SEC M5: 01.29.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 29th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. Perhaps no team in the country has had as many highs and lows as LSU since conference play began. The Tigers have been blown out at home by Tennessee, endured a 15-0 run by Ole Miss to lose a game of which they were in control, and erased a 19-point deficit against Alabama only to lose the game. But last night they reached the highest point of their season with an impressive home win over Kentucky. The win is a huge boon to LSU’s NCAA Tournament prospects as they head into a relatively benign four-game stretch (Arkansas, at Georgia, Auburn, at Texas A&M). The Tigers still have their warts (notably, poor free throw shooting and turnovers) but their frontcourt has to be considered one of the top units in the country. Jordan Mickey, Johnny O’Bryant and friends held Julius Randle to the lowest scoring output of his career (six points) and gave up just 11 combined rebounds to he and Willie Cauley-Stein. And while Dakari Johnson and Alex Poythress found a number of tip-ins and other baskets in the second half, it didn’t matter with the way O’Bryant was playing on offense.
  2. Missouri picked up easily its best road win since joining the SEC last night by winning at Bud Walton Arena. The win pumps life into the Tigers’ sagging NCAA Tournament hopes, and gives them momentum heading into consecutive games against Kentucky and Florida. There’s a legitimate rivalry growing between these two schools. The last two games in Fayetteville have come down to the wire, and there will always be added juice as long as former Missouri head coach Mike Anderson is at Arkansas. A lightning quick postgame handshake (without the seemingly standard shoulder pat) suggests things aren’t exactly rosy between he and Frank Haith. Part of what makes college basketball so great are the regional rivalries and atmosphere surrounding them, and it looks like the SEC is on the verge of having another special match-up.
  3. Billy Donovan has a lot of talent to work with at Florida, but he  also has something that’s become increasingly rare at big-time programs: plenty of senior leadership. There are four seniors averaging over 24 minutes per game, and that experience should keep Florida focused as the schedule winds towards March. Part of that responsibility includes mentoring young players such as Kasey Hill and Michael Frazier. “They don’t really know how to get themselves prepared, how to to make their way through practice every single day,” Will Yeguete said. “We talk to them and let them know that we have to get ourselves ready.” The Gators’ defense was highlighted on the microsite yesterday, and it’s the biggest reason Florida is in the running for a No. 1 seed. But their intangibles and experience will also come in handy during postseason play.
  4. The numbers are not on Tony Barbee‘s side. The Tigers have the second worst SEC record over his four years Barbee (12-44), and the Tigers have not won a conference game in 51 weeksAl.com‘s Kevin Scarbinsky wonders whether Barbee should get the fifth year that Gene Chizik didn’t get on the gridiron. He writes, “Forget winning any kind of championship. Barbee’s program has yet to stage even a one-hit wonder of a major upset over the likes of a Kentucky or a Florida. His Tigers haven’t beaten a ranked team, and they haven’t won a game in the SEC Tournament.” Barbee also hasn’t yet lived up to his reputation as a top-flight recruiter. He hasn’t brought a single player to Auburn who was the caliber of Randy Culpepper, a fringe pro prospect he recruited while at UTEP. The good thing for Barbee is that given the priority put on the Tigers’ football team (and things are going pretty well on that front), the administration can be patient without major repercussions if they have faith in him.
  5. Trevor Releford got quite a workout last week. Backup point guard Retin Obasohan’s injury absence forced Releford to play 40 minutes in Alabama’s games against LSU and Florida. “He’s our only senior. He’s a veteran so he gets the sense of urgency in terms of what we need to do,” Grant said. “To play 80 minutes in 48 hours, that was all heart and guts on his part.” The workload might have taken a toll on Releford, as he only scored two points in the second half against LSU. Seemingly to give him a rest, Grant played him off the ball and ran the offense through Levi Randolph instead. This might not be a bad look going forward because Randolph has the size to see passing lanes and the ability to penetrate, while Releford is a good three-point shooter. One thing, however, is for certain: Kyle Fuller and Rod Odom feel no sympathy for Releford.
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RTC Bracketology: January 23 Edition

Posted by Daniel Evans on January 23rd, 2014

Daniel Evans (@bracketexpert) is Rush the Court’s resident bracketologist. He will update his brackets at least twice a week through the rest of the regular season here at RTC, but his updated brackets can be viewed daily at Bracketology Expert. As we approach March Madness, he’ll also provide occasional blind resumes. Over the past six years, Evans has been ranked by the Bracket Matrix as the nation’s No. 11 bracketologist out of hundreds of entries. 

The movement in my newest batch of bracketology focuses completely on the Big Ten. Ohio State continues to slide after a loss to Nebraska earlier this week and still lacks a single quality win. The Buckeyes are No. 9 seed, based mainly on their high RPI and the eye test which seems to suggest Ohio State is a lot better than its recent record.

Some other notes about the January 23 edition:

  • Wisconsin started 16-0 and has now lost three consecutive games after a loss at Minnesota Wednesday night. The Badgers are now a No. 3 seed and at No. 9 on the S-curve. Villanova, despite getting destroyed by Creighton Monday night, stays on the No. 2 line for now. The Wildcats would have been the fourth No. 1 seed if the ‘Cats had won against Creighton.
  • Michigan is flying up the board and is now a No. 3 seed after a big win over Iowa on Wednesday night. The win over the Hawkeyes followed another big win over Wisconsin last Saturday. Minnesota is also moving up and is a No. 6 seed after beating the Badgers.
  • The last eight teams in the at-large field continue to look like a bunch of mediocre clubs with hardly anything separating them. Arkansas lost on the road Wednesday night at Tennessee, eliminating the Razorbacks’ chance of moving back into my field. Arkansas is now 2-22 on the road under head coach Mike Anderson and 44-5 at home. I need someone smarter than me to figure that one out. I’ll keep the Razorbacks outside of my field until they can beat anyone on the road, no matter what they do at home. Considering the Hawgs have only one more chance for a big win this year (vs. Kentucky, at Rupp) it’s likely they are done barring some kind of unbelievable turnaround in road games. Don’t count on it.
  • The SEC has four teams in my latest field, but No. 12 Missouri barely made it after a loss to LSU this week. No. 10 Tennessee only made it because there really is a lack of quality teams in the lowest at-large seed lines and at least the Vols have a couple of good wins.
  • The Pac-12 seems to be racing the SEC to get as few NCAA Tournament bids as possible. No. 1 Arizona is a lock, but teams like No. 10 California (which lost to USC Wednesday night) continue to dare the committee to only take two or three teams from the conference. No. 9 Colorado can’t help that Spencer Dinwiddie was injured against Washington, but the Buffaloes are now thrown into a group of Pac-12 bubble teams that they likely would have been head and shoulders above. No. 9 Oregon, No. 11 Stanford and No. 9 UCLA all appear to be very up and down this season.

The full bracket is after the jump.

NOTE: Teams in all capital letters are projected auto-bid winners.

 

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Tennessee Blows Golden Opportunity For Resume Enhancers in Loss to UTEP

Posted by David Changas on November 29th, 2013

For Tennessee, the causes for concern following Thursday night’s loss to UTEP are numerous. The Vols showed no ability to run any semblance of an offense against Tim Floyd’s triangle-and-two and box-in-one defense, hitting only 34.9 percent of their shots, including 3-for-21 from three-point range. They allowed the Miners to shoot 58.0 percent on the other end, and played a wholly uninspired game against a Miners team that previously had given no indication it would be able to compete with the team many expect to finish behind Kentucky and Florida in the SEC race. And while Tennessee has a long way to go at this point to even be mentioned in the same breath as the NCAA Tournament, it’s still November, and what may be the most troubling aspect of losing in the first round of the Battle 4 Atlantis is that it created missed opportunities for two more games against teams certain to be part of the Big Dance.

Cuonzo Martin Missed a Good Opportunity This Weekend (AP/Adam Brimer)

Cuonzo Martin Missed a Good Opportunity This Weekend (AP/Adam Brimer)

With the loss, the Vols fall into the tournament’s losers’ bracket, and Friday will seek to exact revenge against a Xavier team that dealt them a 67-63 loss in the season opener. While Tennessee appeared to be the more talented team in that game, it got virtually no offensive production from forwards Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon (11 combined points), and shot a paltry 7-of-19 from the free throw line. The Vols also let Matt Stainbrook, who led the Musketeers with 15 points and nine rebounds, control the game. Xavier is expected to finish in bottom half of the revamped Big East, and it is coming off a performance in which it blew a 15-point second half lead and lost 77-74 to Iowa in overtime Thursday. The Musketeers could turn out to be a quality opponent Tennessee will now have on its resume twice, but a win against UTEP would have given the Vols games against the Hawkeyes and either Kansas or Villanova, each of which appears to be sure-fire NCAA Tournament teams. Now, after playing the Musketeers, Tennessee will draw either USC or Wake Forest, neither of which is expected to compete for a bid to the Big Dance.

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SEC M5: 11.22.13 Edition

Posted by Justin Bridgman on November 22nd, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. ESPN.com‘s Eamonn Brennan took a look at the early candidates for the Wooden Award, and it’s no surprise that Julius Randle made the list. In fact, Randle was the only SEC player to be named. In a season of big-time talent across the nation, the SEC is a bit short yet again. Put me in the camp that has Randle as the current favorite, though, as he has dominated in a way that freshman typically do not. While Marcus Smart and Jabari Parker are both fine candidates, my money is on Randle. He’s a singular force that changes the way his entire team is defended. Even on nights when his shot isn’t falling, Randle can control a game with his rebounding and brute force. Ultimately, though, the winner of the award will probably be whichever player’s team wins the most games.
  2. It has been far too long since a John Calipari to the NBA rumor came out, so good thing it was reported yesterday that the Knicks are interested in hiring him. From a Kentucky perspective, this would be an unmitigated disaster. Calipari has been insanely successful as the Wildcats’ head coach, and it is doubtful the school could strike gold twice in a row (remember Billy Gillispie?). Odds are that this speculation continues for a while but goes away when Calipari gets a pay bump from his employer. Barring another visit from the NCAA, Coach Cal can stay in Lexington for as long as he likes. In New York, Calipari would be setting himself up for disappointment with a lack of draft picks and a bunch of overpaid fading stars. Right now, it doesn’t seem worth it for Calipari to leave the college game.
  3. Jordan Clarkson has been an early revelation for Missouri this season, and the defending SEC Player of the Week is just getting started. Clarkson sat out last season due to transfer rules, and he spent all the practice time working on his finishing moves. That work has given Clarkson the confidence to keep attacking the rim, which is going to help Mizzou in games where they would otherwise have no business winning. Clarkson can get an entire team’s frontcourt in foul trouble and make a living at the line. The most impressive park of his game thus far, though, is his willingness to avoid the three. He’s only taken eight treys this season, and he seems to be aware it isn’t his strength. That awareness is what is allowing him to flourish.
  4. With Kasey Hill out for at least a month, Billy Donovan has a lot of work to do. In this press conference Donovan talks about how he already had to pull point guard minutes from desperate places when Hill needed rest during games. The problem is that Donovan previously only needed to find 10 minutes per game to spell him, not 40. The bottom line is that without a true point guard the Gator’s offense will suffer. Shooting guards and point forwards are more inclined to look to score and make plays for themselves rather than through the offense.That can lead to bad shots and unhappy players. At least for one night though, the team found balanced scoring in a solid win over Middle Tennessee. Still, they had just 10 assists on 25 made baskets, which just goes to show they really miss having a true point guard.
  5. Ever wonder what a high major recruit could do to JuCo competition? Well new LSU commit Josh Gray is giving us a pretty good idea. Gray, who will be joining Johnny Jones in Baton Rouge next season, scored 61 and 59 points in his last two games. Originally a Mississippi State recruit, Gray actually went to Texas Tech for his freshman season before moving on to junior college, and now LSU gets to enjoy his services next season. A solid rim attacker and distributor, Gray will be an excellent addition to a rising Tigers program next season.
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When is the Right Time to Tell Your Children About Marshall Henderson?

Posted by Christian D'Andrea on November 14th, 2013

Look, we can’t shelter our kids forever. It’s bound to happen. One day this spring, you’ll be sitting at the table, maybe drinking a cold Schlitz or preparing your tax return, and you’ll see it out the corner of your eye. A child speeds by, fingers fluttering from a palm stuck to their forehead, tongue darting out of their mouth. Multiple syllables, each half-forming a swear word before transforming into something else altogether streaming from his or her lungs. They create some kind of hybrid curse that the Roman Catholic Church will soon hold meetings to discuss. In the background, the scorched remains of what used to be the net of your backyard basketball hoop begin to float away in the wind. “Landsharking,” they’ll call it. Just something they picked up on the playground, they will say. From friends, or maybe an older brother. But you know better. You know exactly where it came from.

Here Comes America’s Most Famous Landshark

The issue  is no laughing matter. Landsharking ruins lives. Kevin Bright, the unfortunate forward in the background of the above picture, transferred back to Europe when not even his stoic German demeanor could conceal the pain of dealing with landsharking last year. La Salle adopted the move in last year’s NCAA Tournament, and after dispatching his Rebels, they promptly lost to Wichita State by 14 points. The only NCAA player man enough to wield the shark, it seems, is none other than Marshall Henderson himself.

That’s what makes him so dangerous for the most vulnerable Americans out there – the 9 to 13 year-olds who have devoted their lives to Ole Miss – or Utah, or Texas Tech, or South Plains College – basketball. These are the children who understand that a silky-smooth shooting form is best complemented by an unhinged glare and an attitude that counts every defensive move as a personal affront. Landsharking, when handled by a responsible adult, can be a powerful tool. For a child who doesn’t know how to use it properly, however, it can be a dangerous gateway into hardcourt clownship.

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RTC Bracketology: A Look at Early Winners & Losers

Posted by Daniel Evans on November 14th, 2013

bracketology

Daniel Evans (@bracketexpert) is RTC’s resident bracketologist. According to Bracket Matrix, he ranks as one of the top bracketologists among those who have produced brackets for more than three years, including two seasons with perfect bracket projections. He updates the field daily on his site, Bracketology Expert, and will be producing a weekly bracket update here at RTC on Thursdays. 

Right now, guessing the NCAA Tournament field with less than a week of game results would be like finding a needle in a haystack. Well, maybe more like finding a needle in the ocean. No matter the analogy you use, it’s pretty impossible. So for this week at least, let’s look at the few teams that have already helped their NCAA Tournament hopes and those who have already fallen behind the eight ball.

No. 1 Seed Race

Kansas' Win Over Duke Tuesday is Likely to Look Great in #1 Seed Discussions in March

Kansas’ Win Over Duke Tuesday is Likely to Look Great in #1 Seed Discussions in March

Winners

  • Michigan State and Kansas: Obviously wins over the nation’s No. 1 and No. 5 ranked teams help the cause of getting a No. 1 seed, but I think it’s also important that both teams won their games a neutral floor. Doesn’t it seem like Kansas always gets these kinds of wins?

Losers

  • Florida, Kentucky and the SEC: Obviously losses hurt your case to be a No. 1 seed on Selection Sunday but I think there is a little more to it than that with these two teams. Florida has not been at full strength and a loss in Madison, Wisconsin, is nothing to lose sleep about, but the Gators didn’t look great in losing. While Kentucky looked young and super-talented (as expected) in its loss to Michigan State, the ‘Cats and Gators are both hurt by the SEC’s early struggles as a league. Alabama has already lost to Oklahoma. LSU lost to Massachusetts. Tennessee fell to Xavier. South Carolina came up short against Baylor. What is the SEC’s best win so far? Is it Mississippi’s win over Troy? Ouch!

Tournament Chances Already in Trouble

  • Miami (FL): I think we all saw a bad season coming for the Hurricanes, but this is ridiculous. A loss to St. Francis and then a one-point overtime victory over Georgia Southern doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. Next they play head coach Mike Davis and Texas Southern, who could run through the SWAC undefeated.
  • Boston College: Not to hate on the ACC here, but the Eagles had a legitimate shot to make a run for an at-large berth, but losses to Providence and Massachusetts — who looks like a NCAA Tournament team as of today — have already derailed some of those early hopes. Next up is Toledo. The Eagles better win that one.
  • West Virginia: Considering Virginia Tech started its season by losing to USC Upstate, it was a shock to learn that West Virginia had blown a big lead and fallen to the Hokies. It’s not that I expected West Virginia to be good, but I did at least expect them to be competitive in the Big 12 this season.
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2013-14 RTC Season Preview Materials: Easy Links to Everything

Posted by rtmsf on November 8th, 2013

seasonpreview-11As we’re typing this, the first college basketball game of the 2013-14 season has already begun, at the All-Military Classic in Lexington, Virginia, between Air Force and Army. This soldier-on-soldier match-up represents the first of some 10,000-plus regular season games that will be played around College Basketball Nation this season, and although there’s no organization on earth that can adequately cover, consider, review and analyze all of them, we’re certainly planning on doing our best, in this, Rush the Court‘s seventh full season of coverage.

The Armed Forces Classic Tips Things Off in Earnest Tonight

The Armed Forces Classic Tips Things Off in Earnest Tonight

We have some new offerings for you this year. Not everyone has time or interest in reading through thousands of lines of copy, but everyone enjoys pictures and video. To that end, we’re ramping up our TumblRTC this year to provide some fun to pair with our analysis. Additionally, there’s so much good video available nowadays that we’ve decided to build our own YouTube channel, rushthecourtTV, which is already curating some fantastic stuff — from conference-specific video streams to game highlights to oddball videos to, of course, the best RTCs of the season. It’s well worth checking out periodically if you know you’re going to have some time to kill.

Longtime readers will know that we’re also continually active on Twitter (@rushthecourt) and Facebook (rushthecourt), but to keep the visual trend going, you can also now find us on Instagram (rushthecourt) these days. We encourage everyone to find us on social media to share pics, videos and whatever else related to college hoops all season long. As we move into games, let’s take a breath and review all the great stuff that our crack staff of writers — the best in the college basketball business — have produced this month. From 20 Questions to 30 Reasons We Love College Basketball, we’ve got you covered. Enjoy the ride with us this year.

Superlatives

Key Preview Questions

RTC Interview Series Previews

RTC Podcast Previews

Conference Microsite Previews

The Other 26 Previews

Let’s tip things off!

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Your SEC Hoops Twitter Must-Follow Guide

Posted by David Changas on November 8th, 2013

As we approach the start of the 2013-14 season, we think it’s important that you have access to all the latest news you can get about the SEC, and we all know that Twitter is the best way to do that. That’s why we’ve compiled this list of must-follows for all 14 SEC squads.

If You Follow These SEC-Related Accounts, You'll Be Covered

If You Follow These SEC-Related Accounts, You’ll Be Covered

Alabama

Arkansas

Auburn

Florida

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The RTC Podcast: 2013-14 Opening Weekend Edition

Posted by rtmsf on November 7th, 2013

seasonpreview (1)

That little countdown clock in the uppper left of this site says it’s about 24 hours from the return of the college hoops. We’ve got you covered. Throughout this preseason, the RTC Podcast has been putting in some serious recording work. Led by hosting and producing stalwart Shane Connolly (@sconnolly114), we have now dropped a total of two preseason podcasts (Part I, recorded in mid-October and featuring guest Mike DeCourcy, can be found here) and seven conference-specific podblasts (listed below).

Today’s Part II of the national preseason podcast is a festive one. Anything is possible! Perhaps an All-America team that will look nothing like the postseason version. Perhaps a trip to the Final Four from a school that was last seen running Steve Alford out of town (no, not that one, keep thinking). Maybe even a new bandwagon to replace the Maize and Blue (alright, not really to replace… more like supplement). There might even be a t-shirt contest in this week’s edition. The point is that we’re all in a great mood with real, live games starting very soon, and we hope you’ll join us for a listen.

Keep in mind that from now until the second week in April, the podcast will publish once early in the week with a review of all the big weekend action, and the RTC Podblast, a much shorter 15-20 minute quick hits version, will publish late in the week reflecting on all that week’s action. As usual, the rundown is below if you’d like to skip around to the most interesting parts. Make sure to add the RTC Podcast to your iTunes lineup so that you’ll automatically upload it on your listening device after we record. And feel free to contact us through Twitter or email — we’re listening.

  • 0:00-1:45 – Open
  • 1:45-3:40 – ACC Preview Takeaway
  • 3:40-5:00 – AAC Preview Takeaway
  • 5:00-6:25 – Big East Preview Takeaway
  • 6:25-7:28 – Big 12 Preview Takeaway
  • 7:28-8:21 – Big Ten Preview Takeaway
  • 8:21-9:15 – Pac-12 Preview Takeaway
  • 9:15-10:40 – SEC Preview Takeaway
  • 10:40-16:47 – Randy Officially Picks a New Bandwagon
  • 16:47-27:18 – Rush the Take with Chris Johnson
  • 27:18-33:14 – All-America Discussion
  • 33:14-45:16 – You, Me and the AP: Top 25 Talk
  • 45:16-50:43 – Opening Weekend Preview
  • 50:43-57:11 – Final Four Picks/Wrap
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SEC M5: 11.07.13 Edition

Posted by Justin Bridgman on November 7th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. After securing a commitment from power forward Trey Lyles, Kentucky now has the number one ranked 2014 recruiting class – seemingly an annual tradition at this point. With six of 247Sports top 10 players still undecided, that ranking is by no means locked in, but regardless, the Wildcats will reload again. Even if Kentucky does not land the biggest names like Jahlil Okafor or Cliff Alexander (and the rumors are that it won’t), this is still an amazing recruiting class. Kentucky fans should take a look at the players they are adding next season as a net positive. Tyler Ulis and Devin Booker are two players that are likely to stick around for two or three years rather than leave for the NBA after one season. Those are the type of players who help sustain championship-level teams as the elite prospects roll through on their one-year stopovers. The 2012 National Championship team needed senior Darius Miller as well as sophomores Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb. The one-and-done players are awfully nice, but having some 4-star recruits stick around an extra year or two also benefits the team in the long run.
  2. Speaking of Kentucky and highly touted recruits, Ken Pomeroy examined how many first round picks this Kentucky is likely to have next June. He looked back in the Draft Express archives and examined where players were picked and then compared it to their projected draft position before the season. The conclusion was that Kentucky is most likely to have either four or five first round picks this season. Something to keep in mind is that what we think of players now is often not what we think of them at the end of the season. Last January nobody would have thought Alex Poythress would be back for his sophomore season, and Nerlens Noel was the runaway choice to be picked first overall. Things can change drastically over the course of a season. Perhaps Andrew Harrison wants to stay in school with his brother who is not ready for the NBA yet. James Young could decide he wants to wait a year and get picked higher. No matter what happens, projections suggesting up to seven Kentucky players could go in the first round should be taken with a grain of salt. Too much can change between now and June to know anything for certain.
  3. When Missouri coach Frank Haith sits for his five-game NCAA suspension related to the Miami/Nevin Shapiro scandal, Tim Fuller will take over the Tigers’ head coaching duties. Fuller came to the Tigers with Haith and has been the associate head coach the last two years. This move is a bit of a surprise, considering assistant coach Dave Leitao has some experience as a head coach at the D-I level. Still, Fuller has been rumored to be a prime head coaching candidate the last couple of summers, and he deserves a chance to prove himself too. Missouri has a fairly easy opening five games (Southeastern Louisiana, Southern Illinois, Hawaii, Gardner-Webb, IUPUI), but not having the head coach in place creates a leadership void. Haith feels as though Fuller is up to the task, and it is a good bet that when Haith returns on Thanksgiving to face Northwestern, the Tigers will already be 5-0. The two things to watch for with Fuller: managing the rotation of players, especially with a young and unpolished frontcourt; and how he coaches at the end of games. Haith struggles himself at the end of close games, perhaps Fuller can prove himself capable in avoiding that same issue.
  4. Buried within the Tim Fuller news was the announcement that two Missouri big men might not play the season opener on Friday night. Forward Tony Criswell has been suspended for the first game of the season, while fellow big man Keanau Post hasn’t practiced all week with a bad ankle. Criswell is the only returning interior player for the Tigers this season, so they need him to play as much as possible. While Haith said he expected Criswell to be back for the team’s second game, that is not a given. When a team has as much roster turnover as Missouri does, they need as much time to play together as possible. Post was a solid scorer at the JuCo level and Missouri desperately needs someone who can score inside this season. Until these two inside players are able to return to the lineup, look for Mizzou to use its four-guard lineup quite often to spread the floor and overcome the size disadvantage.
  5. Billy Donovan isn’t sure what to expect in the early part of this season because he’s missing so much of his team. Donovan questions the team’s top 10 ranking to start the season, pointing out that the team pollsters voted on is not the team he currently has available. With three key players suspended, one sick with mononucleosis, and five-star point guard Chris Walker struggling with test scores, the Gators are missing a starting lineup that could beat Auburn by 15. Donovan is right, his team is going to hit some really rough patches early. Their non-conference schedule is tough, and they could suffer a few losses that probably would not have occurred if the team was at full strength. Playing Wisconsin on Tuesday will be especially challenging without all their athletes around to negate the Badgers more deliberate pace. Hopefully by the time Florida plays UConn on December 2, the team will be more intact. Like Devon Walker says in the article, eventually they will get most of their players back and have time to come together. Perhaps a slow start removes an opportunity for a two-seed in the NCAA Tournament, but a fully healthy Florida roster in March has no ceiling.
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Can Tennessee Emerge as a National Player This Season?

Posted by Chris Johnson on November 6th, 2013

The top two finishers in the SEC this season are easy to project: Kentucky and Florida. The Wildcats, who welcome in arguably the greatest recruiting class of all-time – one built on the backs of six McDonald’s All-Americans and three players ranked No. 1 at their respective positions – are the odds-on favorite to win the league, while Florida, with its potent mix of veterans, freshmen and transfers, should pose a fierce challenge for first place. The SEC is more top-heavy than every other major conference (other than, maybe, the Big 12); no objective observer truly believes anyone other than Kentucky or Florida will win the regular season championship. But is there a third team that can at least make some noise on the national scene? A squad that can give Florida and Kentucky fits in conference play, if not knock them off once or twice over the course of the season?

With Stokes and Maymon anchoring the Vols’ frontcourt, Tennessee will be a tough out in SEC play (AP Photo).

Let’s name some candidates. LSU brings back first team all-SEC forward Johnny O’Bryant III, junior guard Anthony Hickey and adds six players, including five-star forward Jarrell Martin, from a top-10 recruiting class. Frank Haith has Missouri positioned for another upper-tier league finish thanks to a host of transfers, the best of them Tulsa import Jordan Clarkson, who averaged 15.6 points per game for the Golden Hurricane two years ago. Arkansas and Alabama will win their share of games. But none of those teams are as promising as Tennessee, a team that has yet to qualify for the NCAA Tournament since a flurry of recruiting violations resulted in Bruce Pearl’s firing in 2011. Left to pick up the pieces was Cuonzo Martin, the former Missouri State coach who, while fielding competitive, talented, dangerous teams in his two years at UT – the Vols have finished at least .500 in SEC play, and won at least 19 games overall, in consecutive seasons – has not elevated Tennessee to the lofty national stature it enjoyed under Pearl (lest we forget: It was only five years ago that the Volunteers briefly inhabited the No. 1 spot in the polls). Tennessee should make the NCAA Tournament this season. Jeronne Maymon and Jarnell Stokes comprise one of the best frontcourts in the country, wings Jordan McRae and true freshman Robert Hubbs III offer more perimeter firepower than most teams could ever hope to wield, and Memphis transfer Antonio Barton should fill in capably at point guard for Trae Golden, who transferred to Georgia Tech. That’s a talented starting five, and while Tennessee may lack depth, there’s no reason it shouldn’t crack the SEC’s top three this season.

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The RTC Interview Series: SEC Preview with Dave Baker, Barry Booker and Chris Dortch

Posted by WCarey on November 4th, 2013

Rush The Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you periodically throughout the offseason. If you have any specific interview requests or want us to interview you, shoot us an email at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

With the college basketball season nearly upon us, we thought it would be a good idea to gather some expert opinions on the nation’s major college basketball conferences. As part of our national preview of the SEC, we recently had the pleasure of speaking with three SEC experts in television analysts Dave Baker and Barry Booker, as well as Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook editor, Chris Dortch. (Ed. note – we spoke to each individual separately, but for the sake of expediency, combining their answers into a round table format made the most sense.)

faceprofile

Booker, Baker and Dortch Shared Their SEC Thoughts With Us This Preseason

Rush the Court: How good is Kentucky and what makes it that good? Do you expect the Wildcats to win both the SEC and the national titles?

Dave Baker: A lot of folks think that Cal can be a little blustery at times. I think he’s actually pretty frank in his assessments. Last year, he thought they were gonna be better than they were. He thought they were gonna be a good team; he didn’t they they could be a great team. But he’s really got that swagger back this year. And this team is an incredibly talented team. People can debate whether, coming into their college careers, this is the best recruiting class of all-time, but I can tell you, just in the couple of practices I’ve seen, there has been a marked difference in terms of talent level, attitude and the way these guys are working together. There are some natural leaders that have come in this class. Based on what I’ve seen, his confidence is well-placed. With what their expectations are, they certainly believe they should be in the mix at the end of the year.

Barry Booker: Kentucky has everything it takes to be extremely good. It has elite talent all over the court. I think Kentucky is the surefire favorite in the SEC and I believe it has to be considered one of the top contenders to win the national title. This 2013 recruiting class is just one of the best we have seen – by all reports. It seems like every year, Kentucky gets some of the best recruits. In a year like this, where Kentucky has an outstanding class and it has players like Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein returning, it would be hard to see the Wildcats not being a top-notch team. It is amazing what John Calipari is doing in bringing in that top flight talent to replace top flight talent every year.

Chris Dortch: This historically great recruiting class gives coach John Calipari his most talented team ever, with at least seven future NBA first-round draft picks. Kentucky is definitely favored in the SEC and will be a title threat come March, but there are a handful of teams with more experience that are capable of executing a game plan and sending the Cats home short of the championship game.

RTC: Florida lost its three leading scorers from last season’s Elite Eight team. Are this season’s Gators a legitimate challenger to Kentucky in the SEC?

Baker: I think Billy and Florida will have another really good team. He’s got a situation down there where he just finds people to replace the players who have moved on. They are just incredibly consistent year-in and year-out. I know that they would have liked to have made some deeper runs in the NCAA Tournaments since their championships, but other than that, they’re just really consistent.

Booker: Absolutely. The Gators have gone to the Elite Eight three straight seasons and they are at that level again this season. I am not sure if you can call them number two – maybe Kentucky is 1A and Florida is 1B. If Kentucky does stumble and does not get things figured out, Florida can come in and take over at the top of the league. Freshman Kasey Hill is a dynamic point guard. Even with the departures from last year, Florida is still very strong on the perimeter with Scottie Wilbekin and Michael Frazier. The Gators also return Patric Young inside – who is the best interior player in the league. This is a very solid team. It just has to stay healthy this season. The injury to Will Yeguete really hurt the team last season. It was never able to get back to the same level that it was at before the Yeguete injury.

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