellar sophomore BJ Young as another solid scoring option and could help lead Arkansas to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in five seasons.
  5. With talk about Trevor Releford and Andrew Steele as major contributors to Alabama‘s offense, the star veteran guards had to sit out Tuesday’s game versus Lamar due to injury and illness. Luckily, the Crimson Tide did not need them as they routed Lamar, 75-47. While a win over lowly Lamar was expected, what was more interesting was coach Anthony Grant‘s positive comments regarding his bench players who played significant minutes tonight. Grant was quoted in saying that he “believes in each and every one of these guys that we coach on a daily basis” and that’s the “motivation for me is to try to help them achieve the things they want to achieve and help our team achieve the things we want to achieve.” Grant’s mindset and coaching ability will help maximize the potential from these bench players who would not normally get time if Releford and Steele were healthy. Hopefully, Alabama can get both Releford (stomach virus) and Steele (groin) back quickly as they have to face #17 Cincinnati, Dayton, and VCU all within the next three weeks.
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SEC M5: 11.27.12 Edition

Posted by KAlmekinder on November 27th, 2012

  1. After a disastrous showing in the Maui Invitational, Mississippi State head coach Rick Ray has spent the last few days reflecting on his team’s performance in Hawaii. Ray, who also battled a stomach virus while on the trip, discussed several reasons why the Bulldogs underperformed in the tournament. Ray said that his squad, while losing by an average of 29 points per game, “played harder than the other teams for the most part” and a lot of the second-chance opportunities for opponents came from MSU’s rebounding woes. He also noted that the team’s assist-to-turnover ratio (1:2) “needs to be rectified before beating anybody that’s a quality opponent.”
  2. Tennessee got into the Cyber Monday/holiday spirit yesterday by offering $7 tickets to any men’s or women’s basketball home game other than those versus Kentucky for the rest of the season. The promotion, while ending at 7 pm on Monday (sorry), was good for any seat in the 300-level section of Thompson-Boling Arena. There is no official word on whether the online deal resulted in an increase in ticket sales, but such a promotion on Cyber Monday surely could not have hurt the Vols’ chances of packing the arena for their remaining games — especially with great games ahead including Wichita State, Memphis, Xavier, Alabama, Florida, and Missouri all coming to Knoxville this season.
  3. How has Alabama grown this season? The work of veterans Trevor Releford, Andrew Steele, and Trevor Lacey have combined for 37.8 points per game (54% of the team’s scoring) along with an outstanding 2.57 assist-to-turnover ratio this season. With Rodney Cooper (15 PPG/4 RPG) currently out due to shoulder tendinitis, heralded freshman Devonta Pollard emerged as a fourth contributor in keeping the Crimson Tide undefeated, and was listed as one of Al.com‘s three points of the game regarding Alabama’s win over Charleston Southern last weekend. Pollard, who came into that game averaging only four points per outing, was able to control the game to the point where he “could take advantage of his God-given talents”, as stated by coach Anthony Grant. With a healthy Cooper expected back in the lineup as well as a star freshman quickly learning the college game through ample playing time, the Tide could become another legitimate contender for the SEC title.
  4. It seems to be exact opposites in the state of Mississippi this year: Ole Miss has the advantage over in-state rival Mississippi State in basketball while the Bulldogs hold the upper hand on the gridiron. Ole Miss already has five wins in its first five games this season on the hardwood compared to the Bulldogs’ single victory. Of course, Ole Miss has the advantage of not enduring the change of leadership and player exodus that has occurred in Starkville over the last few seasons. The Rebels’ Murphy Holloway was named SEC Player of the Week on Monday, and even while winning versus low-quality opponents, Ole Miss still has a projected higher season win total (22-7, 12-6) than Mississippi State (9-21, 3-15), according to KenPom.com. Regardless of the quality of opponents and game results, the momentum on the hardwood is clearly in Oxford this season.
  5. The learning curve in the SEC might come quicker than imagined for South Carolina‘s Frank Martin.  The Gamecocks concluded their holiday festivities by winning the Hoops for Hope Classic over Arkansas-Little Rock in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, last weekend. Martin’s squad, now 5-1 on the season, is quickly gaining confidence with each win they accrue in the non-conference schedule. A win over St. John’s this week in the SEC/Big East Challenge could give the Gamecocks the momentum they need as they face rival Clemson next week. Wins over both teams could serve to propel South Carolina to an outstanding 12-1 non-conference record before playing Mississippi State in its first SEC game in early January. As the games will become more difficult in the waning months of the season, more wins now could help ease the pain later on for Martin and his young, inexperienced squad.
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Mississippi State’s Maui Performance Signals a Tough Season for Rick Ray

Posted by KAlmekinder on November 22nd, 2012

The Mississippi State Bulldogs spent earlier this week on the beautiful island of Maui as they participated in the EA Sports Maui Invitational. Among the palm trees, sandy beaches, and perfect waves, the Bulldogs’ lack of productivity in the annual preseason tournament showcased why Rick Ray‘s club, which finished in last place in the event, will have to endure a long and difficult path back to the top of the SEC.

Mississippi State’s woes displayed in Maui is a foreshadowing for the rest of the season (WFAA.com)

The Bulldogs lost all three of their guaranteed games in Maui by an average of 29 points. They averaged only 18 field goals per game, three three-point field goals per game, and, at one point, trailed #9 North Carolina by 49 points on Monday evening. Was this the worst performance from an SEC team in Maui in the last half-decade? Yes. Since 2007, the first year since any one specific school has been in Maui before (Kentucky went in 2006 and 2010), Mississippi State became the first SEC program to finish last in the annual week-of-Thanksgiving tournament. Out of the possible 18 games in the six total years of this research, Mississippi State had three of the five lowest scoring games of any SEC team (averaging 55 points per game). They also allowed opponents three of the five highest scoring games in the six years (averaging 84 points per game).

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