Morning Five: 05.22.13 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on May 22nd, 2013

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  1. Perhaps feeling green with envy that Louisville’s Rick Pitino (championship, tattoo, Derby) and Kentucky’s John Calipari (recruiting, NCAA) were receiving all the offseason college basketball attention, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski got himself back into the conversation this week with his comment to SI.com‘s Pete Thamel that he is considering a return to coach USA Basketball’s men’s national team again in 2014 (Worlds) and 2016 (Olympics). We’re kidding about the jealousy bit — sorta — but coaches gotta coach, and everyone has trouble stepping away from doing the thing they love most. Mike DeCourcy writes that the numerous Duke haters who simply cannot endure anything associated with the four-time national championship head coach miss the point — Coach K (and certainly Jerry Colangelo) made the concept of preparing and competing for Team USA cool again. Prior to their involvement, players showed up and expected to win simply because, well, because they thought they could. Miserable performances in the 2002 Worlds (sixth) and 2004 Olympics (third) led to the system we now have in place, and for that Krzyzewski should absolutely be lauded and celebrated by every American who cares about USA basketball.
  2. It certainly doesn’t have the ring or cachet of its predecessor at the Garden, but the inaugural AAC Tournament is beginning to look a lot like the old Conference USA Tournament (and the old Great Midwest Tournament; and the old Metro Tournament) in that it may be headed to Memphis. Don’t get us wrong, the city of Memphis has a tremendous local fan base that loves college basketball and will fill the FedEx Forum with their beloved Tigers now in the new league. But can we liven this thing up a little bit in its first go-round — how about slotting in the top four seeds into the conference semifinals and leaving it at that? A semifinal round of Louisville, Cincinnati, Memphis and Connecticut next March wouldn’t be awful, and we’ll even allow you to throw in Temple in place of Cincy if the Bearcats falter. Deal?
  3. We’re a big believer in second chances, especially when someone who has done wrong can show that they’ve learned from their previous mistakes. Still, we believe there should be limitations to those reprisals, and we’re having a little trouble swallowing the Zay Jackson story at Murray State. You remember Jackson — he was the Racer guard who rather infamously ran over a man with his car in a Walmart parking lot last September – according to Andy Katz’s report earlier this week, after serving 49 days in jail for hit-and-run, MSU’s athletic department has decided to allow him back on the team. The school apparently (?) did not have a protocol to deal with situations like these, but how about a protocol of redemption and common sense? Again, we support the concept of a second chance. The young man served his time and by all indications hasn’t caused any problems since his release. But wouldn’t this be a situation where both parties would be better served by shaking hands with each other and walking away? Wouldn’t Jackson want to have a fresh start at another school? Does Steve Prohm really want to endure the endless mocking and jeering his team will suffer as a result of this decision? At a minimum, how about ensuring that Jackson can keep his nose clean for an entire year (just school and practice) before allowing him the privilege of playing college basketball again? Poor form here, we’re afraid.
  4. Depending on whom you ask, the voluminous and growing number of transfers is destroying the integrity of the collegiate game or finally shifting the balance of power back to the producers of all that money flowing to the schools — the players. But the coaches still have several dirty tricks up their sleeve when needed, and the power to “block” transfers from alighting to certain schools is one of the more nefarious ones. Sometimes the notion derives from a misguided but legitimate attempt to protect “trade secrets,” but more often it just seems that the coaches are vindictively limiting the players simply because they can. Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings’ blockage of freshman Sheldon Jeter from transferring closer to his hometown school of Pittsburgh has the look and feel of exactly that. Pitt and Vandy are not in the same league, nor are they scheduled to play next season; in fact, they haven’t played in over two decades. So what’s the deal here? Why on earth would Vanderbilt care if a mediocre freshman wanted to play closer to home for the rest of his career — what possible reason could Stallings have other than “because he can.” Remember, college athletics is about the student-athletes.
  5. Remember the San Diego/Brandon Johnson bribery incident a couple of years ago? That’s OK, nobody else does either. For something that supposedly destroys the very integrity of a sport by its very existence, it sure seems as if incidents like these are quickly reported and summarily swept right on under the rug so as to not get in the way of moving right along. As this FBI narrative reports, Johnson was convicted of point shaving during four games in the 2009-10 season, and he was ultimately outed when the criminal enterprise that had recruited him was investigated for drug trafficking. The FBI report states that “tampering with sports events strikes at the integrity of the games; this kind of betrayal is not merely disappointing—it is criminal and worthy of prosecution,” but the greater public has largely not seemed to care all that much. They still attend and watch games, fill out brackets, and enjoy all the other accessories of being a college sports fan. Maybe we’re all so ambivalent to scandal that we’ve become accustomed to it — as a sort of new normalcy. Oh hey, IRS. How’s it going?
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A Puncher’s Chance? Breaking Down the Teams Driving the 2013 SEC Tournament

Posted by Christian D'Andrea on March 11th, 2013

Christian D’Andrea is a SEC Microsite contributor and an editor at Anchor of Gold and Nashville Sports Hub. You can reach him on Twitter @TrainIsland.

The SEC Tournament is upon us, and thanks to the league’s new 14-team format, fans get a whole extra day of win-or-go-home basketball in the south. The 2012-13 season hasn’t been particularly kind to the SEC. The conference suffered through a plague of upset losses and a dearth of quality wins which led to speculation that Florida would be the league’s only representative at the NCAA Tournament.

That course has been corrected over the final three weeks of the season thanks to some big wins across the conference’s second tier, but there are still plenty of teams battling for postseason slots. Tennessee and Kentucky will be looking to one-up each other as they duel for what might the last at-large invitation to the Big Dance. Alabama and Ole Miss will look to re-enter the postseason conversation with legitimizing wins. Arkansas, Texas A&M, and Vanderbilt will try to rally hard and extend their seasons one day at a time.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the 14 teams that will be competing for conference honors when Wednesday rolls around.

The Prohibitive Favorite: Florida

 (Photo via John Raoux / AP)

Florida Seeks Another SEC Title in Nashville (Photo via John Raoux / AP)

Billy Donovan’s team hasn’t been perfect against a downtrodden conference, and that has cost the Gators a shot at a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Their best recourse for that will be to put together a dominant run in Nashville, and an easy Friday match-up against LSU or Georgia will give them the opportunity to get off on the right foot. Much like the rest of the season, this will be a high-risk, low-reward endeavor for Florida. They won’t face a top-50 opponent until a theoretical Sunday match-up in the title game. They’ll have to hold court and prove that they can reclaim the dominance that led them to a string of double-digit wins to open league play.

The Savvy Bet: Missouri 

Mizzou may have the richest depth of any team in the SEC, but Frank Haith’s squad has been vulnerable against the conference’s good and mid-level teams in 2013. The Tigers have struggled to play well as a team despite the wealth of experience on their roster, but they’ve been able to regroup (4-2 in their last six games) as the SEC Tournament approaches. Mizzou has the scoring, ball movement, and rebounding to push any opponent to the limit. Players like Alex Oriakhi, Laurence Bowers, and Phil Pressey can create mismatches against any team they face. Can they ratchet up the defense and come together as a cohesive unit when the pressure is on? The Tigers are just a #6 seed in the SEC bracket, but they have the potential to do so much more — especially with a relatively weak draw on the road to the conference championship game.

The At-Large Brawlers: Tennessee, Kentucky

Tennessee and Kentucky represent the conference’s best candidates for a third and possibly fourth NCAA Tournament bid, but it may be a case of one-or-the-other when it comes to the selection committee’s final bracket. Both of these teams proved that they can beat Florida over the past two weeks, but their victories came with the help of home court advantage. Now, they’ll have to prove that they can travel to a neutral court and roll that momentum into a season-sustaining run through the SEC Tournament. The Volunteers and Wildcats will be pitting their resumes against each other for a chance to make it to the Big Dance, and while either team can make a case for inclusion based on their regular season performances, another significant win would all but ensure their spot in one of the NCAA’s four regions.

Jordan McRae and Tennessee are the hottest team in the SEC. (USA Today)

Jordan McRae and Tennessee are the hottest team in the SEC. (USA Today)

The only way these two would meet in Nashville is in the SEC title game, and both teams would be likely locks for the 68-team filed at that point. Kentucky has the better collection of talent, but no team has been hotter over the past month than Tennessee. The Volunteers are at the tail end of an 8-1 run that rallied the team from CBI territory and on to the happy side of the bubble. However, they may have been pushed down to NIT status after Saturday’s UK win over the Gators and Middle Tennessee State’s surprising Sun Belt Tournament loss. Is there room for both of these teams in the NCAA bracket?

The Forgotten Bubble Contenders: Ole Miss, Alabama

Ole Miss and ‘Bama belonged in the previous group until late-season slumps effectively tanked their seasons. For the Rebels, February and March represented a precipitous fall from grace. Marshall Henderson and his teammates plummeted from a potential five-seed or better all the way off the NCAA Tournament bubble with a 6-6 record down the stretch that included losses to South Carolina and Mississippi State. Still, Henderson, Murphy Holloway, and Reginald Buckner could lead the third-seeded Rebels to a big weekend if they can regain their early-season magic.

The Crimson Tide didn’t have a bad spring, they just failed to produce any resume-defining wins. Anthony Grant’s team is solid across the court and strong enough to hang with the SEC’s best teams, but they’ve been unable to lock down an impressive top-50 victory in 2013. This rebuilding Alabama squad has the pieces in place for a big 2014 run, but they might not have the gas this week to get to the SEC title game and back to the bright side of the bubble.

Puncher’s Chances: Vanderbilt, Texas A&M, Arkansas, Georgia, LSU

The SEC Tournament occasionally fails to follow rhyme, reason, or tradition. Some years, a tornado hits the host arena and wills a 4-12 Georgia team to the Big Dance. In others, a Vanderbilt team that hadn’t known much beyond abject failure in the conference bracket wins their first postseason title since 1950. Five teams at the lower end of the Southeastern spectrum could end up adding to that legacy in 2013.

Vanderbilt, thanks in part to the emergence of freshman Sheldon Jeter, is finishing its season better than they started it. A team that can shoot from three-point range and play hard-nosed defense on the perimeter is always dangerous in tournament play, and that will give Kevin Stallings’ team a shot. Same goes for Texas A&M, a squad that could ride Elston Turner Jr.’s hot hand to a marquee match-up on Sunday.

Arkansas, with wins over Kentucky, Florida, and Missouri, may have the best resume of the group when it comes to the league’s third tier and a high-paced style that could wreak havoc in a four-day tournament setting. Georgia has been streaky all year and could be an upset of Florida away from an easy path to the SEC title game. Finally, LSU has been wholly unpredictable in 2013 and that volatility could result in a surprising run to a weekend match-up or a Thursday exit at the hands of Georgia.

Saving Money on Costly Weekend Hotels in Nashville: Mississippi State, Auburn, South Carolina

Frank Martin’s team has some young talent, but doesn’t have a path to a Friday game unless Bruce Ellington or Michael Carrera catch fire for the Gamecocks. Even with a big, slightly inexplicable win over Ole Miss, Mississippi State is still a rebuilding team with just seven scholarship players to count on in Nashville. Auburn held Alabama to just 37 points once and also beat Florida State this season, but that’s about it for bright spots in a season that’s ending on a 1-14 skid.

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SEC Freshman Watch: Breaking Down the “East’s” Most Effective Newcomers

Posted by Christian D'Andrea on February 12th, 2013

Christian D’Andrea is a SEC Microsite Contributor and an editor at Anchor of Gold and Nashville Sports Hub. You can reach him on Twitter @TrainIsland. You can find past editions of the SEC Freshman Watch here (East) and here (West).

The SEC conference slate is more than halfway complete, and the league’s freshmen have begun to stabilize in their fourth month of NCAA competition. As expected, some first-year players are starting to wilt under the grind of the college schedule, while some surprising players are getting stronger as the year goes on. Kentucky has rebounded from early adversity to rejoin the Top 25 rankings, while Georgia, who once sat in the SEC basement with a 1-4 record, has ridden a five-game winning streak to stake its claim as a mid-tier team.

Noel's D is Keying the UK Resurgence (Photo credit: AP).

Noel’s D is Keying the UK Resurgence (Photo credit: AP).

These teams are getting big contributions from freshman play-makers to reboot their seasons. The Wildcats are playing well through Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin’s growing pains thanks in part to the burgeoning defense of Nerlens Noel in the middle. Georgia is riding Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to key wins, but Charles Mann has turned into the Bulldogs’ third-leading scorer and Brandon Morris is becoming a pesky defender on the wing. Even South Carolina, mired in a 2-8 SEC season so far, can take solace in Michael Carrera’s scrappy production in the Gamecock frontcourt. Let’s take a closer look at how these first-year players have performed since SEC play got underway. This week, we’ll go back and examine how the freshmen of the former SEC East are doing.

Kentucky: Nerlens Noel has stepped his game up defensively for the Wildcats, and that’s been a big piece of Kentucky’s charge back into the Top 25. UK has won five straight heading into Tuesday night’s showdown with Florida, and Noel has averaged 5.2 blocks and 10.2 rebounds in that span. His offense is still a work in progress, but his impact has been undeniable.

Kentucky Freshmen 2/12

Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin have been trending in the opposite direction, as they’ve taken a back seat to Noel as the season has worn on. Poythress’s minutes and scoring have dropped as the athletic freshman has struggled with fouls (four per game in his last six contests). Goodwin has struggled as a shooter and a ball-handler recently. He hasn’t made a three-pointer in his last eight games (0-of-10) and his assists have dropped (while his turnovers have increased) as the Wildcats have faced tougher opponents.

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SEC M5: 01.24.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 24th, 2013

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  1. What is wrong with Kentucky? That’s the question on everyone’s mind following a 59-55 loss at Alabama. The success of similar John Calipari coached teams make this situation even more baffling. For whatever reason, Calipari made past freshmen look like upperclassmen with years of experience, but his magic wand isn’t working on this new crop of players in Lexington. The inconsistency in play this season should at least create more of an appreciation of the tremendous coaching job Calipari and his staff completed over each of the past three seasons. As ESPN’s Eammon Brennan points out, “each new UK game seems to bring with it new obstacles.” That’s the challenge of a team filled with freshmen. Calipari made it look easy in year’s past, but now we’re seeing the flip side of what an inexperienced team can look like.
  2. Calipari was fairly clear in his assessment of the reason the Cats lost the game on Tuesday night. “Our guard play was not near their guard play,” Calipari said. “It just wasn’t. We reverted back to just throwing it to Kyle Wiltjer in the post to try to keep the game close to give us a chance to win.” Kentucky’s guards, Ryan Harrow and Archie Goodwin, combined for just 13 points on five of 22 shooting. “We played not to lose, which young guys do on the road at times,” Coach Cal said. Kentucky has six road games on the schedule remaining in SEC play. In five true road games so far this season, the Cats are just 2-3, spelling trouble for the remainder of the season.
  3. Kevin Stallings typically doesn’t play freshmen in his system, but this season he has no other choice. After losing six players, three of whom went to the NBA, Stallings is going a little deeper on the bench to find role players to make the Commodores competitive. And now he’s found a freshman in Sheldon Jeter, whom he trusts enough to place in the starting lineup. “Sheldon wants to get better,” Stallings said. “And he does have some talent. He does have some ability to make shots and finish plays around the rim. And for a team that’s challenged sometimes offensively like we are, that’s a good thing.” It was important for Vanderbilt to find a third offensive option to take some of the load off of Kedren Johnson and Kyle Fuller, and Jeter may be that guy.
  4.  Trevor Lacey was just one of eight from the field Tuesday night, before a drive to the lane with 4:26 left in the game and Alabama clinging to a one point lead over Kentucky. He made the layup, but went down to the floor with a leg injury that would sideline him for the remainder of the close win over the Wildcats. ”I think he’s fine,” said Alabama coach Anthony Grant, who came onto the court to check on the sophomore guard. “He’s got cramps in both calves. He was obviously unavailable to finish the game, but I think he’ll be fine.” Lacey’s three point shooting has been a significant area of improvement for the sophomore guard. He had made a three in all but three games prior to Tuesday, but was 0-3 against Kentucky, adding to that total.
  5. South Carolina had an opportunity to win a big one at Missouri on Tuesday night, but failed to capitalize on its chances. When asked about a free throw discrepancy that gave Missouri 36 free throws as compared to the Gamecocks’ 17 attempts, coach Frank Martin said, ”I ain’t going there. You ask me to talk about the economy, I’ll give you whatever you want. I’ll give you my opinions on whatever.” Martin added, “Don’t make me go there because it won’t be good for me, my school. Definitely my wife will be (angry) at me because you know what comes after I go there.” Martin’s team gave up a 13 point second half lead, but it sounds like he has some strong opinions on how that occurred.
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SEC Freshmen Report: Volume I

Posted by CNguon on December 21st, 2012

Christian D’Andrea is an SEC microsite contributor. He can be reached on Twitter @anchorofgold.

The SEC has always been home to some of the NCAA’s most talented newcomers. Much of that has to do with Kentucky’s one-and-done superstars, but Lexington’s five-star recruits aren’t the only players making an impact for Southeastern Conference teams. Several under-the-radar prospects – and some of them big names – are starting to get the feel for the NCAA game and bringing value to their programs early in their careers. As a result, teams like South Carolina and Auburn can put a little extra confidence behind their rebuilding efforts.

Nerlens Noel,

Nerlens Noel (Ken), Michael Carrera (SC) and Negus Webster-Chan (Missou) are just three of many freshmen making an impact this season in the SEC East

So who should SEC basketball fans be looking out for with conference play looming? Every week, we’ll look at how the best freshmen in the SEC have performed in their inaugural seasons. We’ll break the league down football-style into East and West divisions to provide an in-depth look at the young guns that may end up dotting all-SEC teams for years to come. This week, we’ll start with the East by introducing you to the most talented first-year players that the conference has to offer. While a team led by newcomers has carried Kentucky through an up-and-down first two months, teams like South Carolina, Vanderbilt, and Missouri are also leaning on rookies to carry them to the postseason. Here’s a breakdown on those fresh faces in the (former) SEC East and how they’ve impacted their teams so far.

SEC East

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Kentucky: Kentucky, a team replacing all of its starters in 2012-13, has easily gotten the strongest return from its freshman play-makers this winter. Nerlens Noel has been as good as advertised, and Willie Cauley-Stein has shown a combination of size and skill that suggests that he’d be a starter for almost any other team in the SEC this winter. The two have combined for 18 points, 14 rebounds, and nearly six blocks per game as the Wildcats’ primary big men. Archie Goodwin and Alex Poythress have carried the ‘Cats offensively. Both have shown well-rounded offensive play, while Poythress in particular has shown some defensive chops that could make him a nightmare matchup (a 7’1” wingspan and the size and strength to cover both forward positions) as the season wears on. However, both have struggled with turnovers early in the year, and their talent hasn’t been enough to cover up UK’s relative inexperience in three early losses. Kentucky may have gotten off to an unexpected start thanks to those losses, but they’re also playing on a steeper learning curve than most teams in the SEC. The development of their freshman class will be one of the conference’s biggest stories to watch once league play unfolds.

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