Veterans Lead Tennessee’s Unexpected Success

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 23rd, 2015

Missouri and Tennessee spent this past offseason as kindred spirits, and not in a good way, as both Frank Haith and Cuonzo Martin bolted for new jobs. The pair left for different reasons — Haith was likely staying one step ahead of the mob, while Martin was looking for more job security — but both left their former schools in the same position. And both schools were already going to be facing challenges in 2014-15. The Tigers lost essentially all of their scoring with the early departures of Jordan Clarkson and Jabari Brown as well as Earnest Ross’ graduation. The Vols’ Sweet Sixteen squad was also decimated, as Jarnell Stokes left early and Jordan McRae and Jeronne Maymon ran out of eligibility. All of this turnover on the court and sidelines seemed to launch both programs into full-blown transition years, and transition years can be ugly.

Armani Moore has tripled his scoring and rebounding averages from last season (tricitiesports.com).

Armani Moore has tripled his scoring and rebounding averages from last season (tricitiesports.com).

Except that’s not always the case. The two programs that seemed destined for lockstep this year are now trending in very different directions. In some ways, the Vols’ win over the Tigers last Saturday was a microcosm of this notion. Knotted at 46 with under four minutes to play, Missouri turned over the ball on three straight possessions while juniors Armani Moore and Derek Reese made consecutive tough baskets at the rim to lead the Vols to their second conference road win. On Tuesday night, it was senior Josh Richardson and junior Kevin Punter who shined offensively as Tennessee notched its third SEC road win at South Carolina. At the risk of oversimplifying, that has essentially been the story of both teams’ respective seasons. Tennessee finds itself on the fringes of the NCAA Tournament discussion because its veterans have stabilized what could have been a very difficult rebuilding year. Missouri, on the other hand, does not have any returning upperclassmen playing significant roles, and the freshman and sophomore-heavy Tigers have struggled as a result.

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SEC Stock Watch: 01.16.15 Edition

Posted by David Changas on January 16th, 2015

We are now nearly two weeks into conference play, so let’s take a hard look at which teams, players and other things are heading in the right direction, stuck in neutral or on the decline. This is SEC Stock Watch.

Trending Up

  • Florida. Perhaps all it took was conference play for the Gators to right the ship. After opening SEC play with a solid win at upstart South Carolina, the Gators easily dispatched conference lightweights Mississippi State and Auburn in Gainesville. Things get tougher on Saturday when they travel to Georgia, but Billy Donovan’s team is doing what it takes to tidy up its shaky resume for March.
  • Dominique Hawkins. The Kentucky guard went from not being part of either five-man platoon to starting against Missouri, and in his 20 minutes of action he gave John Calipari the perimeter defense the Wildcats needed. His entry into the starting lineup in place of Tyler Ulis was a bit of a surprise, but it obviously got the team’s attention as the Wildcats cruised to an 86-47 win over the Tigers, eradicating some of the bad vibe left over from last week’s overtime wins against Ole Miss and Texas A&M.
Dominique Hawkins took advantage of his surprise start against Missouri (Bleacher Report).

Dominique Hawkins took advantage of his surprise start against Missouri (Bleacher Report).

  • Robert Hubbs. Anyone who saw Hubbs play earlier this year wouldn’t believe that the freshman would ever make a Stock Watch list, although there was clearly nowhere for him to go than up. The former five-star recruit was way overrated coming out of high school, but Hubbs needed to find a way to contribute for Tennessee to have any success this season. He has done just that, and his career-high 16 points against Arkansas was a huge reason the Vols were able to upset the Hogs earlier this week.
  • Alabama. Sure, the Crimson Tide lost at South Carolina on Tuesday night, but there is no shame in dropping a two-point contest to one of the league’s most improved teams on the road. Alabama clearly has moved on from last year’s disaster, and with two of its next five games against Kentucky, Anthony Grant’s team has a chance to really get things moving (finally) in the right direction.

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SEC M5: 12.27.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on December 27th, 2013

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  1. CBSSports‘ Matt Norlander took a look at how the individual conferences have performed thus far and, as has been evident, the results aren’t great for the SEC. The league owns an unsightly 3-16 record against the RPI top 25, but every league has struggled against the best teams. The real concern comes from the 6-24 record against RPI top 50 teams and 28-35 record against teams from RPI top 10 conferences. No other power conference other than the AAC has a losing record in the latter stat. There were some close calls, particularly Florida’s last-second loss at Connecticut and Alabama’s hard-fought loss to Wichita State. But even if the SEC had gotten a few more headline-grabbing wins, the overall results still wouldn’t be pretty.
  2. The Diamond Head Classic was a resounding success for South Carolina this week. The Gamecocks followed up a week with losses to Manhattan and USC Upstate by going 2-1 in the Honolulu tournament, with wins over previously unbeaten St. Mary’s and Akron. Sandwiched in between was a 26 point drubbing by Boise State, but that’s alright because Frank Martin was in desperate need of wins. Freshman guard Duane Notice was the star of the trip, scoring in double figures in each of the three games. He had only scored 19 points on the season prior to the trip, but he scored 39 in USC’s three tournament games. The Gamecocks’ scouting work probably won’t be as intense as usual this week as they will play Akron on Saturday, just three days after beating the Zips in their Diamond Head finale.
  3. As action died down around the conference over the holiday week, let’s revisit an article written a few weeks ago about Arkansas guard Michael Qualls. The Razorback has largely flown under the radar this season, but should start causing SEC hoops fans to take a second look with conference play about to start. The sophomore is averaging 14.1 points per game after logging only 4.6 per game last season. What’s most impressive is the efficient way in which he’s been scoring those points. His true shooting percentage (65.8%) is sixth best in the conference, and his player efficiency ranking (24.1) ranks ninth. Oh, and he annihilated  a poor Southern Illinois-Edwardsville player with this dunk to begin the season. It’s time to take notice of this rising SEC star.
  4. One of the greatest players in Missouri history is keeping his NBA dream alive in the D-League. But this Tiger didn’t play for Frank Haith or Mike Anderson; he goes way back to Quin Snyder. At the ripe basketball age of 33, Kareem Rush is attempting to return to the NBA with the Los Angeles D-Fenders after being waived by the Los Angeles Clippers in 2009-10 because of a torn ACL. The Columbia Tribune‘s Joey Kaufman writes, “the average age of the D-Fenders is 26 years old, and nearly all of them were in junior high school when Rush led the Tigers to the NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight in 2002.” Rush is the darling of a generation of Missouri fans that falls between the Anthony Peeler-led teams of the mid 90s and NCAA Tournament drought-busting teams of Mike Anderson. It’s probably a longshot that he finds another NBA roster spot, but it’s encouraging to see a player come back from injury and give it his best against all odds.
  5.  Tennessee’s home loss to North Carolina State was “as bad as they come,” according to SI.com‘s Seth Davis. He writes, “first of all, how can a point guard (Memphis transfer Antonio Barton) play 21 minutes, miss all eight shots and not record a single assist? That can’t happen, ever. And Jordan McRae (6-for-22) needs to recognize when his shot isn’t falling and find other ways to help his team win. Lotta kinks to work out before the start of conference play.” Barton’s ineffectiveness with this (especially shooting the three) has been a problem, but another issue is the Volunteers’ lack of depth. They are reliant on three freshmen to give them quality off the bench (A.J. Davis, Darius Thompson and Robert Hubbs), but none of the three has stepped forward and been consistently productive this season. That needs to change if Tennessee is to make a run at a NCAA tournament bid. Each player has a potential role and skill set that could greatly help the Vols. Hubbs has the talent to be a primary scoring option, Thompson can be a distributor and Davis has size behind Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon. Whether they can reach this potential remains to be seen, but it will be a key for Cuonzo Martin.
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20 Questions: Can a Third SEC Team Emerge as a National Player?

Posted by Bennet Hayes on October 17th, 2013

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Throughout the preseason, RTC national columnists will answer the 20 most compelling questions heading into the 2013-14 season. Previous columns in this year’s series are located here.   

Basketball in the Southeastern Conference has long been dominated by Kentucky and Florida. Since 1997, those two schools have combined for four times as many National Championships as the rest of the conference has Final Four appearances. LSU’s 2006 national semifinal appearance was a proud moment for the Tiger program, but outside of that showing and a more recent flourish from Tennessee (six straight NCAA Tournament appearances from 2006-11), it’s hard to find too many SEC teams not named Kentucky or Florida that have made waves nationally. The forecast for 2013-14 doesn’t look a whole lot different than usual, with the Gators and Wildcats climbing into most experts’ preseason Top 25s, the two powers again finding separation from their conference mates. But is there another team in the league capable of surprising the experts and making a push into the national consciousness? The track record of the rest of the conference makes it difficult to be overly optimistic about the prospects of any team making that leap, but a talented Tennessee team with some valuable newfound stability could prove capable of pulling up a third seat at a dinner table that has long sat only two.

Good Luck Finding A Tougher Inside Duo -- SEC Or Elsewhere -- Than Tennessee's Pair Of Bruisers: Jarnell Stokes And Jeronne Maymon

Good Luck Finding A Tougher Inside Duo — SEC Or Elsewhere — Than Tennessee’s Pair Of Bruisers: Jarnell Stokes And Jeronne Maymon

Given the recent success of the Bruce Pearl era (at least when he wasn’t doubling as a grill-master) and the expansive women’s basketball tradition in Knoxville, Tennessee would certainly seem like the most natural program to be poised for a step up in national notoriety. Cuonzo Martin’s first two seasons at the helm in Knoxville exhibited some of that promise, but the Vols would up just short of the NCAA Tournament in each campaign. This season, the talent is in place to not only make the field of 68, but also do some damage upon arrival.

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