SEC Saturday Storylines: League Title Up For Grabs?

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 6th, 2016

A little over a week ago it looked like Texas A&M was about to run away and hide with the SEC’s regular season title. The excursion into non-conference play and exciting win over Iowa State obscures the fact that the Aggies are now on a two-game SEC losing streak after dropping a game in Nashville Thursday night. That puts Johnny Jones‘ LSU squad in a tie for first midway through conference play. Just as everyone predicted, right? The regular season title scramble highlights a crucial weekend in the league.

Didn't expect to see me on top of the standings, did you? (sportsnola.com).

Didn’t expect to see me on top of the standings, did you? (sportsnola.com).

  1. Break out the binoculars and tape measures, we’ve got a race! The Aggies and Tigers are tied atop the standings, and five more teams sit within two games of the lead. LSU should take care of business against Mississippi State at home – although the Bulldogs have been competitive lately – and put pressure on Texas A&M to rebound against a hungry South Carolina team. The winner of Kentucky and Florida will position itself nicely for a run at pole position, as well. But don’t forget about Vanderbilt. Less than week after a disappointing performance in Austin, the Commodores have renewed momentum with that Texas A&M win. They now face Ole Miss, Missouri, Auburn and Mississippi State, and if they run through that manageable stretch undefeated the ‘Dores will be sitting pretty at 9-4 in league play. We were due intrigue in the league title race after Kentucky and Florida won the league by an average of 5.5 games the past two seasons, and we’ve definitely got it. Read the rest of this entry »
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SEC Rundown: Volume X

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 2nd, 2016

After a fun Saturday hanging out with the Big 12, SEC teams return to league action starting this evening. Waiting for them is a conference race with the potential to heat up considerably over the rest of the month. Quite the change from the last two years, right? Here’s a look back at last week’s SEC action and what to watch for ahead.

Dorian Finney-Smith and Florida made a bold statement against West Virginia (smokingmusket.com).

Dorian Finney-Smith and Florida made a bold statement against West Virginia (smokingmusket.com).

Trending UpFlorida‘s likelihood of returning to the NCAA Tournament. The Gators’ resume previously lacked a marquee win but that problem was solved by convincingly beating West Virginia at home on Saturday. KeVaughn Allen is also on the upswing, as he has been for most of his freshman season. The freshman is becoming the most important part of Florida’s offense and looked comfortable beyond his years against the Mountaineers’ unrelenting pressure. If he continues his scoring tear, he and Dorian Finney-Smith could be enough to keep Florida afloat on the nights when the team’s shots aren’t falling.

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Saiz Injury May Mean No Moody or Ole Miss in March

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on January 21st, 2016

If Ole Miss‘ current three-game losing streak didn’t put the fire out on the Rebels’ already-slim NCAA tournament chances, then Sebastian Saiz‘ torn retina might do the trick. Andy Kennedy will be without his best big man for at least two weeks as Saiz recovers from surgery for an injury he suffered back in December against Memphis. The eye issue didn’t affect the junior’s play as he stayed in line with what has been a breakout year. Saiz is nearly averaging a double-double (12.8 PPG, 9.8 RPG) and hasn’t wilted in SEC play, scoring in double figures and grabbing at least six rebounds in every game.

Sebastian Saiz' absence could be devastating for Ole Miss (bleacherreport.com).

Sebastian Saiz’ absence could be devastating for Ole Miss (bleacherreport.com).

A player like Saiz is a big loss no matter the circumstance, but is especially painful for Ole Miss for a number of reasons. First, Saiz is the Rebels only consistent offensive threat in the post and is by far Kennedy’s best rebounder. Second, the Rebels are about as thin a power conference team as you will find. Kennedy’s rotation generally has maxed out at eight players and only six players average more than 20 minutes per game. Also thin? The Rebels’ shot at making a second consecutive appearance in the NCAA tournament. The picture looked fairly rosy a week and a half ago when Ole Miss ran out to a 2-1 SEC start and stood at 12-3 overall. The aesthetics of the overall record covered for the fact that the Rebels’ best win was an away game at Memphis and that they were carrying a disappointing loss to George Mason (KenPom #196).

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Freeze Frame: Evaluating SEC Player of the Year Candidates

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 15th, 2016

If you tune into ESPN to watch college basketball sometime this season, there is a very good chance that you”ll hear about LSU freshman Ben Simmons during the broadcast. He has been the most discussed college basketball player this year, finding himself on the midseason short list for National Player of the Year even after LSU’s disastrous non-conference performance. Correspondingly, Simmons is without question the front-runner for SEC Player of the Year as well, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other outstanding players in the league. In this edition of Freeze Frame, we will evaluate several SEC players vying for the hardware.

Ben Simmons is the frontrunner for SEC player of the year (vavel.com)

Ben Simmons is the frontrunner for SEC Player of the Year (vavel.com)

The favorite – Simmons, LSU: It is hard to envision a scenario where Simmons would not be the SEC Player of the Year at the end of this season. The hype bestowed upon the freshman encourages a corresponding search for his flaws, but it’s impossible to deny his otherworldly talent. In nitpicking any weaknesses, (to wit: his lack of help side defense, as noted in an earlier Freeze Frame; and an inability to shoot the ball from the perimeter), we may have forgotten how historically good Simmons’ freshman year has been.

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SEC Week That Was: Volume II

Posted by Greg Mitchell on November 30th, 2015

Feast Week is in the books and there’s plenty of good and not-so-good happening throughout the SEC. Here’s the good: The league boasts two undefeated teams and four teams with just a single loss. On the flip side, there are two teams siting at .500 and two others already under .500. Here are the nuts and bolts of the previous week in SEC basketball.

The Aggies didn't win the Battle 4 Atlantis, but they impressed nonetheless (cbssports.com).

The Aggies didn’t win the Battle 4 Atlantis, but they impressed nonetheless. (AP)

  • Team of the WeekTexas A&M didn’t win the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas, but the Aggies nonetheless made a statement. They started with an emotional win over intrastate rival Texas in the opener, and while the Longhorns are in a transition year, that win may improve as the year wears on. A&M then knocked off top 10 team Gonzaga in its second game, notching a win that will pay dividends the rest of the year. The experience that young players such as Tyler Davis and Tonny Trocha-Morelos got against the Bulldogs’ elite frontcourt should be a good primer for future games against Kentucky. And while the team ran out of gas against Syracuse in the championship game, what stood out most might have been the Aggies’ depth. Over the three-game tournament, Davis, Morelos, Jalen JonesDanuel House and Anthony Collins all played starring roles at various times. The team has been extremely balanced in both contributions and results, ranking among KenPom’s top 30 in adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency — a combination that can be useful in predicting March success.

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SEC Burning Questions: Finding the Sleepers

Posted by Greg Mitchell on November 5th, 2015

Surprise, surprise: Kentucky is once again the overwhelming favorite to win the SEC. But one thing that makes the league a little more exciting this year is that a handful of other teams could emerge as the biggest threat to the crown. Several teams figure to be best-equipped to assume that role:

Once again, Coach Cal and Kentucky are the league favorites. (AP)

Once again, Coach Cal and Kentucky are the league favorites. (AP)

  • Vanderbilt (#2, SEC preseason media poll), led by Damian Jones and a slew of quality guards, landed at #18 in the preseason AP poll. The Commodores finished last season on an 8-3 run and return most major contributors from that improving team.
  • LSU (#4) checked in at #21 nationally behind dynamite freshman and likely top-five pick Ben Simmons and an experienced backcourt duo in Tim Quarterman and Keith Hornsby. The jury may still be out on the coaching talents of Johnny Jones, but his Tigers have talent.
  • Texas A&M (#3) has an enviable trio of seniors with distinct roles in Danuel House (perimeter shooter/scorer), Jalen Jones (low post threat) and Alex Caruso (distributor). Billy Kennedy also welcomes in an outstanding five-man recruiting class.
  • Florida (#6) may be rebounding from a sub-.500 season and the loss of coaching stalwart Billy Donovan, but Michael White was able to keep the gems of Donovan’s recruiting class intact by retaining KeVaughn Allen and Keith Stone. He also inherits a team with elite defensive potential.
  • Georgia (#5) gets the benefit of the doubt after 41 wins over the past two seasons, especially when the heart of those successful seasons (Kenny Gaines and Charles Mann) are still around Athens.

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What SEC Teams Seek This Weekend

Posted by Brian Joyce on March 18th, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

The Southeastern Conference has been hit hard in the national media and on social media and everywhere else for its less than stellar basketball reputation. To be fair, it’s not completely unwarranted. Ole Miss opened the season with a loss to Charleston Southern. Mississippi State lost to Arkansas State and McNeese State. Missouri boasts a loss to UMKC. Those are bad losses to be sure, but the SEC is definitely not a one-team league, and the NCAA Tournament is a very good time to prove it.

Even folks in the south would agree that Kentucky carries the flag of SEC basketball. But, the other four in the Big Dance have a great opportunity to add to the party. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Even folks in the south would agree that Kentucky carries the flag of SEC basketball. But the other four in the Big Dance have a great opportunity to add to the party. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Five SEC teams made the NCAA Tournament this season, including undefeated Kentucky, which is a step in the right direction. You have to wonder, though, how much the Wildcats running through the conference without a loss has tarnished the perception of the rest of the league. Close followers of the SEC recognize its depth of talent from top to bottom this year but college basketball success is often defined by how the conference performs in March. Whether you subscribe to that opinion or think it’s bunk, it is important for the SEC to prove its worth on the national stage this weekend. Below we will examine what each team stands to gain during the NCAA Tournament in addition to bolstering the overall perception of the conference.

  • Kentucky: ESPN has made you acutely aware that Kentucky is chasing history, but even though the Wildcats are on the pursuit of perfection, there are still plenty of doubters. Everybody knows haters are gonna hate, but there is really only one way to silence those detractors, and that’s to win. For Kentucky, anything short of a National Championship will bring out a chorus of “I told you sos” from the numerous Twitter trolls who have persistently claimed that Kentucky has benefited from a weak SEC slate. John Calipari‘s club is on a mission to achieve something much more substantial than providing trash talk ammunition for the Big Blue Nation to take on Louisville fans. The 2012 version of the Wildcats may very well have been a better team than this season’s crew, but the Anthony Davis Wildcats can’t claim a 40-0 record. With six more wins the 2015 Kentucky Wildcats will forever be remembered as one of the great teams in college basketball history. Lose, however, and this team might be categorized in the same breath as the 2009-10 John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins Wildcats; a talented team that fell short when it counted the most.

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Why Each SEC Team Will Win in the Round of 64

Posted by Brian Joyce on March 17th, 2015

You printed out your bracket and you were sly enough to carry it in your portfolio into the Monday morning staff meeting. All you need now is for the office suck-up to bring in kolaches (ask the College Station folks if you’ve never had one!), a working pen (you really forgot to bring a pen to the staff meeting?), and a reason to advance every SEC team into the Round of 32 and beyond.

How about a good luck kiss for your bracket? (photo via @ukphotogs)

How about a good luck kiss for your bracket? (photo via @ukphotogs)

The SEC put five teams into the Big Dance but the casual college basketball fan who started paying attention in March doesn’t realize that the conference actually packs a bit more of a punch this season. At the same time, do you really trust teams that are coming off a loss to Auburn to advance deep into the tournament? Before you decide to be the SEC homer that has Georgia vs. LSU in the Elite Eight, lets focus first on how each SEC team can get to the Round of 32.

Kentucky. If you need to be convinced that Kentucky can win its first game then consider saving the $5 you were going to put into the office pool and buy five of those chocolate bars that Lois from accounting is selling for her grandson’s school fundraiser. For the sake of a good argument, lets assume Manhattan beats Hampton tonight. Former Kentucky player Steve Masiello would love an opportunity to end the Wildcats’ pursuit of perfection on his mentor Rick Pitino’s home court. Masiello has something that none of the current Wildcats yet have, a degree from the University of Kentucky. So there’s that. Is there any valid reason to think the Jaspers could pull off a victory though? Well, to get to this point, Manhattan will have beaten Iona. Iona beat Wake Forest. Wake beat North Carolina State. NC State beat Duke. But Duke didn’t beat Kentucky. Nobody has. And there’s not much reason to think that Manhattan will either. Moving on.

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SEC Week That Was: Volume VIII

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 24th, 2015

For the next four weeks or so, we’ll run down a few weekly superlatives from league play, take a look at how conference teams look in the eyes of the NCAA Tournament selection committee, and anything else that merits discussion. Here is Volume VIII, including games from February 16-23.  

Team of the Week. At long last, we relent. When a program with the history that Kentucky has checks off its best start ever (27-0), the award practically gives itself. The Wildcats weathered a poor shooting night and game effort from Tennessee last week to still beat the Vols by 18 on the road, and then didn’t let up against Auburn over the weekend. Kentucky ran out to a 30-4 lead and battered the much smaller-Tigers throughout the game right where they were supposed to with a 44-24 rebounding advantage. There are so many things this Kentucky team does well, including the small things that can help stop an upset bid in its tracks. Kentucky belies its youth by taking great care of the ball, as there isn’t a player on the roster turning the ball over more than 1.9 times per game. The Wildcats also have been fairly strong at the free throw line this season, an area which had been a problem for some of Coach Cal’s elite teams. All four guards plus Karl-Anthony Towns are shooting better than 77.8 percent from the line. In a late-game situation where a foul is coming, a lineup of Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison, Tyler Ulis, Devin Booker and Towns provides cover from a lot of angles. Ole Miss and Arkansas also deserve mention here for picking up wins at the Hump against a confident Mississippi State team.

Stefan Moody has stepped right in and replaced Marshall Henderson at Ole Miss (orlandosentinel.com).

Stefan Moody has stepped right in and replaced Marshall Henderson at Ole Miss (orlandosentinel.com).

Player of the Week. We will mimic the conference’s choice this week and give it to Stefan Moody, who starred in the Rebels’ close wins over Mississippi State (29 points, six rebounds, four steals) and Tennessee (22 points, four rebounds, six steals). The high-octane JuCo transfer comparison to Marshall Henderson is cliched but unavoidable, and this week was no different as Moody put up 23 three-point attempts over both games. He connected on 14 of them, and should continue to have the green light with that kind of success rate. The lift Moody gets on his jumper is incredible, and allows him to be lethal even when the defense knows what is coming. For example, in the second half against Mississippi State, Moody hit threes on three straight possessions, rolling off the same off-ball screen action each time. Henderson and Moody are both exceptional long-range shooting talents, but it’s probably no coincidence that both exploded with the underrated Jarvis Summers running the show next to them. Honorable mention goes to Moody’s intrastate rival Craig Sword (34 points), who seems to be rounding into form as a diverse scoring threat after being sidelined with a back injury early in the year.

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SEC Stock Watch: 02.13.15 Edition

Posted by David Changas on February 13th, 2015

With just over three weeks to go in SEC play, things are starting to take shape. This is SEC Stock Watch, our weekly look at which teams, players, and coaches are moving in the right direction, which are holding steady, and which are trending down. 

Trending Up

  • Karl-Anthony Towns. Towns came to Kentucky as the most highly-acclaimed member of its latest heralded recruiting class, and while his numbers have been solid all year, he is now asserting himself as a dominant force in the post. Towns is averaging 14.5 points and 8.8 rebounds per game over his last four outings, an increase of more than five points and two rebounds per game over his season averages. As if the Wildcats weren’t already scary enough, the rest of college basketball must deal with this emerging beast.
Karl-Anthony Towns has been a beast of late (Mark Zerof/USA Today Sports)

Karl-Anthony Towns has been a beast of late (Mark Zerof/USA Today Sports)

  • Georgia as an NCAA Lock. The Bulldogs got a huge win in College Station on Wednesday night, which should secure their ticket to the Big Dance. They will be favored in all but two of their remaining SEC games — home against Kentucky and at Ole Miss — and are the best bet to take down the Wildcats in SEC play. With a strong RPI ranking of #20, it would take a major meltdown for Mark Fox’s team to not make the NCAA Tournament.
  • Arkansas’ Road Chops. Don’t look now, but the Razorbacks have now won three SEC road games — more than all of last season — and are taking care of business against teams they should beat. They still must go to Ole Miss on Saturday and to Kentucky in two weeks, but Mike Anderson seems to have turned a corner in his fourth year in Fayetteville.
  • Tennessee Against the Spread on the Road. The Volunteers have somehow managed to go 4-2 so far in SEC play on the road, and their two losses (against Arkansas and Georgia, arguably the second- and third-best teams in the SEC) were by a total of seven points. Donnie Tyndall’s squad is 6-0 against the spread away from Thompson-Boling Arena, so it’s too bad that things haven’t gone so smoothly at home where the Vols are 2-3 with LSU and Kentucky coming to town in the next week.

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The SEC Week That Was: Volume V

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 3rd, 2015

For the next seven weeks or so, we’ll run down a few weekly superlatives from league play, take a look at how conference teams look in the eyes of the NCAA Tournament selection committee, and anything else that merits discussion. Here is Volume V, including games from January 26 to February 2.

Team of the Week. I want to preface this by saying that Kentucky could – and probably should – be the team of the week every week. You don’t get to 21-0 without that being the case. But the Wildcats get plenty of praise from all corners of the web, so why not challenge ourselves with this week’s selection? The nod goes to Florida, the same team that Billy Donovan declared as being dead in terms of the NCAA Tournament a little over a week ago. The Gators’ long-term resurrection is still something of a pipe dream, but if the miracle occurs, last week is where it all will have started. Florida enjoyed a perfect week in knocking off solid opponents Alabama (KenPom #44) and Arkansas (#43) in ugly fashion. These were probably the Gators’ two best wins of the season, which with an overall record of 12-9 overall underscores how much work they still have to do. From a bid perspective, Florida is 1-5 against the RPI top 50 and 4-3 against the next 50; contrast this with fellow bubble team Kansas State  — which is 12-10 overall but 4-6 against the RPI top 50 — and you can see that Florida’s resume may not have the requisite depth to compete for a bid. Despite the pair of victories, last week highlighted some of the Gators’ inconsistencies that have plagued them all year long. After a 27-point outburst against Ole Miss, Michael Frazier scored just 11 points on 2-of-13 shooting. Similarly, Chris Walker followed up one of the best games of his career against the Tide (12 points and four rebounds on 6-of-8 shooting) with a dud against the Hogs (one point, two rebounds). Still, Florida is trending in the right direction as it approaches the ultimate chance for a quality win: Saturday in Gainesville against Kentucky.

Alex Caruso is the SEC's leader in assists and third in steals (d1nation.com).

Alex Caruso is the SEC’s leader in assists and third in steals (d1nation.com).

Player of the Week. Danuel House was the SEC’s pick as Player of the Week, but we’ll give it to his slightly less-heralded junior teammate, Alex Caruso, as Texas A&M ran its winning streak to seven games with victories over Auburn and Vanderbilt. In both games Caruso was his usual stat-stuffing self, racking up averages of 10.0 points, 7.5 assists, 6.0 rebounds and 2.0 steals in 33.0 minutes per game. I firmly believe that the transitions of transfers House and Jalen Jones to their new team has gone so smoothly in large part because of Caruso’s play-making. He’s a bona fide SEC star who does not command the ball, and that is extremely valuable for a team looking to make the leap from also-ran to the NCAA Tournament. We may also be witnessing the rise of one of the great players in recent Texas A&M basketball history. Since 2009-10, no player in the conference has held as high of a career assist percentage (33.9%) or steal percentage (4.4%) as Caruso. LSU’s Jordan Mickey deserves mention in this space solely for his ridiculous 25-point, 20-rebound game in the Tigers’ loss to Mississippi State.

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SEC M5: 01.28.15 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 28th, 2015

SEC_morning5

  1. SI.com’s latest NCAA Tournament bracket projection is a welcome sight for SEC basketball fans. Four teams make the cut, including Kentucky (#1 seed), Arkansas (#7), LSU (#9) and Georgia (#10). There were times this year that when just getting two bids looked like a real possibility, so four bids (sad as it may be) right now looks very nice. The danger is that the non-Kentucky selections are far from locks and consecutive losses could easily knock any of those teams on to the wrong side of the bubble. The flip side is that with other teams like Texas A&M and Tennessee still within shouting distance of the bubble, five teams (gasp) doesn’t seem completely out of the question either. All joking aside, if the league were to get five bids it would be a nice step forward from the last two three-bid years, and confirm what we’ve been saying on this site all year: Even though it doesn’t show up in the rankings and Florida is down, the depth of the conference is in fact improving.
  2. There are a number of reasons why Florida has struggled this year, but transfers are not one of them. Billy Donovan recently defended the number of transfers on his current roster when asked if the Gators would be better off with more four-year players. “The transfers have been the ones that have really made sense for us because we know what we’re getting in terms of the kind of kids they are,” Donovan told the Gainesville Sun. Alex Murphy and Jon Horford are truly unique cases since both players had a brother who previously starred for Florida, but over-reliance on transfers can bite a program despite Fred Hoiberg’s seemingly endless pool of redemption stories at Iowa State. Just look at Missouri, which is largely in the situation it is now in because Frank Haith didn’t bring enough high school players into the program. But Florida doesn’t fall into that category because Dorian Finney-Smith and Eli Carter both brought three years of eligibility with them to Gainesville, and the Gators have plenty of potential four-year players in contributing roles – like Chris Chiozza, Kasey Hill and Devin Robinson.
  3. Marshall Henderson’s graduation left a big hole in the Ole Miss program. The Rebels lost a lot of scoring, and a lot of must-see-TV. But at least in terms of production, Andy Kennedy has replaced the void left by Henderson quicker than anyone would’ve thought with Stefan Moody. “Everyone in this league was going to be excited when Marshall Henderson left because you didn’t feel like they could get a guy who could shoot it as well as him,” Georgia coach Mark Fox told the Jackson Clarion-Ledger. “But lo and behold they’ve done it as well added an element of athleticism to the position.” With comparable usage rates, Moody (23.7 PER, 55.7% true shooting, 48.6% effective field goal) is exceeding Henderson’s (19.5 PER, 52.5% true shooting, 48.6% effective field goal) offensive output from last year, and adds more athleticism to the team. Considering Moody hasn’t made headlines for the wrong reasons, the Rebels have clearly upgraded at the off guard position.
  4. Texas A&M is in the midst of its longest conference (Big 12 and SEC) winning streak since 2011, and Billy Kennedy thinks his team’s maturity is a big reason why. “We start three juniors and two seniors and they’ve all played high-level Division I basketball. Their consistency and maturity is why we’re enjoying some success.” Yesterday we pointed out that the Aggies’ influx of new players could mean they are yet to hit their peak. But the two most important players from that group, Jalen Jones and Danuel House, have high major experience, which has helped create that consistency. They’ve also pushed senior starters Jordan Green and Kourtney Roberson into complementary roles, which suits both players very well and makes for a strong all-around team.
  5. At 7-12, Missouri is smack dab in the middle of a rebuilding year, but Kim Anderson has not relaxed his rotations and played guys just to play them. “It’s not like if you’re in a high school situation where like seventh grade basketball gets to play because that’s what the superintendent says. It’s not like that. You’ve got to play — the guys that are playing the best get to play more,” he told the Columbia Tribune. One notable omission has been freshman Jakeenan Gant, who has lost his starting spot and played just 14 minutes in the last two games. The 2013-14 Georgia Mr. Basketball has not developed as expected, or at least in the way his 13 point debut against Xavier suggested he might. Still, it is important for Anderson to establish a culture even if it means one of his more talented freshmen sitting on the bench.
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