Camp Cal, as coach John Calipari affectionately termed his boot camp with the Wildcats, is more about thinking than it is conditioning. “For the next two weeks, we’ll be going at least five of the days three times a day,” Calipari said. “I’m fine. I’ll be exhausted, but what the heck. The whole point is to help these young people think differently. They’ve got to think differently than they’re thinking.” The change in thinking hasn’t yet made its way into the full 40 minutes of game play, although the Cats were victorious over Portland by 28. “I had to coax them into playing,” Calipari said. “I shouldn’t have to. I shouldn’t be on a guy, ‘Play, scramble, stay down.’ What? What is that, strategy? I mean, that’s basically how I’m coaching right now.” The Cats are still making mistakes made by inexperienced teams, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has reviewed the Wildcats’ roster. They have two more home games over the next two weeks before meeting Louisville in the Yum! Center on December 29. Three weeks is a long way away, so expect Kentucky to look significantly improved by the time its intrastate showdown with the Cards roll around.
Another SEC guard has been suspended, and this time it’s LSU’s Anthony Hickey. LSU coach Johnny Jones cited a violation of athletic department and university rules as the reason for the suspension. “We will cooperate fully with the Athletic Department and University on the matter,” said Jones. “There is a responsibility that comes with playing college basketball. If a player doesn’t take care of his responsibilities, then he loses the privilege of being able to play. We look forward to continuing to focus on our upcoming game Tuesday and our three-game road trip that follows.” At this point, there is no timetable for Hickey’s return to the court. The Tigers are 5-0 with Hickey in the lineup, fueled by his 10.2 points, 5.2 assists, and 4.0 rebounds per game. However, this is not the first time the point guard has found himself in trouble.
The Arkansas media is calling for Mardracus Wade to be more aggressive on offense after the Hogs lost to Michigan in Ann Arbor by 13 points. Wade scored five points on just five shots from the field despite playing 34 minutes. Wade has the third best effective field goal percentage on the team, but is ninth in percentage of shots and is 10th in percentage of possessions. The Razorbacks could have used his help on Saturday. Wade is extremely effective at getting to the free throw line (76.3% free throw rate), but Arkansas didn’t shoot a free throw until six minutes left in the game. Mike Anderson’s squad has lost four of its last five contests, with three of those losses away from home. The Hogs are typically very strong at Bud Walton Arena, and they begin a five-game home stand on Saturday. That should give Anderson time to work out a few of the kinks.
Who loves statistics? We do! And so does John Clay of the Lexington Herald-Leader who provides us with 20 stats you need to know from Kentucky’s win on Saturday. A lot of good information here about the Cats’ recent performances including a snippet about the play of freshman Alex Poythress. Poythress has scored in double figures in seven of the first nine games of his college career, including his 15 points on Saturday. Most importantly, he is 13-of-17 from the field in the last two games, including three of four from beyond the arc. Poythress’ efficient play has put him as an early member of a prestigious grouping that Luke Winn often refers to in his power rankings called the 70/50/20 club. Only four players possess membership at this point in the season. The club is reserved for players who shoot an effective field goal percentage of at least 70 percent, play in at least 50 percent of available minutes, and take at least 20 percent of his team’s shots when he is on the floor. Poythress is shooting 72.2 percent, playing in 73.1 percent of available minutes, and shooting 21.5 percent of the Wildcats’ shots. He joins Belmont’s Ian Clarke, UC Davis’ Ryan Sypkens, and Syracuse’s James Southerland as the only current members. With efficiency numbers like that, Poythress can’t shy away from the basketball as he did against Notre Dame.
Tennessee’s Skylar McBee’s jersey will hang in the rafters at Grainger High School after he scored 2,362 points during his high school career. McBee was honored Saturday when his number four jersey was retired. “I’m very proud of where I come from,” McBee said. “And it’s an honor that all these people back home think that highly of me that they want to retire my number. It’s very humbling, and it means a lot to me.” McBee started as a walk-on for Tennessee, but was given a scholarship by previous coach Bruce Pearl. The guard is averaging 7.3 points per game for the Vols this season in his senior year.
After the 2009-10 season, high-scoring Rutgers guard Mike Rosario was one of the top prizes of the transfer market. He committed to play for Billy Donovan at Florida, but largely disappointed in his debut campaign with the Gators. How can he ensure a bounce-back year? Consistency. Says Donovan, “His biggest issue – and No. 1 issue – is inconsistency. And not only on the court; everywhere he’s inconsistent”. With the departures of Bradley Beal and Erving Walker leaving the backcourt thin, Florida can’t afford another season of Rosario providing few minutes and low shooting percentages. Motivating a player through public comments isn’t ideal, but if Rosario takes the message to heart, he has the potential to be a dangerous scoring threat off the Florida bench.
Donovan isn’t the only coach counting on a senior guard to come up big. Skylar McBee was a pleasant surprise in coach Cuonzo Martin’s first season, nearly doubling his minutes and scoring totals, and the Tennessee coach expects his role to expand even more. The Volunteers enter the season with high expectations based primarily on a potentially dominant frontcourt, but Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon will need quality shooting from deep to carve out the kind of space they need. Several candidates will be competing for playing time in the backcourt beside point guard Trae Golden, and McBee’s stroke should earn him a plenty of minutes.
After leading Missouri to a 30-5 record and scooping up multiple national coach of the year awards, you might think Frank Haith would be a little cocky heading into the new season. Think again. In front of a crowd of alumni and boosters last week, Haith did his best to temper expectations, pointing out that the Tigers only return two key contributors from last year’s team. Missouri could struggle early as Haith works to assemble all his new parts, but with All-America candidate Phil Pressey manning the point, don’t be surprised if the adjustment period is brief.
Texas A&M kicked off its season Friday with the annual Maroon & White scrimmage. The Aggie faithful saw freshman point guard J’Mychal Reese put up 15 points in the game, while Elston Turner and Ray Turner chipped in with 14 apiece. Coach Billy Kennedy’s team enters the SEC without a lot of hype, but A&M should be significantly improved from last year. The Turners (no relation) should serve as the two main offensive threats, and if the talented Reese can provide some scoring punch from the point, a finish in the top half of the league is an attainable goal.
Willie Cauley-Stein was the least-hyped member of coach John Calipari’s uber-recruiting class, but after posterizing Nerlens Noel at Midnight Madness, the 7-footer has developed quite a buzz. According to reports, that momentum is carrying over into practice. The former high school wide receiver is showing soft hands and an ability to run the floor. Noel, a more polished defender, will see more playing time, but Cauley-Stein should get his fair share, forming an especially imposing frontline when they’re on the court together.
LSU extended its longest SEC winning streak since 2008-09 by holding off Georgia last night. The four-game winning streak has the Tigers “pushing for a bid” in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since that same season. They still must overcome bad non-conference losses to Coastal Carolina and South Alabama, though. As Storm Warrensaid in advance of Wednesday’s contest with Georgia, “We don’t want to slip up again.”
After a hiccup against Alabama, Tennessee continued its late-season surge by beating fading Ole Miss on Wednesday. Prior to their loss to the Rebels, Volunteer guard Skylar McBee said Tuesday in regards to any potential postseason aspirations, ”We’ve just got to take care of business one day at a time, and I think if we keep trying to get better, then everything else will take care of itself… I think you see a lot more people trying to figure where they’re going to be at the end of the season. You can kind of work the numbers a little bit better because you can see who has to go play at this place and who’s got who and what teams you’ve got left. But I think it’s a mindset you’ve got to have every day that, ‘I know I can’t look forward.’”
Despite being reinstated to the team by head coach Anthony Grant, Alabama’s JaMychal Green will not play in Thursday’s critical contest at Arkansas. When asked what went into the decision, Grant said, “”He’s not playing Thursday. We’ll see how the week goes this week, and we’ll make some decisions after Thursday.” The Tide enters the game as a #10 seed in the latest RTC Bracketology. Arkansas’ slide started with a 72-68 loss at Alabama on January 28 starting a 2-5 slide that has seen the Razorbacks’ RPI fall from inside the Top 50 to #88.
One Birmingham News columnist, Kevin Scarbinsky, wrote of Grant’s decision: “It’s the first sign of clarity for the remaining players in weeks,” and “Grant has earned the benefit of the doubt by putting this entire season at risk to teach a lesson that should last long past March Madness.” When Alabama cooled an improving Tennessee team on Saturday, “It gained the confidence of knowing it could win without Green and Mitchell if it applied pressure on defense and took the ball to the rim on offense.”
Alabama’s opponent Arkansas has battled through the fatigue that manifested in a 19-point loss to Tennessee and a 30-point blowout at home to Florida. “I think sometimes fatigue is a factor and it might be even with our guys fatiguing now with having… only eight guys, eight scholarship guys for a period,” head coach Mike Andersonsaid Tuesday. Anderson has cut back on practice and weight rooms sessions for players have also been shorter.
Paul Jordan of Wildcat Blue Blog is the RTC correspondent for the Southeastern Conference.
Kentucky 17-0 (2-0)
Vanderbilt 12-3 (1-0)
South Carolina 10-5 (1-0)
Tennessee 12-2 (0-0)
Florida 11-5 (0-2)
Georgia 8-6 (0-1)
Mississippi State 13-3 (1-0)
Alabama 11-4 (1-0)
Arkansas 7-8 (0-0)
Mississippi 12-3 (0-1)
LSU 9-6 (0-1)
Auburn 9-7 (0-1)
News & Notes
A couple of off-court situations were resolved for two SEC teams. Courtney Fortson made his first appearance for the Arkansas Razorbacks as his long suspension is now over. As for the other situation, all-SEC guard Tyler Smith was dismissed from the Tennessee Volunteers for drug and weapon charges and the fates of three other Vols still hang in the balance.
Speaking of Tennessee, you probably heard — they pulled off the upset of the week when they knocked off #1 Kansas 76-68 on Sunday afternoon. They were not the only SEC team to pull off a big out-of-conference upset last week as the Georgia Bulldogs knocked off #17 Georgia Tech, 73-66.
Thanks to the Volunteers, Kentucky now occupies the #2 spot in both the AP Top 25 and the ESPN/USA Today polls. Tennessee, for their efforts, did creep back into the top 10 at #9 in the AP Top 25 and #10 in the ESPN/USA Today poll. Ole Miss continues to represent as the third SEC team in the Top 25 — #21st in AP Top 25, and 23rd in the ESPN/USA Today. Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, and Florida continue to swim in the “receiving votes” pool.
Tennessee’s Bobby Maze was named SEC Player of the Week after averaging 14.5 PPG, 6.0 RPG and 5.5 APG in wins over Charlotte and No. 1 Kansas. Vanderbilt’s John Jenkins named SEC Freshman of the Week after he averaged 13.0 PPG and 4.0 RPG in wins over Middle Tennessee and Florida.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR THIS WEEK:
1/12 – #2 Kentucky (16-0) @ Florida (11-4) – 9 PM – ESPN (more on this in a moment)
Kentucky (#2, #2) — DeMarcus Cousins scored seven of his 16 points in the final three minutes as the Wildcats stayed unbeaten with a gritty 76-68 win over Georgia on Saturday. UK jumped out to a 21-10 lead and the Bulldogs responded with a 21-5 run and it was nip/tuck the rest of the way. Patrick Patterson and John Wall also scored 17 points apiece for the Wildcats. The came right back on Tuesday with a road game at the O-Dome in Gainesville and took out the Gators, 89-77. Eric Bledsoe keyed the ‘Cats with an incredible 25/7/5 asst night on 10-13 shooting. Wall added 19/4/6 assts and the always steady Patterson chipped in 15/7 as Kentucky had to hold off a Florida team that got hot from three midway through the second half. We’ll have even more on this one in next week’s SEC summary.
Vanderbilt — A.J. Ogilvy responded to being back in the starting lineup and scored 24 points, and Vanderbilt opened the Southeastern Conference schedule beating Florida, 95-87, on Saturday for the Commodores’ sixth straight victory. Jermaine Beal added 22 points and Jeffrey Taylor had a perfect shooting day (5-5 FG, 4-4 FT) to add 14 points for the Commodores.
South Carolina — The Gamecocks got exactly what the doctor ordered on Saturday with a 88-58 pounding of the Longwood Lancers as South Carolina readied for conference play. Devan Downey scored 18 points but the Gamecocks also got 15 points from Evaldas Baniulus off the bench. Ramon Galloway also hit double digits with 12 points. Downey then poured in 33 points with four 3-pointers as the Gamecocks opened SEC play with a 80-71 win over the Auburn Tigers on Saturday. South Carolina hit 11 3-pointers on the game and broke open a 52-all tie with an 8-0 run to break open the game. Sam Muldrow added 12 points and 4 blocked shots.
Tennessee (#9, #10) — The Volunteers really did not know what to expect when they came into their game against Charlotte with four players suspended. What the Vols found was new faces to step up as they breezed by the Charlotte 49ers, 88-71. Wayne Chism scored 18 points and Scotty Hopson added 17 and the Vols, with just six scholarship players, shot 57.6% with all five starters scoring in double figures. And of course Tennessee pulled off their second big win of the week with the 76-68 upset of #1 Kansas on Sunday. Hopson had 17 and Bobby Maze added 16, but the lasting image of this game was walk-on Skylar McBee milking the shot clock late in the game and then delivering a duck-under three point dagger to the heart of the Kansas Jayhawks.
Florida — Kenny Boynton scored 28 points (including six 3-pointers) and Erving Walker added 22 (with five treys) but it was not enough as the Gators fell 95-87 to the Vanderbilt Commodores despie tossing in 13 3-pointers for the game. The Gators hadn’t lost an SEC opener since 2001 at South Carolina. On Tuesday night the faced the formidable #2 Kentucky Wildcats and hoped to score a sixth straight home win over the Big Blue, but 20 points from Walker and 17/7 from Alex Tyus couldn’t propel the Gators past UK; the Rowdy Reptiles went home disappointed as Florida went down, 89-77.
Georgia — Trey Thompkins scored 20 points, Ricky McPhee hit two key baskets near the end and Georgia pulled off its first big victory for new coach Mark Fox, knocking off #17 Georgia Tech, 73-66, on Tuesday night. McPhee had four 3-pointers and finished with 16 points. The Bulldogs showed their win over Georgia Tech was not a fluke as they battled Kentucky to the wire on Saturday before losing, 76-68. The Bulldogs cut the lead to two with 1:00 remaining but UK pulled away the last minute. Travis Leslie scored the first 10 points of the game for Georgia and finished with 20. Thompkins finished with 17.
Mississippi State — Dee Bost tied a career high with 25 points and fueled Mississippi State’s 80-75 upset of #16 Mississippi on Saturday with fearless drives to the basket. This was also a huge road win for the Bulldogs who opened SEC play against their biggest competition in the West. Ravern Johnson added 15 and Kodi Augustus had a double double with 13 points and 12 rebounds.
Alabama — Alabama looks to be the big surprise of the SEC as they continued their strong early play with a 66-49 win over LSU in the SEC opener for both teams. JaMychal Green scored 14 points to lead Alabama, while Senario Hillman and Mikhail Torrance added 13 and 12 points, respectively. Alabama now has a four game winning streak.
Arkansas — Courtney Fortson made his debut after a season long suspension and had 19 points/7 assists, but it was not enough to help his Razorbacks pull an upset over #2 Texas. Arkansas hung tough for about 38 of the 40 minutes but Texas pulled away at the end to win, 96-85. Rotnei Clarke added 24 points for the Razorbacks.
Mississippi (#21, #23) — Terrico White had five 3-pointers and scored 21 points to lead Ole Miss to a 84-56 thumping of the UCF Golden Knights. Ole Miss jumped out early and had a 46-24 halftime lead and the Knights never had a chance. Eniel Polynice had 16 points and Murphy Holloway had a double double with 11 points and 10 boards to help key the rout. On Saturday, the Rebels suffered a key early season home SEC loss against bitter rival Mississippi State, 80-75. Chris Warren led the Rebels with 15 points despite a 5-17 shooting night and Zach Graham and Terrance Henry had 14 points and 12 points, respectively, off the bench.
LSU — The troubles continue for LSU as they managed just 18 points in the first half against Alabama and lost their SEC opener 66-49 to the Crimson Tide. Bo Spencer scored 13 points, and Dennis Harris and Tasmin Mitchell added 12 and 11, respectively. Storm Warren got in early foul trouble and had just four points and a mere one rebound.
Auburn — DeWayne Reed scored 20 points to lead Auburn to a 96-72 victory against Division II West Georgia on Tuesday night. Frankie Sullivan scored 17 points and Tay Waller added 16 for the Tigers, who shot 52% from the field and outrebounded the Wolves, 40-29. Auburn could only manage two 3-pointers compared to South Carolina’s 11, and that was the difference in the game as Auburn dropped a tough game on Saturday, 80-71. Reserve Brendon Knox led Auburn with 22 points, Reed scored 19, Lucas Hargrove had 12 and Sullivan added 10 in the loss.
Upset Weekend. Let’s get one thing out of the way right away. It was a great weekend of college basketball, with over 175 games of juicy goodness, starting with Friday evening’s Sunshine State battle of A-Sun foes Jacksonville and Stetson, and ending with tonight’s Civil War game in Eugene between the Ducks and Beavers. If you didn’t get enough hoops over the last 54 hours, then you probably need your head checked (our appt. is Tuesday morning). But let’s not get too excited about this weekend just yet. By our count, there were ten upsets involving ranked teams, and a host of others barely survived. But this is something we all knew was coming. It’s called life on the road in conference play (note: we realize, of course, Kansas was on the road in non-conference play), and it’s what makes the next ten weeks so much more fun than the previous ten. No longer will teams be able to play Holy Names and Penn Central and St. Augustanus to pick up easy Ws. No, they now have to face conference foes — the family — and like your nutty Grandma at the holiday dinner table, the family can be harsh in its brutal honesty. If your team has a weakness, the family will find it and exploit it. If your team has multiple question marks, your days of skating by with superior athletes and a friendly home crowd are over. If your team has been using smoke and mirrors to get it done this year, well, the seven years of bad luck are about to begin. This phenomenon happens every single year, and every single year we all get all fluttery and hyperbolic talking about the early upsets, but the fact of the matter is that there are no dominant teams in the 1-and-done era and truthfully the real surprise would be if we didn’t have great weekends of parity like this one.
Hopson Crushed It on Aldrich (credit: Saul Young)
Now, About That Kansas Thing. #15 Tennessee 76, #1 Kansas 68. This was going to be one of the tougher games of the season for Kansas regardless of the Tennessee personnel issues, but you can almost imagine Bill Self fretting about his team’s focus when he found out that 40% of the Vol offense would not be available for this game. There’s no question that Kansas has elite talent, but they’re not robots, and it’s understandable that all the news about the UT players might have led to a bit of a letdown. Bill Self referred to his team’s lack of aggressiveness as manifested in the worrisome fact that KU’s all-american center Cole Aldrich (7/18/4 blks) only took five shots in 30 minutes despite a considerable size advantage inside. Repeated post-ups in the halfcourt offense resulted in few touches for Aldrich, as Sherron Collins and Tyshawn Taylor in particular were more interested in chucking threes and calling their own number throughout (20 and 11 shots, respectively). Tennessee, to its credit in using just six scholarship players and several walk-ons, kept hustling and scrapping for loose balls and hitting big shot after big shot every time it seemed that the superior KU talent was surging. Skylar McBee’s step-through three from the left side as the shot clock expired and UT up three very late was the stuff of legend (see below), and we doubt the walk-on marksman will be buying his own meals in Knoxville for many a year after he graduates.
In a game where the odds were repeatedly stacked against the Vols — the missing players, the foul trouble of Wayne Chism and JP Prince, the horrid FT shooting (15-29) — Pearl’s team was able to take to heart what has always made the colorful coach such an interesting guy. He sees himself as an underdog, but his teams only seem to take on that scrappy mentality when they are actually sitting behind the eight-ball. Tennessee always comes strong when they’re not expected to win — the game at Memphis in 2008, the wins over the national champion Gators in 2006 and 2007 — but it’s the games where they’re considered the heavy favorite that give Pearl’s teams trouble (last year’s two blowout Ls against struggling Kentucky come to mind). You could very reasonably argue that in the Vols’ two wins this week with six scholarship players (vs. Charlotte and the Jayhawks), they’ve looked better than they did when they went ten deep. The problem is that the underdog role can only be embraced and milked for so long, and there’s still an entire sixteen-game SEC slate ahead of them. Today was a tremendous, mood-lifting sort of win for the UT basketball program, but it won’t mean much if the Vols finish at 8-8 in the SEC East. Still, Bruce Pearl’s charges should be incredibly proud of themselves and by all means should stay away from rental cars and various weaponry after this big win (Pearl didn’t mention that, but he did mention complacency in his postgame speech below). Final thought: Scotty Hopson (17/4). Kid looked like a superstar today; his dunk over Aldrich was ridiculous. Keep it coming, young fella.
RTC Meets Ashley Judd. RTC editor John Stevens got to meet Kentucky Superfan Ashley Judd after Saturday’s Georgia game, and given that this may be a once-in-a-lifetime event, it deserves its own space. Here’s John:
I have to include the fact that I got to meet Kentucky alumna Ashley Judd at this game…and by “meet,” I mean shake her hand, stand beside her with my recorder (one of about 30 total) in her face, ask her a question, and smile dumbly at her like a mental patient who knows it’s almost pill time. Let me tell you something, folks. I don’t usually get star-struck (when you’ve sat behind Goodman, Bozich, DeCourcy, and Forde in a media room, hell, you’re ready for anything, heh), but when Ashley Judd looks you dead in the eye? Ballgame. Good night, everybody. Yes, she’s very attractive. But it’s not just that. She’s got that “star quality,” meaning that when she’s looking at you and talking, it’s morphine. You are tractor-beamed, and you’re very aware of it when your time is over. This is not something she’s trying to do, it’s something with which you’re born or you aren’t. They say politicians have this ability, too, though I doubt I’d feel the same effect if I were standing in front of, say, Strom Thurmond. As for my question, because she had been asked every possible hoops-related question by the 30 or so reporters around her, I asked her how that frenzy in the media room compared to the scene on a Hollywood red carpet. She replied like someone who, though she was glad her Wildcats escaped, was even happier to be home, even if temporarily. She smiled, thought for a second, and said with relish, “This is better! This is the blue carpet!”
Ashley is Happy to See RTC There
Moving On… Obviously, there were a bunch of other upsets this weekend beyond #1 Kansas going down, but we don’t have time to discuss them all so here are some of the key takeaways as we see them.
The MAAC conference tournament gave us another buzzer-beater last night. Saint Peter’s guard Desi Washington rushed down the court and nailed a trey to eliminate Fairfield 65-62 on Washington’s THIRD game-winning buzzer-beater against the Stags this season.